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Essential Górecki

Largely unknown outside Poland until the 1980s, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki's fame came late with the release in the early 1990s of his Third Symphony, the 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs', a work of "sacred minimalism" whose dominant themes are motherhood and separation through war. Written to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, the work is regarded as a reflection on that dreadful rupture in 20th-century history and became an overnight success for this previously little-known Polish composer.Read more…

The music has an expressive immediacy, straightforward in its construction and attractively consonant harmonies. Górecki's earlier music can be acerbically avant-garde, drawing on the uncompromisingly dissonant works of Webern, Stockhausen, Boulez and Nono. Sometimes violent and colourful, it's music that takes a big idea and then subjects it to discordant, clashing forces, often incorporating the folk music and traditions of the Tatra region of Poland, an area of the country whose music and culture had also influenced fellow countryman Karol Szymanowski. But the simple monumental style inspired by religious music, which makes the Third Symphony so appealing, is already present in Górecki's earlier works. The String Quartet No. 1, for example, written for the Kronos Quartet, takes a Renaissance part-song as its raw material, which is transformed into a peaceful chorale and a folksy dance; while his choral music has a haunting meditative quality, connecting him with other composers of "sacred minimalism" such as Arvo Pärt and John Tavener.

Energy and contemplation are the two key features of Górecki's music, creating an immediate and powerful impact on the listener.

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