Monday, 26 November 2012

Albums for Life: 91: Gorecki: Symphony No 3

These are songs of loss, but they are also songs of hope. 
Music of compassion and tenderness.
There's a lot of repetition; its cyclical nature makes the whole thing quite hypnotic; a balm of calming melancholy. It has a similar effect as Barber's Adagio for Strings; there's a quiet strength in the beauty of the strings of the first movement that is both sombre and uplifting. I've been listening to this for 20 years now and the intensity in its slow build, from almost silence to climax, is still overwhelming; I'm a sucker for emotional music and this always packs a holy punch. 
I rushed to buy this when it was re-packaged on CD in 1992. I guess that I was as culpable as others to the marketing; this 'sorrowful music' made us happy in its sadness. Background music for meaningful dinner parties...
Once I learnt the background to the genesis of the composition the music took on a greater gravity.
Excuse me for mining Wikipedia for this... I wanted to get it right.

The Symphony No. 3, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, is in three movements.
A solo soprano sings a different Polish text in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed in theSilesian uprisings. 
The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war. 
Górecki learned of an inscription scrawled on the wall of a cell of a Gestapo prison in southern Poland. The words were those of 18-year-old Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, a highland woman incarcerated on 25 September 1944. It read "Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always"
The composer recalled, "I have to admit that I have always been irritated by grand words, by calls for revenge. Perhaps in the face of death I would shout out in this way. But the sentence I found is different, almost an apology or explanation for having got herself into such trouble; she is seeking comfort and support in simple, short but meaningful words". He later explained, "In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me."


  1. Really enjoyed this Trevor. Will be listening again.

  2. Trouble is that I've opened the classical floodgates now...
    That would be a whole new list.
    I had been regarding this as a contemporary list.
    I'm justifying this to myself as a 'modern' classic.
    Maybe we need another rule to protect ourselves: 20th century and beyond?

  3. I'd forgotten how much i like this Trev. I think subconsciously I've made mine a song based list so satie and soundtracks missed out

  4. Yup, I think I've gone a bit 'off piste' here.
    I'll try and reign it in; song based, but fear that Seamus is a bad influence...

    1. Now I feel right at home. When someone else goes off track, it's my fault!

  5. You've dragged me from the bar and raised it Seamus.
    And... I don't have a dog to kick...