Universally considered as a unique phenomenon in contemporary music, the oeuvre of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki enjoys an unabated popularity. It was considerably enhanced with the 1992 recording of his Third Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) by the London Sinfonietta under David Zinman (with Dawn Upshaw as soloist). Nobody expected that this, the fourth recording of the work, made fifteen years after its premiere, would become an unprecedented commercial success. The work of a composer who not long ago was in the forefront of the avant-garde sold over a million copies worldwide, topping best-seller lists alongside the stars of rock, pop and jazz. It was a success that gave analysts of mass culture much food for thought.
There is no doubt that one of the main reasons of the Górecki phenomenon, which stands no comparison with any other contemporary composer, is the fact that Górecki’s music is rooted in Polish folk art. lt constitutes an ultimate point of reference for the composer’s life and work. ln folk art’s lyrical tone, simplicity and sincerity, and its organic links with nature, Górecki found answers to fundamental, existential questions. Indeed, every piece by Górecki, irrespective of genre and complexity, probes into the problems of the human condition and experience and in doing so employs musical devices rooted in folk material. The universal character of Górecki’s music suggests parallels with Chopin, who, by making folk music relevant to the whole mankind, at the same time defined his national identity vis-a-vis the world. The main direction and artistic goal of Górecki’s music has also been charted by religious inspiration, which is rooted in the national tradition. It proceeds from negation (a rebellion against the pressures of modern life) to affirmation, concentration and inner harmony, which are symbolized by traditional tonality, harmony and melody. Thanks to his unique creative personality, Górecki handles all types of musical utterances with great mastery. Under his hand, a simple melody and a simple triad have retained an expressive power which had seemed to have been lost forever.