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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Requiem for Górecki
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Henryk Mikolaj Górecki

Politicians, musicians, composers and artists were among the mourners  who attended a Requiem Mass and memorial service for Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki,  yesterday at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice, Poland.

Górecki, who was one of Poland's most well-known contemporary composers, died on 12 November, aged 76. He is probably best known in the west for his 'Sorrowful Songs' symphony for soprano solo and orchestra, written in the 1970s,  which became a best-selling recording in 1992. The 52-minute composition contains three movements, each with a poignant lyric sung in Polish. The text of the second movement  is a prayer Helena Wanda Blzusiakowna wrote on the wall of Cell 3 of the Gestapo headquarters in Zakopane in 1944, when she was 18: “No, Mother, do not weep/ Most chaste Queen of Heaven support me always./ Hail Mary, full of grace.”

In 1979 he wrote Beatus Vir, a large-scale psalm setting for chorus and orchestra, which was performed in Krakow in honour of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Poland that year.

One of his best known works is Totus Tuus (Totally Yours), an a cappella piece first performed at the Mass in Victory Square, Warsaw, celebrated by John Paul II on his third pilgrimage to Poland in 1987.

As the 80s progressed, Gorecki's music was given a wider audience in the West, leading to a publishing contract with Boosey & Hawkes in 1988, and the composition of three important string quartets: Already it is Dusk (1988), Quasi una fantasia (1991) and ... Songs are Sung (1995). The Kronos Quartet from San Francisco gave the premiere recitals of all three.

Notable works by Gorecki in the ensuing years include a piece for flute and orchestra, Concerto-Cantata (1992), Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka (1993), a piece for chorus, percussion and keyboards Salve, Sidus Polonorum (1997-2000) and Lobgesang (2000). Gorecki's music has been widely performed and used by choreographers to create ballets.

His Symphony No 4 was due to be premièred in London this year, by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, but the event was cancelled due to the composer's ill health.

In a tribute, the director of the Katowice Music Academy, Eugeniusz Knapik, said:  "Górecki's work is like a huge boulder that lies in our path and forces us to make a spiritual and emotional effort".

Adrian Thomas, Professor of Music at Cardiff University, said "The strength and startling originality of Górecki's character shone through his music..  Yet he was an intensely private man, sometimes impossible, with a strong belief in family, a great sense of humour, a physical courage in the face of unrelenting illness, and a capacity for firm friendship".

Górecki was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour, just a month before his death.

His is survived by his wife Jadwiga, a pianist, his daughter, Anna Górecka-Stanczyk,  a pianist, and his son, Mikolaj who is also a composer.

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