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Symphony No. 3 : Work information

Henryk (Mikolaj) Górecki ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Susan Gritton (Soprano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Simonov (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Symphony No. 3
Work number
Op. 36
1976-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Alan Peters
Geoff Foster
Recording date

The Composers

Henryk (Mikolaj) Górecki

Born in Czernica, Silesia, Henryk Górecki was educated at the Katowice Conservatory before a brief postgraduate study at the Paris Conservatoire under Messiaen.  His early works often used serial techniques and were very much of the time - his First Symphony (1959) made restricted use of the orchestra and is atonal without being confrontational.  For all the emphasis placed on structure by his contemporaries, few had the ability to make their compositions both as complex and transparent as Górecki's.  Choros I (1964) was a succession of intricate string textures, flowing continuously yet clearly delineated.  Despite a strong allegiance with fellow avant-gardists such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Górecki considers his greatest influences to be Beethoven, Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.  This was to make more sense in later years as he gradually returned to tonal composition.

The Second Symphony (Copernican) (1972) is a huge work for orchestra, chorus and soloists.  Apocalyptic at times, it is almost Mahlerian in scope and directness and forms a bridge to his most famous work, the Third Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) .  Written in 1976 for soprano and orchestra, it consists of three gigantic slow movements; the first is made from vast pandiatonic string canons which frame the soprano soloist's first entry, the second sets texts found scrawled on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell and the third is based on a traditional folk song.  Its 1992 recording sold phenomenally, winning worldwide acclaim.  Static tonality and repetitive elements have led to commentators describing Górecki's music as minimalist, but it seems more borne out of personal convictions than following a particular school.

Track listing

  • Lento - Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile 27:56 min
  • Lento e Largo - Tranquillissimo - Cantabillissimo - Dolcissimo legatissimo 9:22 min
  • Lento - cantabile semplice 16:07 min


The enormous success of Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 some fifteen years after its composition is a testament to the power of recordings and radio broadcast. Typically, Gorecki wasn't phased at all, remarking in 1993: "The Third Symphony? Well, yes, I'm glad happened for me, but it's in the past." He has remained true to his artistic nature and stayed close to his roots in Poland.

The Third Symphony 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' was composed in 1976 and first performed on 4 April 1977. Using old Polish religious and folk texts, it is a lyrical work that uses a simple harmonic and rhythmic language to create wonderful tapestries of sound. The composer has often voiced his love of Schubert, and some of the simplicity of this spirtual ancestor can be seen in the Third Symphony.

The use of text taken from the wall of Gestapo headquarters in Zakopane has led many to regard the work as a commentary on the Holocaust, or the Second World War. Gorecki has denied this; the work is a 'normal Klagenliedersinfonie (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)'.

See if you can spot the quotation of Chopin's Mazurka Op. 17 No. 4 at the start of the final Lento.