The unprecedented commercial success of the CD of Henryk Mikołaj Góreckis Third Symphony in 1991, fifteen years after the date of its composition, not only drew the Polish composer to the worlds attention, arousing interest in his earlier works, but also gave rise to a discussion about the state of culture in what might be described as a decadent period.
So was the Third Symphony ahead of its time? Was it justifiable to regard the work as an end-of-the-seventies piece of aesthetical provocation? Should the wilful confusion of high and low aesthetic orders be considered a symbol of the end of post-Enlightenment utopia when the idea of progress, in all fields, including art, constituted the fundamental criterion for evaluation?
Attempts to answer these questions have given rise to a certain intellectual confusion, leading occasionally to the advancing of false theses, such as the attribution of Góreckis compositional output to the New Age spiritual landscape, or the comparison of his compositional procedures with those of American minimalist composers.
In fact, the Third Symphony Symphony of Sorrowful Songs reflects both the composers individual exploration of technique and his attempt to determine his own Christian spiritual identity. The composition is a new manifestation of the sonoristic reductionism technique and the idea of simple music, in line with Krzysztof Drobas designation of these phenomena, according to which all details and modifications of tone colour are significant. By conferring on the three movements of the composition a form of mystery which negated a rational sense of time and made the work dissolve in a seemingly infinite continuum, the composer managed to bring the Symphony within the sphere of folk ceremonial tradition. Anguish, the principal theme of the composition, presented here through both the mothers suffering after her sons death and the image of a woman prisoner in a Gestapo prison, makes real sense only in the light of faith and the drama of Golgotha.
Góreckis Third Symphony Symphony of Sorrowful Songs for soprano solo and orchestra, dedicated to the composers wife, was written in 1976. Commissioned by Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden, it was premiered on 4 April, 1977, during the 14th International Festival of Contemporary Art in Royan, with Stefania Woytowicz as soloist. The same singer has made several recordings of the composition with different orchestras. The CD with Dawn Upshaw as soloist and the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Zinman won a Golden Disc award in 1991.
The first movements outer sections (Lento sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile) consist of an austere ten-part canon on strings. Its Aeolian theme was derived from a Kurpian song notated in Rev. Father Władysław Skierkowskis collection. The canon is characterized by continual repetition of the theme (and its counterpoint), all its answers being tonal and thus not going beyond the notes of the scale. In this way, a vibrating sound magma composed entirely of diatonic notes is created; it is extremely varied, however, thanks to different vertical structures ranging from pure harmonies to thick clusters. Consequently, the archaic, modal element of the composition (the canonic theme) is pitted against modern, sonoristic devices (cluster chords). After the culminating point of the canon, a reduction in the sound-mass occurs with the resolving of individual parts onto a unison E in preparation for the entry of the solo soprano (Dolcissimo). This simple invocation, reinforced with strings and other instruments, and based on the text of the Holy Cross Lament from the fifteenth-century Łysa Góra Songs, begins like the canon with a scalic ascent on notes of the Aeolian mode, to achieve the climax at Doloroso with the change to Phrygian mode with its characteristic minor second. At this point the canon returns, closing this emotional arch structure by way of the succeeding reduction of parts.
A simple contrast of sound is, as before, the dramatic core of the second movement (Lento e Largo tranquillissimo). The moving prayer of the young woman prisoner in the gestapo prison Palace in Zakopane is preceded by a short instrumental introduction based on the motif of an open fifth A-E with added and sustained G#. This motif is enriched by walking thirds and its scoring (strings, doubled by piano and harp) gives it a simply heavenly tinge, contrasting strongly with a melodic fragment supported by a sinister minor third (Bb Db) in the lower registers of clarinets, horns, piano and strings. The prayer rising heavenwards is ended with words taken from a song of Jurek Bitschan, the legendary 14-year-old Lwów Eaglet (a volunteer, who in death became a symbol of patriotism for Lwóws defenders): Immaculate Queen of Heaven, support (lead in the original) me always.
The third movement (Lento cantabile semplice) is a kind of emotional crescendo arising from the variational elaboration of a folk tune from the Opole region, preserved in Adolf Dygaczs collection. The succeeding sequences of the sopranos melody, reinforced with flutes, clarinets and horns, are accompanied by progressions of repeated chords in strings derived from the opening fragment of Chopins Mazurka Op. 1, No. 4 and tinged with drops of sound from piano and harp. This homogeneous stream of music, marked by slight changes in pace, metre and dynamics, and suffused by the prevailing minor mood (A minor followed by E minor), is eventually crowned with a prolonged cadence in major. This A major chord, placed at the end of the three Sorrowful Songs, has as it does in medieval, baroque and renaissance music some symbolic connotations, implying, as it were, a holy chord, the eternal flame of Faith.
(translated by Ewa Gabryś)