Henryk Górecki, 1933-2010

Henryk Górecki has died, the BBC reports. He was 76.

The Polish composer will probably be best remembered for his Symphony No. 3.


From a review I wrote of the Philadelphia Orchestra's first performance of the piece in 2000:

Henryk Gorecki 's Symphony No. 3 has done something very few contemporary works have managed to do: It has become personally meaningful to people. Through its mystical drone of unfolding sounds, anachronistic step-wise melodies and a glacial harmonic rhythm, the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" has permeated the public's consciousness on a scale found more often on MTV than in the orchestra hall.

David Zinman's recording of the work with Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta sold well over a million copies - a rare event in an industry that feels lucky when it ships 50,000 copies of a single release.

Thursday night, Wolfgang Sawallisch introduced the piece to the Academy of Music for the first time. Gorecki's Third, completed in 1976, had its local premiere in 1996 by Orchestra 2001, but its leader, James Freeman, wasn't leading the large, velvety corps of the Philadelphia Orchestra's strings.

That sound swelled to a plush ideal in Sawallisch's hands, as the simple material of the first movement started in the double basses and, like a tide of lament, slowly swept over the rest of the strings. Sawallisch proved a master of pacing, making the long, slow crescendos and decrescendos so long and slow they were almost imperceptible as they happened, but gloriously felt in retrospect.

Here is a bit more from The Guardian.