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ClassicsOnline Home » GORECKI: Symphony No. 2 / Beatus vir
By Michael Stewart
By Nicholas Williams
BBC Music Magazine
By Raymond Tuttle
Henryk Mikotaj Górecki (b. 1933)
Symphony No. 2 "Copernican", Op. 31
Beatus vir, Op. 38
The Polish composer Henryk Mikoiaj Górecki was born on 6th December 1933 in Czernica, Silesia. He studied music at the High School of Music in Katowice (now the Academy of Music). In 1960 he graduated with distinction from the class of the composer Bolestaw Szabelski, composer of five symphonies, who had been taught by Karol Szymanowski. Górecki gave his debut concert as a composer in 1958 in Katowice, which led to performances of his works at the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music. These included Symphony No. 1 in 1959 and Scontri in 1960. Shortly afterwards he gained his first significant international success as a composer, winning first prize at the 1961 Biennial Festival of Youth in Paris for Symphony No. 1.
If the style of Górecki's compositions during his first years of study could be described as "vital-explosive" with a significant element of post-Bartók moto perpetuo, by the start of the following decade it had been supplemented by features of post-Webern expressionism and by selective use of a free serial technique.
Among Górecki's compositions of the 1960s special attention should be paid to the two cyclical works Genesis I-III (1962-63) and La Musiquette I-IV (1967-70), both of which were written for specific, mostly chamber ensembles. While Genesis is a continuation of the Polish "speciality" of those days, known as "expressive sonorism" (used by Penderecki and Kilar as well as Górecki), a considerable condensation of material follows in Les Musiquettes. The two cycles were separated by the orchestral Refrain, for which Górecki received third prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1967. Refrain is seen as a turning-point Górecki's musical aesthetic. The use of huge blocks of sound with full textures (clusters), and above all the creation of a great reverberating "space" of musical activity, heralds the Górecki of the now legendary Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" (I 976).
Before this, however, in 1972, Górecki had finished his Symphony No. 2 "Copernican" for soprano and baritone solo, mixed choir and orchestra. This work was commissioned by the KoÊciuszko Foundation in New York to celebrate the 500th anniversary in 1973 of the birth of the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who "stopped the sun and moved the earth".
If Refrain defined anew the Górecki's aesthetic in the field of instrumental sound, then the turning point for the 'ethical' aspect of his artistic activity was the "engraved in granite" cantata Ad Matrem for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra (1971), in which Górecki was inspired by the medieval sequence Stabat Mater. In 1973 at the UNESCO Rostrum in Paris he received first prize for this work. For a better understanding of the phenomenon of the "Copernican" Symphony we need to understand the fact that already in Three Pieces in Old Style for string orchestra (1963), Górecki had returned to earlier forms of music, as he did in Old Polish Music (1969), using melodic material of the Renaissance song It is Dawning by Waclaw of Szamotuly.
In this context the Symphony No. 2 appears to be a summary of Górecki's previous methods of composition and a turning-point in his compositional aesthetic. Its essential musical idea is heard immediately in great 'megalithic' blocks of tutti, which dazzle with their concentration and openness of musical expression. The symphony ends with four-part choral singing, expressing man's delight in the beauty and order of God's creation, using Copernicus's own words from De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, for which Górecki used music from the antiphonary of the fifteenth century Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre of Miech6w. At the same time this final chorale has a certain correspondence with the Symphony "Die Harmonie der Welt" by Paul Hindemith, which refers to the thinking of another renowned astronomer, Johannes Kepler, and whose final passacaglia becomes the expression of the universal order. We cannot fail to recognise another of Górecki's musical gestures; this time it is a post-Creation symbolic pause which allows the melody of the soprano to rise where 'the light is', 'luminaria magna'. Time inevitably destroys the old order so that it can be replaced by the new.
After finishing his Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs", but many years before it became successful Górecki started work on another piece, to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bishop of Cracow, Stanislaw of Szczepanów. The commission for this composition came in 1977 from the Cardinal of Krakow Karol Wojtyla. On I 6th October the following year, Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, and in June 1979, he returned on pilgrimage to Poland. During this pilgrimage this composition was performed in the presence of the Holy Father in Krakow.
While searching for a formula for his work, Góreeki turned to the Book of Psalms. He chose some verses which emphasize the theme of man's indefinite submission to the Will and Providence of God, ending with the words: "Blessed is the n whose hope is in the Lord".
Beatus vir - Psalm for baritone solo, mixed choir and orchestra was dedicated to the Holy Father John Paul II. The composer conducted its world premiere himself on 9th June 1979 with the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, and Jerzy Mechlifski as soloist. In Beatus vir Górecki remained faithful to the idea of "condensed" music: the simplest musical motifs, the simplest harmonic references and rhythms determine the course of the sonic narrative. It contains two "dominants" with symbolic meaning: they are preceded by words of pleading ("answer my prayer") and submission ("my destiny is in hands").
