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Expression Surpassing Words: Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 “Sorrowful Songs”

By Alyssa K. Griffith


The experience of listening to Gorecki’s Symphony no. 3, op. 36 “Sorrowful Songs” is one that is not easily forgotten. It is not only musically captivating, but also historically fascinating. After its premiere in 1977, Gorecki’s piece captivated listeners across the globe as it became a cultural phenomenon in both Europe and America. The music was a stunning success in both the Classical and popular cultures. What is it about the music that is so captivating? How did the trending, popular thoughts compare to Gorecki’s original ideas and compositional motives? What actually inspired this piece? By looking at the composition and premise of each movement, I am going to introduce how the piece was written around the theme of maternal love and separation of mother and child. The Third Symphony was heavily influenced by Gorecki’s personal past, but also by his Catholic beliefs and by Polish history. The separate texts to this three movement piece deal individually with a mother’s lament over her son’s departure, the Virgin Mary’s grief at her Son’s death, and finally the words of an incarcerated prison girl to her mother. Because of the setting from which the third text was drawn, and because of Gorecki’s Polish history and experiences in the post-holocaust world, many people have interpreted this to be a “war piece” which avenges the sufferers of the Holocaust. According to Gorecki, this piece is a lament- it expresses a profound sense of grief which, arguably, cannot accurately be expressed with words. Gorecki used his music to confront, mourn, and express his pain and the pain of many other people. By finding primary sources, such as interviews of Henryk Gorecki, and by looking at the scholarly books and journals by Luke B. Howard, Adrian Thomas, and other scholars of Polish avant-garde music, I hope to properly understand and express the intentions Gorecki wished to convey by writing The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Topics: Górecki, Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, maternal love, Holocaust Music, Virgin Mary, Music, M1-5000
Publisher: Department of Music and Worship
Year: 2015
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