Górecki, Henryk Mikołaj International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

go to content


He studied composition with Bolesław Szabelski at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice. His works are among the most original phenomena in contemporary music. He first made his mark in the mid-1950s. Starting with the Szymanowskiand Bartók-influenced Four Preludes for piano (1955) and Songs of Joy and Rhythm (1956), he later radicalised his technique, drawing on, among others, Webern and Boulez in Epitaph (1958) and Symphony no. 1 (1959). During the 1960s he composed such innovative works as Genesis (1962–63) and Muzyczka (La Musiquette) nos. 1, 2 and 3 for various instrumental lineups (1967; La Musiquette no. 4 dates from 1970). In the same period, Górecki began to simplify his compositional language and explore musical traditions, for instance in Three Pieces in Old Style (1963) and Old Polish Music (1967–69).

The simple yet monumental style for which Górecki is renowned today became fully established in the 1970s, with works such as Symphony no. 2 Copernican (1972), Symphony no. 2 of Sorrowful Songs (1976) as well as the psalm setting Beatus vir (performed in Cracow on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979). In the early 1980s Górecki withdrew from public life and concentrated on choral settings and chamber music (“Lerchenmusik,” Recitativa e ariosa, 1984–86). In the latter part of the decade, Górecki’s music was progressively gaining popularity. It also attracted large new audiences and performers in the West. This renewed interest led to the composition of two string quartets commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Already It Is Dusk (1988) and Quasi una fantasia (1991). In November 2005 Kronos Quartet gave the world premiere in Bielsko-Biała of yet another commission from Górecki, the String Quartet no. 3 “... songs are sung”. Górecki’s music is now performed throughout the world: at subscription concerts, festivals, and especially in single-composer programmes. It is also taken up by choreographers. Recordings of Górecki’s music proliferate; many of them have won great success. Górecki was awarded honorary doctorates by, among others, the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw (1993, now the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University), University of Warsaw (1994), Jagiellonian University in Cracow (2000), the music academies of Katowice (2003) and Cracow (2008), John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (2004), Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, University of Victoria, and University of British Columbia in Montreal. 

Major works: Four Preludes for piano (1955), Songs of Joy and Rhythm for two pianos and chamber orchestra (1956), Concerto for five instruments and string quartet (1957), Epitaph for mixed choir and chamber ensemble (1958), Symphony no. 1 1959 for string orchestra and percussion (1959), Scontri for orchestra (1960), Genesis cycle: I – Elementi per tre archi for string trio (1962), II – Canti strumentali per 15 esecutori for three violins, three violas, two flutes, trumpet, mandolin, guitar, piano four hands and percussion (1962), III – Monodramma per soprano, metalli di percussione e sei violbassi for soprano, percussion and six double basses (1963), Three Pieces in Old Style for string orchestra (1963), Choros I for string orchestra (1964), Refrain for orchestra (1965), La Musiquette no. 1 for two violins and guitar (1967), La Musiquette no. 2 for four trumpets, four trombones, two pianos and percussion (1967), La Musiquette no. 3 for three violas (1967), Cantata for organ (1968), Old Polish Music for orchestra (1967–69), Canticum graduum for orchestra (1969), La Musiquette no. 4 “Trombone Concerto” for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano (1971), Ad Matrem for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra (1970), Symphony no. 2 Copernican for soprano, baritone, mixed choir and large orchestra (1972), Amen for mixed choir (1975), Symphony no. 3 of Sorrowful Songs for soprano and symphony orchestra (1976), Beatus vir for baritone, choir and orchestra (1979), Broad Waters, five songs for mixed unaccompanied choir (1979), Concerto for harpsichord (or piano) and string orchestra (1980), Miserere for large mixed unaccompanied choir (1981), My Vistula, Grey Vistula, folk songs for mixed unaccompanied choir (1981), “Lerchenmusik,” Recitativa e ariosa for clarinet, cello and piano (1984–86), For You, Anne-Lill for flute and piano (1986–90), Totus Tuus for unaccompanied choir (1987), “Already It Is Dusk,” Music for String Quartet (String Quartet no. 1, 1988), Good Night for soprano, alto flute, piano and three tamtams (1990), String Quartet no. 2 Quasi una fantasia (1991), Concerto-Cantata for flute and orchestra (1992), Kleines Requiem für eine Polka for piano and 13 instruments (1993), Come Holy Spirit for mixed unaccompanied choir (1993), Five Kurpian Songs for unaccompanied choir (1999), Salve, sidus Polonorum, Cantata in Honour of St. Adalbert for choir, percussion and two pianos (1997–2000), Lobgesang for choir and glockenspiel (2000), Quasi una fantasia for string orchestra (2002), Song of the Katyń Families for mixed unaccompanied choir (2004), String Quartet no. 3 “... songs are sung” (1995–2005).