A characteristic of the work is that belts and glockenspiel can be heard only in these symbolic "dominant" moments. The first of the dominants refers to the person of John Paul II: a huge ostinato of two chords, played sixteen times, associated with the E flat major chord repeated ten times, symbolizing the day when the Cardinal was elevated to St Peter's. The second one consists of bells announcing the day and the month of the martyrdom of Bishop Stanislaw: eleven and four. This dominant outlines the end of the composition in C major which, poco piano, molto lento, ben sonoro and with dignity but without superfluous splendour, recalls nine centuries of Polish history.
Adapted from the translations by Alina and Andrew Garner
The soprano Zofia Kilanowicz was born in Poland, and trained as a singer at the Academy of Music in Kraków under Helena Lazarska. Awards include First Prize at the Karol Symanowski Competition (Poland, 1987), Second Prize at the Anton Dvorak Competition (Czechoslovakia, 1988), and the Elly Ameling Prize at the 's-Hertogenbosch Competition (Holland, 1988). She began her career at the Warsaw Chamber Opera (1989) in the Mozart rôles of Vitellia and Konstanze. In 1990 she made her debut at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Bruxelles as Drusilla. She also performed three rôles in operas by Mozart, Purcell and Dusapin. Her great success was the part of Roxana in Szymanowski's King Roger performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Plysées, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal and Carnegie Hall under Charles Dutoit. She is an acknowledged oratorio and cantata singer, and has appeared in concert widely throughout Europe, with performances for radio and in the recording studio.
The Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber was born in 1961, and studied piano, organ and in the vocal class at the Music Academy in Krak6w and at the Meistersinger Konservatorium in Nuremberg. Prize winner of vocal competitions in Poland and abroad, he took third prize in the 1988 Neue Europäische Stimmen in Gutersloch, three prizes at the Belvedere Competition in Vienna, Schwezingerfestspiele Preis and the Vancouver Opera Prize, as well as the grand Prix at the prestigious ARD International Competition in Munich. Following his success in Munich he participated in various productions in German opera houses, including Frankfurt am Main (first baritone in the years 1990-1994), Cologne. Hanover, Karlsruhe, Essen, Munich, Darmstadt, Dresden, the Komische Oper Berlin, and Leipzig Opera as well as at the Volksoper in Vienna. His repertoire comprises principal r6les in a wide range of operas from Mozart to the contemporary. He took part in two concert tours by the Komische Oper in Japan in 1994 and 1998 as well as by the Teatro alla Scala under Riccardo Muti in Japan in September 2000. His La Scala début in Milan was as the Conte di Luna in December 2000.
Polish Radio Choir
The Polish Radio Choir was founded by Jerzy Gert in 1947 and until 1993 was an integral part of the Orchestra and Choir of the Polish Radio and TV. Since January 1995 the ensemble has existed independently as The Polish Radio Choir in Kraków with Wlodzimierz Siedlik appointed as its director and artistic manager. The Polish Radio Choir has performed and recorded innumerable vocal and instrumental compositions under the baton of many distinguished Polish and foreign conductors. The Choir has a wide range of repertoire of unaccompanied and accompanied choral music from various periods, and has recorded many works for the archive of the Polish Radio and CDs for Polish and foreign companies. It has given first performances of a number of important works by modern Polish composers, including Lutoslawski and Penderecki.
Silesian Philharmonic Choir
The Silesian Philharmonic Choir was founded in 1974 and since then has been led by Jan Wojtacha, professor and lecturer in the Choir and Conducting Department at the Academy of Music in Katowice. The Choir collaborates with the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra performing oratorios and cantatas from the baroque to the contemporary, a cappella choral works as well as vocal-instrumental compositions. The ensemble has given numerous concerts in Poland and abroad, and has taken part in several important festivals. The Silesian Philharmonic Choir has made many recordings, including the complete choral-instrumental pieces by Karol Szymanowski for Marco Polo.
Antoni Wit studied conducting with Henryk Czyz and composition with Krzysztof Penderecki. In 1971 he was a prize winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. He was director of the Pomeranian Philharmonic and of the Polish Radio and Television Orchestra and Chorus in Cracow, and since 1983 he has been director of the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. He has conducted many major orchestra such as the London Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony and Philharmonia orchestras in London, the Berlin Philharmonic, Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Tokyo Symphony, Tonhalle Orchester Zdrich, Staatskapelle Dresden, national orchestras in Madrid and Brussels, radio orchestras in Hilversum, Cologne, Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Rome, Milan and Turin. He has recorded over 80 CDs, among them, the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Schumann, Lutoslawski and Periderecki for Naxos. Awards for his recordings include the Diapason d'Or and Grand Prix de Disques de la Nouvelle Académie du Disque.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of the well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg, under whom the orchestra worked until the outbreak of World War II. In March 1945 it was recalled to life in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became its artistic director. He was succeeded by the eminent Polish conductors, Jan Krenz, Kazimierz Kord and since 1983 by Antoni Wit, now the principal conductor.
The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction such as Leonard Bernstein, Neville Marriner and Kurt Masur and has toured most of Europe as well as the Americas and countries of the Near and Far East. It has recorded almost 160 compact discs for Polish and many international record companies. For Naxos, the orchestra has recorded over seventy CDs, among them the complete symphonies of Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Lutoslawski and Penderecki.
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GORECKI: Symphony No. 2 / Beatus vir