Henryk Górecki

Henryk Górecki

(born Czernica, Poland 6 December 1933; died Katowice, Poland 12 November 2010)

One of the foremost composers in the realm of the Polish avant-garde, Górecki became the subject of international renown upon the release of his Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. 

Whilst Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is still his best known work, Górecki’s output has been lauded by critics across the world, with his ever-shifting style leading to a diverse set of works including Totus Tuus, Beatus Vir and Miserere. 

Górecki's Musical Style

Górecki is known for his shifting style throughout his life, moving through several distinct phases in his compositions. Despite this, he’s known as one of the founders of the New Polish School (a term used mostly in retrospect), a group of composers working in the latter half of the 20th Century who shared similarities in their works, including other household names such as Lutosławski, Serocki and Penderecki.

His first notable phase was that of Modernism, clearly influenced by Szymanowski, Webern and Bartók, propelling Górecki to the forefront of the avant-garde at the time, with his first symphony proving extraordinarily popular at the Paris Biennial Festival of Youth.

By the early 1970s, Górecki began leaning into compositions including the voice, moving from stark orchestrations to more expressive and lyrical pieces, during which his best known composition was written: his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. 

Despite the fame gained from this trailblazing piece, Górecki’s style continued to change moving into postmodernism, refusing to stop now he’d amassed an international following. When questioned why, he’s noted in saying he composes ’in response to inner creative dictates’, not for the popularity of pieces. 

Górecki's Life

Born to music-loving parents in rural Poland, he took up the violin at aged 10 under the tutelage of a local instrument maker. By the age of 20 had become a tutor in his own right, while studying at the Intermediate School of Music in Rybnik, where he completed a 4-year course in 3 years, and his work in composing became a greater focus in his life. 

By 1975, Henryk was offered the position of Professor of Composition at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, with his compositions being popular throughout Poland. Shortly after, in 1976, Górecki began work on his magnum opus – his Symphony No. 3, which later rocketed him to being a household name worldwide. 

Górecki died shortly after what should’ve been the premiere of his Symphony No. 4 in 2010, after a series of illnesses. 

Book tickets to see Symphony of Sorrowful Songs live at the London Coliseum,  27 Apr–6 May 2023.