Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Composer Henryk Górecki Passes

Polish composer, Henryk Górecki passed away on November 12th. I just read about it today, as I was catching up on musical events outside of Alaska. Górecki would have reached his 77th birthday on December 6th. One of Poland's most revered post-World War II composers, he was mostly known for one of his many works, the Third Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).

I don't think it has yet been played in Alaska. The only work of his I have heard here was his String Quartet, performed in Anchorage several years ago by the Kronos Quartet, in one of their two Anchorage appearances.

My favorite quote from him is this advice to a young composer:
If you can live without music for two or three days, then don't write – it might be better to spend the time with a girl or with a beer.
At the time he wrote his Third Symphony, he was in turmoil, as the underground and open efforts toward democracy in Poland were being thwarted by the communist government and their Soviet allies. Here's a description of the year before and three years after composition of the Third:

In 1975, Górecki was promoted to Professor of Composition at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, where his students included Eugeniusz Knapik, Andrzej Krzanowski and Rafał Augustyn.

Around this time, Górecki came to believe the Polish Communist authorities were interfering too much in the activities of academy, and described them as "little dogs always yapping". As a senior administrator but not a member of the Party, he was in almost perpetual conflict with the authorities in his efforts to protect his school, staff and students from undue political influence.

In 1979 he resigned from his post in protest at the government's refusal to allow Pope John Paul II to visit Katowice and formed a local branch of the "Catholic Intellectuals Club"; an organisation devoted to the struggle against the Communist Party.
Largely because of some of his expansive, Brucknerian musical canvases and his adoration of Catholic iconography, he has been linked to the Holy Minimalists, along with American composer Allen Hovhaness, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.

Here is a performance of the middle movement of his 3rd Symphony. The words were taken by Górecki from the wall of a former Gestapo headquarters in the Polish highland city of Zakopane. The inscription reads:
"O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie" (Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always)
This performance was at Auschwitz, one of the few live performances allowed there, as part of HOLOCAUST - A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz. The soprano is Isabel Bayrakdaraian, the Sinfonietta Cracovia is conducted by John Axelrod:


Makabit Bat Guriel said...

They say the words were written by an 18 year old female but it makes me wonder if it wasn't a camp guard that knew his/her ass was going to be grass in short order.
Of course the Vatican helped a number of them escape to places like South America which makes me wonder what this old Pole was getting excited about when the Pope couldn't visit the area. They weren't too worried about it during the time Auschwitz was up and running now were they?
Just another a-hole composer writing bull crap...kind of like you Phil!

Philip Munger said...

Happy Thanksgiving, MBG. Hope you feel better sometime soon.

Makabit Bat Guriel said...

I'd feel great if I read you choked on the turkey neck.