Henryk Górecki

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About Henryk Górecki

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s rise to prominence was due to a single piece, championed decades after its writing. Born in 1933 in southwestern Poland, the composer found his voice gradually, through disparate experiments influenced by his coming-of-age among the avant-garde set in his home country and Paris. His catalogue of the ’50s and ’60s includes neoclassical works, atonal onslaughts and pieces interpolating folk melodies. By the time his Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) premiered in 1977, Górecki had perfected his mature style: elegaic, modal (in the medieval style) and influenced by his Catholicism and anti-authoritarian politics. Written for soprano voice and orchestra, the symphony remained relatively obscure until the release of a 1992 recording featuring opera star Dawn Upshaw, which sold over a million copies. The album greatly raised Górecki’s profile, but none of his other works went on to approach Symphony No. 3’s level of popularity. Along with subsequent compositions like his 1981 plainchant-influenced choral work, Miserere, the symphony led to Górecki’s classification as a “holy minimalist”—a tag applied to late-20th-century composers of mystical sacred music like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener.

Czernica, Poland
6 December 1933

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