Sad news this morning – Polish composer, Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, best known for his “Third Symphony”, died in Poland at the age of 76.
Born in Silesia, he spent most of his life working and teaching in Katowice, the heart of the most industrialised region in Poland. Until early 1990s he remained largerly unknown, even in Poland. But his “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, also known as the “Third Symphony”, composed in the late 70s and released in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, made his name famous in Poland and abroad.
Here is how the New York Times described the symphony’s – and Gorecki’s – rise to fame in 1994:
As Communism in Poland crumbled during 1989, so Gorecki’s music spread. By 1990, Symphony No. 3 was being premiered with big orchestras from Brooklyn to Sydney, and several recordings were made. But not until the smooth voice of the soprano Dawn Upshaw, combined with the full sound of the London Sinfonietta under David Zinman on the Elektra Nonesuch label did all the fuss start.
Released in May 1992, the 52-minute recording moved the symphony from a respected piece in the modern repertory to a universally popular work. The recording held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s classical chart for 37 weeks and has sat in the top 25 for 93 weeks. It peaked at No. 6 on the British pop chart. Worldwide sales of the Nonesuch recording were over 600,000 by the end of the year. Orchestras rushed to perform the work as a way of keeping up with their audiences. Naturally, this renown didn’t escape the movie makers. The director Peter Weir chose the first movement of the symphony for the climactic scene in his movie “Fearless.”
Another great Polish composer is gone. But his music, inspired by the beauty and the soul of the Tatra Mountains remains: