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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Sunday, April 4

Of success and sorrow: Gorecki's Third

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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