Symphony No.3, op.36 (1976)
'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'

Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, composed in 1976, did not reach the international public at large until 1993 with the Elektra release of said piece and through heavy radio play. A Gramophone Award Winner (1993), this CD remains the best-selling album of music by a contemporary composer. Personally, I own this version of the piece and a couple others, and find that each varies quite a lot in sound. My recording from the Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, sounds profoundly darker

The reason for this, of course, could be that the piece is commemorative of the holocaust of Auschwitz during World War II, as well as the Polish orchestra and singer demonstrating the kinship in their performace to Gorecki. The orchestra fielded is bigger, and hence the more sumptious body of sound, with a massive invocation of space between the eight string parts in the first movement.

This piece is defined as Spiritual Minimalism. The Symphony has a prayer-like quality, is slow in tempo and uses very little material to "grow" huge musical structures. While modern and postmodern music still retained its experimental, dissonant and "inaccessible" reputation, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs radiated within its darkness a powerful and universal light. Its simple harmonies spoke of its simple messages, its need to tell the world of its terrible story but also its prayer of hope. Instrumentally, the piece is very heavy in double bass, especially intially, with cello, viola, violin and the rest of the orchestra slowly creeping in.

The heavy theme -- demonstrated by the translations of the songs below -- in each movement of this piece, is motherhood. The pain and joy in such a relationship is demonstrated not only through the moving words (if one happens to speak Polish), but through the almost conflicting music, dissonant in the most harmonious of fashions. This piece is a must-have.

Op. 36, for soprano and orchestra

The three movements are as follows:
  1. Lento: Sostenuto tranquilo ma cantabile
  2. Lento e Largo: Tranquillissimo - cantabillissimo - dolcissimo - lagatissimo
  3. Lento: Cantabile - semplice
The soprano in each movement is in Polish; the original Polish, English translations and brief interpretations are as follows:

First movement:

A mother speaks to her dying son. She is charged with hope, but still aware of his terrible fate.
    Synku mily i wybrany,
    Rozdziel z matka swoje rany;
    A wszakom cie, synku mily, w swem sercu nosila,
    A takiez tobie wiernie sluzyla.
    Przemow k matce, bych sie ucieszyla,
    Bo juz jidziesz ode mnie, moja nadzieja mila.

    My son, chosen and loved,
    Let your mother share your wounds
    And since, my dear son,
    I have always kept you in my heart,
    And loyally served you,
    Speak to your mother,
    make her happy ,
    Though, my cherished hope,
    you are now leaving me.
Second movement:

Deep underneath the Gestapo headquarters in Zakopane, inside Cell No.3, on 26th September 1944, the then 18-year-old Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna scratched this prayer to the Queen of Heaven on one of the stone walls that imprisoned her. In a voice of gloom, Helena asks her Mother not to cry for her, thus linking this prayer to the previous where she mourns her dying son.

    Mamo, nie placz, nie.
    Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
    Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
    Zdrowas Mario.

    No, Mother, do not weep,
    Most chaste Queen of Heaven
    Help me always.
    Hail Mary.1
1This line before translation, "Zdrowas Mario" (Ave Maria), is the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother.

Final movement:

A mother weeps for her son, killed by the enemy.
    Kajze mi sie podziol
    moj synocek mily?
    Pewnie go w powstaniu
    zle wrogi zabily.

    Wy niedobrzy ludzie,
    dlo Boga swietego
    cemuscie zabili
    synocka mojego?

    Zodnej jo podpory
    juz nie byda miala,
    chocbych moje stare
    ocy wyplakala.

    Chocby z mych lez gorkich
    drugo Odra byla,
    jesce by synocka
    mi nie ozywila.

    Lezy on tam w grobie,
    a jo nie wiem kandy,
    choc sie opytuja
    miedzy ludzmi wsandy.

    Moze nieborocek
    lezy kay w dolecku,
    a moglby se lygac
    na swoim przypiecku.

    Ej, cwierkejcie mu tam,
    wy ptosecki boze,
    kiedy mamulicka
    znalezc go nie moze.

    A ty, boze kwiecie,
    kwitnijze w okolo,
    niech sie synockowi
    choc lezy wesolo.

    Where has he gone,
    My dearest son?
    Killed by the harsh enemy, perhaps,
    In the rebellion.
    You bad people,
    In the name of the Holy God,
    Tell me why you killed
    My dear son.

    Never more
    Will I have his protection,
    Even if I weep
    My old eyes away,
    Or if my bitter tears
    Were to make another River Oder,
    They would not bring back
    My son to life.

    He lies in the grave
    I know not where
    Though I ask people
    Perhaps the poor boy
    Lies in a rough trench
    Instead of lying, as he might,
    In a warm bed.

    Sing for him,
    Little song-birds of God,
    For his mother
    Cannot find him.
    And God's little flowers,
    May you bloom all around
    So that my son
    May sleep happily.
Although the texts here are implicitly Christian, the theme of motherhood and of maternal love is universal. Indeed, very few symbols are as culturally universal as that of the Mother. This song speaks of a mother looking for the body of her murdered son. Fortunately for Lemminkainen, through his mother's unrelenting faith and love, she eventually recovers his shattered body, re-assembles it and brings him back to life.

Corrections/queries/suggestions to me.