a-z challenge: g

G for Górecki and the love here goes (unsurprisingly) to his Symphony No. 3.

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (born Dec. 6, 1933, Czernica, near Rybnik, Pol.—died Nov. 12, 2010, Katowice), Polish composer in the Western classical tradition whose sombre Symphony No. 3 (1976) enjoyed extraordinary international popularity in the late 20th century. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)


Symphony No. 3 is subtitled the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, here’s the whole thing performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra – Antoni Wit, the soprano is Zofia Kilanowicz. {English translation of the words in all 3 movements}

And it is very sombre indeed; it’s an expression of pain and loss, so it’d be astonishing if it wasnt sombre.

The symphony, which Gorecki wrote in 1976, is centered on three texts — including a prayer inscribed by a teenager on a cell wall of a Gestapo headquarters — which the composer turned into haunting laments, backed by simple, slowly churning surges of beautiful music. NPR Obituary,  2010

Górecki’s Symphony #3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Op. 36, consists of three very slow movements, all marked a qualified Lento. Each features the lamenting voice of a solo soprano over long-held pulsing string lines, based on immense phrases in the base. The musical material itself is very simple, as is Górecki’s use of it. The work begins with a modal melody in the double-basses, the tune adopted from the folk musicians of the Tatra Highlands who had earlier so much impressed Szymanowski. It serves as the basis for an instrumental canon, each entry a fifth higher and spread over four octaves, in the Aeolian mode, on E. At the centre of the canon the soprano enters, singing a setting of a fifteenth-century Polish text known as the “Holy Cross Lament”, and at its climax the canon returns, gradually building down into the basses, to end as it had begun. The second movement sets a text by an eighteen-year-old Polish girl, Helena Wanda Blazusiak, composed in harrowing circumstances: she scratched it on the wall of a Gestapo cell in Zakopane, in the Tatras, a resort where in happier times Szymanowski had spent lengthy periods towards the end of his life. Górecki invests her simple words (“Mother, please do not cry. Queen of Heaven, virgin most pure, protect me always”) with a simple dignity that is deeply affecting and maintains this mood in the third movement, the lament of a mother over her dead son; Górecki estimates that the text dates from the First World War, and the melody is from his native Opole region. The music as a whole is suffused with a sort of abstract folk feeling, like a religious experience that achieves its intensity through the simplicity of its musical means. In this it is a direct descendant of Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, inspired by similar material, and where the composer likewise conceals the complexity of his art to produce music that is very directly affecting. The Polish title of the work contains an archaism that neither English, French or German manages to translate, but which suggests verbally the timelessness that the music evokes. classic.net


Taken from “HOLOCAUST – A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz” – Lento e Largo is about the loss of a son; the grief is visceral, palpable. Soprano: Isabel Bayrakdaraian, Sinfonietta Cracovia, conducted by John Axelrod.

The story behind the posthumous premiere of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony – with good info about #3

Górecki once described himself as an odludek, a recluse. Unlike Witold Lutosławski and Penderecki, he avoided the limelight that regular conducting by a composer of his own work helps to bring, yet still managed to upset the authorities in other ways from time to time. Unlike Andrzej Panufnik, he remained in Poland to find his own path, away from the limiting horizons imposed by modernist aesthetics as well as by political restraints. Obituary in the Guardian

(Sidenote: I do not like Penderecki at all, not even the tiniest bit.)

BD: Do all your ideas come from you mind, or are there times when the pencil controls your hand across the page?
HG: I don’t think there’s ever been a hand that writes or a pen that writes by itself. Even the great Bach or the great Mozart, although I’m not sure which one is the greatest, the hand doesn’t do it itself. It does what the head tells it.
BD: Well, are you creating the ideas or are you discovering the ideas?
HG: I don’t know. I write. I sit. I work hard. I work. It’s hard work. Really.
BD: Too hard?
HG: Very. Very hard. It’s very hard. It’s not an easy task at all.
Interview with Górecki

And there you have it. I haven’t written about what the symphony means to me, although there are all sorts of threads woven into it, because it feels wrong to, within the context of its subject matter. The loss of sons, imprisonment … it would feel disrespectful. I haven’t written much here at all – I am no classical music expert.

Movement 1: Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery from the “Lysagóra Songs” collection. Second half of the 15th century.
Movement 2: Prayer inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of “Palace,” the Gestapo’s headquarters in Zadopane; beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words “18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944.”
Movement 3: Folk song in the dialect of the Opole region.

Here is a documentary about it, in 6 short videos. I checked and the uploader does have all 6 parts. He also has some stuff there that makes me want to shoot him, but whaddyagonnado? 


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battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

31 thoughts on “a-z challenge: g”

  1. So far I only listened to the first movement and my arm hairs are erect. Thank you for sharing this. My favourite sad classical piece is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I looooove that too. You’ve seen Apocalypse Now, right? I really think it has about the best use of music in film. Congratulations on your arm hair erection btw. Movement 2 is going to kidnap your heart. But as long as it doesn’t heartnap your kid, everything will be alright.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Apocalypse Now? I think I saw it in prepubescence. I must revisit. Lol re arm hair erection and heartnapping kids. Will check out the other movements when the kids go back to school.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. and the dusting, and the vacuuming and my appointment and and… Now that I am eating breakfast hopefully I will write some more. Fortunately my character is based on a true human so I keep bugging him for information, lol

            Liked by 1 person

      1. To be honest, it’s too hard for me to listen to symphonies…after years of hearing my father practice violin every single day it is still too gut -drenching for me to listen to orchestral arrangements. I know it sounds wimpy….but I think it won’t always be this way.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It doesn’t seem even slightly wimpy – please quit that chain of thought with the alacrity of a $cientologist leaving a psychiatric hospital. I get it, I really do, and I have stuff I can’t go near either. The Górecki is mine as well as my mother’s, for many reasons, though she (of course) introduced me to it. There’s a part of the Holocaust memorial film where Maxim Vengerov plays Bach’s Chaconne, that slaughters me violently. For well over a year I couldn’t look directly at her books – and my living room’s two longest walls are nothing but bookshelves filled with her books and mine. It took a lot of thousand yard stares in other directions, and defocused eyes. There are films and books and music I might never go near again and some that actually comfort me. You’re so much further down the road than I am, but we’re still walking it side by side as friends.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You are the one in my life who makes me laugh out loud with pure joy the most (“the alacrity of a $cientologist leaving a psychiatric hospital”) and I love you dearly for it! And you hit the nail on the head about everything else here too…you get it.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I meant gut-wrenching, darn it! By the way, I recently found out I have some Polish ancestors, and a good friend of mine recently published his memoir about his Polish family affected by Stalin, so I read this post with great interest!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very cool – one of my closest friends (he calls me Father lol) is Polish, he comments here as synapsesparkle (I think). I’m sure that memoir is tragic and interesting … poor Poland isn’t even very old as a country and it got stomped far too often.

      Gut drenching works too – more violently though.

      Liked by 1 person

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