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November 12, 2010

Henryk Gorecki, composer of 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,' dies at 76

The remarkable Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, little known beyond his native country until the 1992 recording of his Symphony No. 3 caused a global sensation, died Friday at the age of 76. According to news reports, the end came in a hospital in Katowice after a long illness.

I like this phrase by Paul Griffiths describing Mr. Gorecki's work: "There was always a monumental simplicity about his music." This was especially true of that affecting Third Symphony from 1976, also known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." In three broadly paced movements, the composer creates a poignant sound-world, with a soprano soloist intoning a time-suspending chant; the texts, dealing with loss, include a message found scrawled on a Gestapo cell during World War II. (The Nonesuch recording that eventually sold over a million copies featured soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta, and was conducted by former Baltimore Symphony music director David Zinman.)

To mark Mr. Gorecki's passing, here are two examples of his distinctively mystical style. First, the a cappella choral work from the 1980s, "Tutus Tuus," and then a movement from that well-known Symphony No. 3 in an extraordinary performance filmed at Auschwitz:

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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