Saturday, 13 November 2010

RIP Henryk Górecki (1933-2010)

It was announced some time yesterday afternoon that the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki has died aged 76. One of the few contemporary composers to make a mark on a wider public, he is best known for the 1992 recording of his Symphony No.3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.

I first came across Gorecki's music on BBC4's excellent series Sacred Music, in which they compared his compositions with Arvo Paert's, another composer who used sacred music as a means of expression during the years of Communism in Eastern Europe. You can see a clip of Simon Russell Beale discussing Gorecki's success here.

Its popularity in the UK was helped along by its regular play on the newly opened Classic FM at the time, but its long term success lies in its simple, haunting melody that lingers long after the piece has ambled to its conclusion and faded out, sustaining one mournful note - no optimism, no catharsis, just a gentle ebbing away into memory. Like John Tavener's Song for Athene and even Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings the simplicity of the piece has allowed it to take on a life of its own.

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