Henryk Górecki, the celebrated Polish composer whose compositions ranged from discordant avant-garde works to conventional harmonic arrangements, died on 12 November 2010, in Katowice, Poland. He was 76.
A noted pioneer of minimalist compositional techniques—though he adopted a more florid mode of expression when he began investigating religious themes in his later works—Górecki was perhaps best known for his 1976 work Symphony No. 3, or the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.”
Though a somber piece that explored such issues as war and loss, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” became an improbable crossover hit in 1992 when a recording of the more than 15-year-old third symphony was released to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust. The recording, put out by the record label Nonesuch, cracked into Britain’s top 10 pop music chart and went on to sell more than 1 million copies worldwide.
Though Górecki was often at lager heads with his country, perhaps most famously when he resigned in 1979 from his professor of composition post to protest the then communist government’s rebuff of a visit by Pope John Paul II, the composer was awarded Poland’s most prestigious award last month, the Order of the White Eagle.
In a remembrance posted on Nonesuch’s website, the Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington, who worked with the composer in his later years, stated the following: “There is no one who can replace Henryk Górecki in the world of music. Many others have created beautiful, passionate, even exalted music. But Henryk found a way forward and beyond, through thickets of styles and fashions, that resonates of the single human being in communion with the power of the universe.”