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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Henryk Gorecki, Polish Composer, Is Dead at 76

Before massive corporatism smothered thousands of US radio stations, there was WFLN, 95.7 FM, in Philadelphia, one of the finest independent classical music broadcasters in the country. After de-regulation of station ownership, WFLN was bought and the format changed to something that could be heard in any American City, one just as boring as the other.

Full time classical music was silenced in the fifth largest American City.

Before WFLN was wrecked, it was my radio friend during the night. I usually fell asleep listening to it.

Once, I woke during the beginning of what I would later learn was the Symphony No. 3 by Gorecki, three slow, haunting, sometimes barely audible movements. Near the end, of my first listening, I called the station and asked about what t I was hearing and he told me it was Gorecki, a contemporary Polish composer.

I must have bought that CD four or five times gifting it to those I thought would share my feelings for the work.

Earlier this week, speaking with a good friend who plays violin for the Szeczin Symphony Orchestra, in Poland, told me that her program for last night included my favorite work by Gorecki. She also told me that his daughter would be playing piano with the symphony.

After her performance last night, she called me and said that Gorecki had died yesterday but his music did not and his daughter performed with the orchestra as scheduled.


Henryk Gorecki, Polish Composer, Is Dead at 76
Published: November 12, 2010 NY TIMES

Henryk Gorecki, a renowned Polish composer whose early avant-garde style gave way to more approachable works rooted in his country’s folk songs and sacred music and whose Symphony No. 3 — an extended lamentation subtitled “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” — sold more than a million copies on CD in the 1990s, died on Friday in Katowice, Poland. He was 76.

Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa, the general director of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice, announced Mr. Gorecki’s death, telling The Associated Press that he had been hospitalized with a lung infection. Mr. Gorecki lived in Katowice.

Mr. Gorecki (pronounced go-RET-zki), who with Witold Lutoslawski and Kzysztof Penderecki was one of Poland’s most revered contemporary composers, wrote music that often played with the extremes of musical expression. In works like “Old Polish Music” (1969), blocks of assertive, high-energy brass writing are juxtaposed with eerie, slow-moving, pianissimo string passages.

His intensely focused “Beatus Vir” (1979) and “Totus Tuus” (1987), both dedicated to Pope John Paul II, draw on the simplicity of traditional chant as well as richly harmonized, intensely focused choral writing and, in the case of “Beatus Vir,” monumental orchestral scoring. And in “Already It Is Dusk” (1988), his first string quartet, Mr. Gorecki reconfigures Polish dances and dirges, casting the more outgoing sections in acidic harmonies that give the score a searing, angry edge.

But the work for which Mr. Gorecki is most widely known, the Symphony No. 3 (1976), explores the gradations of a single mood: somber, introspective reflection, conveyed in three long, slow, quiet movements that last nearly an hour. Scored for orchestra and soprano, the work’s vocal sections include settings of a 15th-century sacred lamentation, a simple prayer (“Oh Mamma do not cry — Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always”) scrawled by a young girl on the wall of a Gestapo prison in southern Poland, and a plaintive Polish folk song in which a mother grieves for a son lost in war.

Mr. Gorecki surrounds these texts with a compelling amalgam of lush neo-Romanticism; open, entirely consonant tonality; and a gradual unfolding of themes and textures that struck many listeners as a distinctly Eastern European approach to Minimalism.

The work quickly took on a life of its own. In 1985, the French director Maurice Pialat used an excerpt from the symphony on the soundtrack to “Police,” a film starring Gérard Depardieu. A recording of the full work, conducted by Ernest Bour, with the soprano Stefania Woytowicz, was released on the Erato label, and though it was packaged as a soundtrack album for “Police” — a film virtually unknown in the United States — it proved a first encounter with Mr. Gorecki’s music for many American listeners. Two more recordings were released, both with Ms. Woytowicz as the soloist.

But the work did not achieve its explosive success — a surprise, given its unceasingly mournful character — until a recording by the soprano Dawn Upshaw, with David Zinman conducting the London Sinfonietta, was released on the Nonesuch label in 1992. The recording became a radio hit in Britain, where it broke into the Top 10 on the Music Week pop chart, and sold more than a million copies worldwide. For a while, Nonesuch said, it was selling 10,000 copies a day in the United States.

The symphony was subsequently used as soundtrack music in Peter Weir’s “Fearless” (1993) and Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat” (1996). Samples of the score were also used in recordings by several pop groups, most notably “Gorecki” by the English band Lamb

Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki was born in the village of Czernica on Dec. 6, 1933, to parents who were amateur musicians. He began studying the violin when he was 10, and later took up the clarinet and piano. By the early 1950s he was composing songs and piano works while earning a living as a teacher. In 1955, he enrolled at the Music Academy in Katowice, where he spent the next five years as a composition student of Boleslaw Szabelski.

But he was already beginning to make his name in Polish avant-garde circles with works like the Four Preludes (1955) for piano and the contrast-rich Sonata for Two Violins (1957).

In “Epitafium” (1958), for mixed choir and instruments, he began experimenting with the spatial placement of his performing forces. In the Symphony No. 1 (1959) and “Scontri” (“Collisions,” 1960), he experimented with Serialism (in which a composer must use all 12 tones of the chromatic scale in equal proportion) and with the textural contrasts — dense clusters versus spare, pointillistic solo lines — that would become a hallmark in his later music.

Mr. Gorecki continued to embrace Serialism through the 1960s, but mixed it with other techniques — including whole-tone harmony and the use of ancient modal scales — that made his music sound bracing and fresh, rather than doctrinaire.

He became fascinated with choral and vocal music around 1970, and expanded his stylistic arsenal with folk music — an extension of his interest in modal melodies — and traditional Polish church music. Gradually, he jettisoned Serialism and moved toward the completely tonal, diatonic language that gave the Symphony No. 3 much of its immediate accessibility and appeal.

Other important works in Mr. Gorecki’s catalog include three string quartets — “Already It Is Dusk” (1988), “Quasi Una Fantasia” (1991) and “... Songs Are Sung” (1995), all written for the Kronos Quartet — and the “Kleines Requiem für eine Polka“ (1993) for piano and 13 instruments.

Mr. Gorecki joined the faculty of the Music Academy in Katowice in 1968, and became a professor in 1972 and rector from 1975 to 1979. Among his composition students were his son, Mikolaj Gorecki, who survives him, as do his wife, Jadwiga, and his daughter, Anna Gorecka-Stanczyk.

Mr. Gorecki left his post at the Music Academy in 1979 to protest the Polish government’s refusal to allow Pope John Paul II to visit Katowice. He also composed his Miserere (1981) as a protest, in this case against the government’s crackdown on members of Rural Solidarity in Bydgoszcz. But he always insisted on a distinction between his music and his politics.

“My dear, it would be a terrible poverty of life if music were political,” he told Bruce Duffie, a radio producer, in a 1994 interview. “I cannot imagine it, because what does this mean — ‘political music?’ That is why I ignore questions about political music, because music is music. Painting is painting. I can be involved in some political ideals. That would be my personal life.”

Mr. Gorecki received honorary doctorates from the University of Warsaw, the Music Academy in Krakow and Concordia University in Quebec, and an honorary fellowship from Cardiff University. Last month Bronislaw Komorowski, the president of Poland, visited Mr. Gorecki in the hospital to award him the country’s highest honor, the Order of the White Eagle.

“I think about my audience, but I am not writing for them,” Mr. Gorecki said in his 1994 interview. “If I were thinking of my audience and one likes this, one likes that, one likes another thing, I would never know what to write. Let every listener choose that which interests him. I have nothing against one person liking Mozart or Shostakovich or Leonard Bernstein, but doesn’t like Gorecki. That’s fine with me. I, too, like certain things.”


  1. That was really excellent. Thanks for that.

  2. "Melody, probably the youngest, always maternal (more Latin) has evolved to Melody, the wise."

    Just call me Yoda, Jedi Master, warrior of all universe and blog-o-sphere.

  3. :) Nah, it's Mother Superior, or Melody the Wise.

    I kinda like Melody the Wise.

    Wasn't that a good musical piece Deuce put up.

    Daughter is here to go to some play for a class. I'm thinking of going back with her, to go to another horse back class.

