HENRYK MIKOLAJ GÓRECKI (b.1933)
Symphony No.3, op.36 (1976)
'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'
'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
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:
- Lento: Sostenuto tranquilo ma cantabile
- Lento e Largo: Tranquillissimo - cantabillissimo - dolcissimo - lagatissimo
- Lento: Cantabile - semplice
in each movement is in Polish; the original Polish, English translations and brief interpretations are as follows:
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.
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.
1This line before translation, "Zdrowas Mario" (Ave Maria), is the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother.
Mamo, nie placz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Help me always.
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
Zodnej jo podpory
juz nie byda miala,
chocbych moje stare
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.
lezy kay w dolecku,
a moglby se lygac
na swoim przypiecku.
Ej, cwierkejcie mu tam,
wy ptosecki boze,
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.
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