Composers Datebook®

Of success and sorrow: Gorecki's Third

Henryk Gorecki (b. 1933) No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) Dawn Upshaw, soprano; London Sinfonietta; David Zinman, cond. Nonesuch 79282

Composers Datebook for April 4, 2021


April 04, 2021


On today’s date in 1977, the Third Symphony of the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki was performed for the first time in Royan, France, by the Southwest German Radio Orchestra.

Gorecki’s Symphony has a subtitle—“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”—and sets three texts set for solo soprano voice: a 15th century Lamentation from a Polish monastery; a prayer inscribed on the wall of a WW II prison cell at the headquarters of the Polish Gestapo; and a sad Polish folk song.

Fifteen years after its 1977 premiere, a recording of Gorecki’s symphony featuring the American soprano Dawn Upshaw and conductor David Zinman received some airplay on a British radio station and quickly soared to the top of the pop charts in the U.K. Radio stations in the U.S. started playing it as well, with the same effect.

Was it a sign of an international religious revival? A delayed reaction to the collapse of Communism in Europe? Even Gorecki himself was perplexed: “Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music,” he wrote. “Somehow I hit the right note—something, somewhere that had been lost to them. I feel they instinctively knew what they needed.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Henryk Gorecki (b. 1933) No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) Dawn Upshaw, soprano; London Sinfonietta; David Zinman, cond. Nonesuch 79282

On This Day


  • 1898 - Italian-born American jazz violinist Joe Venuti, in Lecco;

  • 1905 - French composer and conductor Eugène Bozza, in Nice;


  • 1931 - American composer George Whitefield Chadwick, age 76, in Boston;

  • 1972 - German-born American composer Stefan Wolpe, age 69, in New York;


  • 1739 - Handel: oratorio "Israel in Egypt," in London at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket; As an intermission feature, Handel's new Organ Concerto in F ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale") is also premiered (Gregorian date: April 15);

  • 1859 - Meyerbeer: opera "Le Pardon de Ploërmel" (Dinorah), in Paris;

  • 1867 - Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 1, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, by violinist Pablo de Sarasate;

  • 1897 - Chausson: "Poème" for violin and orchestra, in Paris, at a Colonne Concert with Eugene Ysäye as soloist;

  • 1955 - Stravinsky: "Greeting Prelude" (for the 80th birthday of conductor Pierre Monteux), by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch;

  • 1964 - Sondheim: musical "Anyone Can Whistle" on Broadway; The show ran for only nine performances, closing on April 11, 1964; Nevertheless, the day after its closing, Columbia Records executive Goddard Lieberson makes an original cast recording that becomes a best-seller;

  • 1971 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical "Company";

  • 1975 - Rochberg: Violin Concerto, by the Pittsburgh Symphony, with Isaac Stern as soloist;

  • 1977 - Gorecki: Symphony No. 3 ("Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"), in Royan, France, with soprano soloist Stefania Woytowicz and the Southwest German Radio Orchestra conducted by Ernest Bour;


  • 1954 - Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (age 87) leads his last concert with the NBC Symphony, an all-Wagner program.