An Introduction to Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

One of the 20th Century’s finest pieces, in an unprecedented stage performance. Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a stark change from the rest of our 2022/23 Season. If you like your theatre to be a touching work of art, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is for you.

‘Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music, something they were missing. Something, somewhere had been lost to them. I feel that I instinctively knew what they needed‘ (Henryk Górecki)

With tickets starting from just £10, book today for Symphony of Sorrowful Songs at the London Coliseum from 27 April – 6 May 2023.

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In 1991, a recording of the London Sinfonietta performing Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 was released, rocketing the Polish composer from relative obscurity to global notoriety. Featuring the soprano Dawn Upshaw, the symphony topped charts world wide and remained in the top 40 bestselling albums in the UK for 11 weeks becoming one of the most beloved pieces of classical music of the modern era.

Notably, the piece received a lot of popularity through its exposure on the newly created Classic FM, becoming a household name in the UK and a staple of orchestral repertoire. 

Górecki’s magnum opus

 

Composed in 1976, Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, known colloquially as Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, is often thought of as the composers finest work, and led to Górecki being lauded as possibly the most commercially successful composers of the 20th Century. 

Coming from a basis in composing mainly dissonant works, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs marked a transition between the crunchiness of his early works to the more tonal harmony of his later years. Described as ‘mournful, like Mahler, but without the bombast of percussion, horns and choir, just the sorrow of strings and the lone soprano’, Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 remains the composer’s best known work.

 

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is sung in Polish, but with good reason – the texts are verbatim from their sources. Giving perspectives from both a mother having lost their child and a child separated from their parents, this touching work of art is a powerfully evocative meditation on motherhood, love and loss.

The first and third movement come from the perspective of a mother in concern for her child. The text of the first movement is taken from a 15th Century polish Lament of the Holy Cross. Written from the perspective of Mary, she looks upon Jesus on the cross and wishes to ease his pain. The third movement is based on a Silesian folk song taken from the Opole region of Poland where a mother is searching for her lost son. She speaks of wanting to know where he lies so she can mourn properly and praying that songbirds will sing for him. A stunning text to end this touching symphonic work.

Take a look at the text translations.

 

 

Perhaps the most touching text is that taken from a wall of a cell in a Gestapo prison in Zakopone. Incarcerated there was Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, an 18-year-old who was imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944, under Nazi occupation of Poland. Whilst she remained in prison, she scratched a prayer into the wall of her cell, using a fragment of her own broken tooth:

‘Mother, do not cry, no, do not weep, Most pure Queen of Heaven, Protect me always.’

As heartbreaking as this might seem, it has a happy ending – after 12 weeks, Helena was amongst those being moved from Zakopane by train, when she was rescued by guerrillas. She crossed the Tatra mountains by foot and made it to her grandparents in Szczawnica, where she lived out the war. 

Book your tickets now for Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, at the London Coliseum from 27 April – 6 May 2023.