On Henryk Górecki…

November 10th, 2016

It is now over a week since news of the death of Henryk Górecki filtered through the British press media, eventually winding its way to me through a blunt status update on Facebook (of all places). It has given me a little time to reflect on his passing and what his music means to me now in 2010, as a 30 year old composer.

I state my age only because of the high esteem I held Górecki’s music when I was a teenager, his Symphony No. 3 was the piece that ‘turned me on’ to classical music – it bridged the gap (in my mind) between the esoteric pop music I was listening to and the esoteric classical music I was studying. It is a deeply affecting piece of music, heavy in melancholy, bathed in a shimmering haze of post-romantic sensuality and postmodern spirituality – it certainly did the trick for me as a 19 year old. This work led me on to Górecki’s other works: the works in a similar vein to the symphony – Totus Tuus, Three Pieces in Old Style, Amen and to works further away stylistically – Symphony No. 2, the string quartets and Lerchenmusik. It also opened me up to Messiaen, Bartók, Szymanowski and Lutosławski – something to which I am very grateful.

But what do I think about his music now, now that much water has gone under the bridge? I have certainly changed as a composer, and my music and my influences have also changed, and I guess my relationship with Górecki’s music has changed also. I still love the sound of the Third Symphony and the satellite pieces, and the big choral works such as Beatus Vir and Miserere have a power (both musically and politically) that doesn’t fail to move me. I also really like the string quartet Already it is Dusk which has a primitive force that isn’t always present in his other works. Other works pass me by, they are either too slight, a little under-composed or too long and ponderous. His music gets some bad press from many people I know, and I do agree with some of their criticisms, but I find it hard to be too negative about his work. I guess, like all teenage afflictions, you carry a little of them in you always (or something perhaps a little less melodramatic) and they are hard to shake.

I know he isn’t the world’s greatest composer and I’m sure history will probably only remember him as a strange early-90s phenomenon, but I am sad that he will produce no further work, and especially sad that he didn’t finish the Fourth Symphony – I would have loved to have heard that.

PAC

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