The Three Pieces in Old Style date from 1963, and show Gorecki experimenting with techniques and textures that would emerge gloriously in Symphony No. 3 and the later choral masterpieces. Scored for strings only, the work's two slow outer movements have the drones, dissonances and chant-like melodies that are a characteristic feature of the Gorecki style, while the middle fast movement, again minimal and repetitive, is curiously suggestive of the music of Percy Grainger.
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.