  4. Melody Sophia Pulchritūdō

    I quit.

  5. Desperately needed --

    Arafat Museum in the Works

    God yes, and the money's probably coming from us.

  6. After de-regulation of station ownership, WFLN was bought and the format changed to something that could be heard in any American City, one just as boring as the other.

    Deregulation as a mixed bag is the kindest way to put it.

    The problem of The Commons being sacrificed on the altar of economic growth.

    BC has had a couple of tussles over the historic legacy of the Robber Barons, the debate being pretty predictable and the core issue, really, as old as Methuselah - localized growth at what cost to The Commons?

    The essence of the Green movement actually as they gradually transition into Deep Ecology.

    On the flip side, the music is now available on portable media with the added benefit of playing what You want when You want - more individual control. Once again Technology comes to the rescue.

    If I were to guess, the elites are hoping for another technology rescue to change the entire landscape of The Great Game.

    CNBC reports that Ken Heebner 'dumped' all his Apple stock.

  7. I can't stand words like Deep Ecology. Always reminds me of the Giant Palouse Earthworm, scam of scams.

  8. I don't want to live in a country devoid of Robber Barons.

    I, also, don't want to live in a country that doesn't allow Unions.

    Our job is to utilize our 2-year election cycle to rein them both in from time to time.

  9. I'm not a "religious" man, but I don't want to live in a country where the people don't feel a need to "go to church."

    However, I, Absolutely, don't want to be governed by "Preachers."

  10. The joke in Russia was, "Marx told us the truth about Capitalism, but he lied to us about Communism."

  11. I like having Ron Paul in the Congress, but, given the power, he would immediately put us in the deepest, longest depression in human history.

    The Death, Pain, and Suffering would be on a scale unimaginable to any living American.

  12. :)

    Catholic bishops gather to address shortage of exorcists.

    As if the great wars of the last century were not enough, the pending transition in Europe should exorcise socialism from the political landscape. Capitalism is all that's left. I am convinced that will change when we enter the age of space exploration.

    In the meantime, we hear no end of Third Way solutions, which to me sound like code-speak for another variant of socialist power structure.

  13. The joke in Russia was, "Marx told us the truth about Capitalism, but he lied to us about Communism."

    heh, I'd never heard that one, Rufus.

    A truly reality based outlook.

    Long live the Robber Barons.

    (and the small farmers)

    Work is the curse of the Drinking Class

  14. Rufus @ Sat Nov 13, 12:54:00 PM EST

    Roger that.

  15. Catholic bishops gather to address shortage of exorcists

    The solution is simple, as simple as the Lutheran Priesthood of All Believers -- a system of lay exorcists.

    But they'll never do it. Takes the shine off the clerical collar.

  16. Health News

    Middle class children suffering rickets

    Middle class children in the south of England are suffering from the '17th century disease' rickets as parents cover them in sunscreen and limit time outside in the sunshine, a leading doctor has warned.

    The disease, caused by low levels of vitamin D generated in the body from sunshine and certain foods, had died out around 80 years ago but is now coming back.

    Cases of rickets in children have occurred in northern England and Scotland where there are fewer months of the year with sufficient sunshine to obtain enough vitamin D but now doctors are seeing it on the South coast as well.

    It is thought extensive use of sunscreen, children playing more time on computer games and TV rather than playing outside and a poor diet are to blame.

  17. There's always the issue of quality control. I mean imagine a group of less than stellar exorcist scholars let loose in a contaminated community with nothing more in their Demon Be Gone Book of Scary Chants than Egrota! Egrota! Egrota!

    That's just undignified.

  18. A system of lay seminars on the subject should remedy that possible drawback.

  19. Mes o po ta mia

    Mes o po ta mia

    Be Gone!

  20. You know we are truly screwed when the pols are all screaming to end earmarks, as if that would accomplish anything.

    Obama joins call to end congressional earmarks
    The president, in his weekly radio address, says ending or limiting the ability of lawmakers to insert funds for local projects into big spending bills would be a first step toward restoring fiscal responsibility. His call echoes that of House Republican leaders.

  21. ...a first step. A first step would be shutting down one entire agency or raising the age on govt. retirees.

