Third Symphony by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, widely known as The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is one of most important works of the last quarter of 20th century. Composed in autumn 1976, it became one of turning points in the newest history of music. Before this moment music including external meanings was out-of-fashion. Composers of three after-war decades were trying to oppose against music at the service of ideology by apply to the idea of musica pura. But after the great rise of serialism and sonorism, after decades of creating avant-garde intellectual formulas, comes discouragement. In mid ’70s, group of modern composers decided to turn back to the melodic and harmonic roots of European music. Amid many ways of anti-avant-gardism, return to romantic idioms in modernity had long tradition since Gustav Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky or Charles Ives to Oliver Messiaen, Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. And this way was looking exceptionally effective. In Poland the one of very few was Henryk Mikołaj Górecki. But before his Symphony No. 3 became well known all over the world, criticism of mainstream media was huge.
The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs was composed for the commision of Radio Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden and premiered at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Royan by Südwestfunk Orchestra with soprano Stefania Woytowicz under the direction of Ernest Bour on April 4th, 1977. None of renowned critics gives this work positive opinion and in many reviews it was just crushed. One year later in May 1978 this work was recorded by Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice with the same soloist Stefania Woytowicz and conducted by Jerzy Katlewicz. Record has been published in 1980 by Polskie Nagrania – Muza (SX 1648). Critics didn't notice the values of this work until 1985, when Maurice Pialat used fragments of Górecki's Symphony in soundtrack to movie Police. Subsequently radio stations begin to play this record with success. In 1992 in Nonesuch Records came out second recording of The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs recorded by David Zinman with Dawn Upshow and London Sinfonietta and became an immediate hit, with over one million copies sold.
Structure of Symphony No. 3 consist of three songs. 1st Song Lento, Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile is a canon based on folk theme from Kurpie region. Middle section of this part is soprano lamentation - lyrics came from 15th century codex found in Holly Cross Monastery in Łysa Góra. For litany in Song No. 2 Lento e Largo composer used the praying scratched by a girl prisoner on the wall of Gestapo prison in Zakopane during the war. 3rd Song Lento cantabile - semplice is variation of folk lamentation from Opole region. Górecki used very small amount of resources in this work. His style was always minimalist, but this work is compromise between modern language and traditional form. Archaic timbre and religious connections give this work unusual strength and change minimalistic limitations into highly effective rules of organizing musical form.
After many months of heavy illness, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki died November the 12th, 2010, leaving over eighty works of modern, sometimes avantgarde, though very legible music. In youngest period his works were avantgarde and serialistic the same manner as the works of many other composers of this time. Then in second period he abandon the formal and intellectual complexity thus his music became readable and highly valued by the audience. He is known mainly for his choral works in which he joints economy of resources and emotional intensity. Nonetheless his work is still under critical pressure of those critics who believe they known better than anybody else what and why is worth to hear.