  22. There will be good entertainment soon folks. Charlie on Trial. REPRESENTING HIMSELF

    A fool for a lawyer.....

    O Charlie....

    A two-year ethics scandal that saw embattled Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., lose his powerful position among House Democrats but not his bid for reelection will come to a climax when he faces an ethics panel Monday on Capitol Hill.

    The ethics trial promises to be a spectacle. Rangel, 80, a former New York City prosecutor, likely will represent himself as he faces the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The proceeding is formally called an adjudicatory hearing.

    Rangel fired his legal team in late October, drawing into question whether the trial would be delayed. But the flamboyant Rangel is expected on Capitol Hill Monday to seize the opportunity to clear his name.

    Rangel stands accused of 13 counts of violating House rules but has emphatically denied any wrongdoing

  23. The ethics trial promises to be a spectacle.


    I like the sounds of that, and starring Charlie Rangel too. What more can we want?

    O Charlie, Charlie

  24. The problem with earmarks is: they are, essentially, a bribe to get a Congressman to vote for a bill that he/she, otherwise, might not vote for.

  25. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

  26. So boss, are you advocating more government regulation so that a Classical music station would be every market?

    I suspect the coarsening culture and the corresponding decline in demand resulted in the death of your beloved classics only station; not deregulation.

  27. We still have a classics station here, out of the universities.

    Broadcast range: about twenty miles.

  28. ,
    but, given the power, he would immediately put us in the deepest, longest depression in human history.

    But that's the point, he would never have the power.

    He would have influence to sway the conversation, possibly for the better. However, he would not have the votes to do the truly crazy things he advocates.

    Besides I saw him interviewed the other day on CNBC. As you can imagine the station guys were a little sceptical. But he came across as pretty reasonable. For instance, he said that while he has called for things like going back to the gold standard and closing down the Fed he knows that won't happen over night. All you can do is take what steps you can.

    As I said before, I agree with about 90-95% of what he says. The other 5-10% I don't worry about because he can't do it anyway.


  29. .
    Our local NPR station is WDET out of Wayne State University in Detroit.

    I used to contribute to it before they changed the format. They did away with a lot of the programs I liked and brought in a lot of nationally syndicated talk shows almost all with a liberal slant. They did away with the new wave and alternative music after midnite and we now get news feeds from the BBC.

    The one thing I still like about the station is they kept Ed Love, a jazz officianodo who is kind of a hero here locally but also nationally known. The 'Ed Love Program' ran from 9:00pm to midnite weeknights and then on the weekend.

    Strictly classical jazz. Don't look for 'smooth jazz' or 'easy listening', just the real stuff.

    However, he has been around here for decades. His wife's been sick and now he's not doing well. They did away with his daily show and he is only on Saturday and Sunday now. When he leaves, I expect jazz to disappear from the formatting. Maybe we'll get a little more news from the BBC.


  30. .


    One Month to go before the Bosco Awards.


  31. As I said, I enjoy the fact that he's there. He keeps the "rulers and masters" at least, somewhat, on guard.

    It's not that any of what he says is a "lie." It's, virtually, all true. It's just that, what Bernanke says is "true," (usually) also.

  32. Here's My New Late Night Favorite


    Gary McNamara and Eric Harley are funny as hell. Comes out of Boise.

    No classical music though. No music at all.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. I couldn't stand to live in China. I'd be tempted to kill myself.

  35. This has to be a candidate:

    Quirk said,

    Sarah Palin admitted she tried marijuana several years ago, but she did not like it. She said it distorted her perceptions, impaired her thinking, and she's hoping that the effects will eventually wear off.


  36. Breaking news--

    Gavin Newsome Vetoes Happy Meal Ban in San Fran

    How much do you suppose McDonald's paid him to do that?

  37. Why NPR is in love with the BBC is beyond comprehension.

  38. Interception by Ohio State, run back for a touchdown, puts them ahead of JoePa 17 to 14.

    Wife is hooting.

  39. Newsweek has joined up with The Daily Beast.

    Attend the same Church of Satan.

  40. Doesn't matter to me, between Penn St. and Ohio St, but the wife is happy. Looks like Ohio has this one put away. Exciting game.