Henryk Gorecki
Symphony No. 3, Op. 36


5.0
classic

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
December 22nd, 2009 | 77 replies


Release Date: 1976 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An utterly awe-inspiring work.

Consider the following things: Symphony No. 3 is a symphony written in the latter half of the 20th century. It's a symphony written by a composer from Poland, a country with a grand total of one genuinely world-famous composer to its name (even he was arguably French!), and with an inescapable, if undeserved reputation as second-class when it comes to producing classical music. It's a symphony that distorts the form entirely, pushing a solo vocal line to the forefront and dispensing with the three or four movement quick-slow-quick structure that has prevailed for centuries. And it's a symphony written by a composer that was doing the opposite to most of his peers, by coming from a dissonant and serialist background into a traditional tonal clarity nearer to Romanticism than anything 20th century.

And yet, this is one of the most critically acclaimed, biggest selling classical works ever, having sat atop the classical album charts in both in the UK and US, selling over a million copies. In the world of music criticism, it's regarded in some quarters as one of the European masterpieces of the 20th century. I don't think people have ever really acknowledged just how remarkable an achievement this is. Even more remarkably, this work deserves every accolade it gets thrown at it. It genuinely is one of the greatest compositions ever.

Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 revolves around three libretti, each in Polish, each involving a great sense of loss, each sung by a single soprano. The texts come from a wide variety of sources, but each deals directly with the seperation of mother and child by war; the second movement is a parting message to a mother found written on a prison wall by a Polish Jew imprisoned during World War II, while the third is a folk song dating back to the genocide of the Silesian uprising, written from the perspective of a mother searching for her missing child, only to find him murdered. To top it opff, the first movement is from the Virgin Mary's perspective and set just after the death of Jesus - this symphony is subtitled 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' for a reason.

For a composer to write about these things in post-World War II Poland was both brave and entirely necessary. What is also necessary is the way this is composed - in contrast to Gorecki's earlier atonal and serialist work, this symphony is almost painfully simple, using the most simple harmony and careful repetition to not only pull at the heartstrings, but leave the vocals with the neccesary space to stand out. If you understand Polish, it must be impossible to listen to it, even in the background, without hearing and understanding every single word; something that's just not the case with other choral works. Even if you don't, it's hard not to understand what this music is about. Very little classical music displays such little light and such little hope. Listening to this can be an emotionally devastating, crushing experience. It could also be the beautiful thing you've ever done.

For a multitude of reasons, this is one of the most incredible pieces of music ever.



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user ratings (110)
Chart.
4.4
superb
other reviews of this album
Rationalist (5)
This symphony is the aural form of resplendence....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Iai
Emeritus
December 22nd 2009


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Track listing:
1. Lento - Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile 26:25
2. Lento e largo - Tranquillissimo 9:22
3. Lento - Cantabile-semplice 17:05

(can't access the forums at work :'( )

Adash
December 22nd 2009


1356 Comments


Gorecki i Penderecki wymiatajÄ… and this is epic tuneage

How dare you suggest that Chopin isn't Polish!


AggravatedYeti
December 22nd 2009


7685 Comments


blargh, i should listen to more post 19th classical, but, man, tiiimmmeee.

this is great

Iai
Emeritus
December 22nd 2009


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wymiatajÄ…

I just asked the Polish girl that sits behind me at work and she says this means 'brush'?

Adash
December 22nd 2009


1356 Comments


when you're spring cleaning its 'sweep'
slaaang - when you're appreciating godrecki its 'pure ownage'

iranscam
December 22nd 2009


469 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah this is one of my favorite classical pieces. Good work. Can't imagine trying to tackle this in a review.

joshuatree
Emeritus
December 22nd 2009


3742 Comments


sounds like something i should get

EasternLight
December 22nd 2009


2703 Comments


i love the sound of this.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
December 22nd 2009


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

And yet, on this site, it is one of the five most popular classical albums in terms of the number of ratings


wait what

Iai
Emeritus
December 23rd 2009


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Congrats to Electric City for being the only person to read the review :-/

SmurkinGherkin
December 23rd 2009


1770 Comments


shit i should get this

thebhoy
Emeritus
December 23rd 2009


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

well now, apparently I should be getting this.

TheGreatGomi
December 23rd 2009


56 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Heard this for the first time like 15 years ago. It's Magnificent!

Skimaskcheck
December 23rd 2009


2362 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It could also be the beautiful thing you've ever done.

Most?

Also there's a 'opff' typo in there, but yeah like everyone else said, this sounds really really good, thanks for pointing it out!

Athom
Staff Reviewer
December 24th 2009


17225 Comments


i love how for something that's inspiration is so depressing the music has an uplifting quality to it.

LF96
December 24th 2009


97 Comments


It's really not that uncommon for a symphony to include vocals and to have less (or more) than four parts. Mahler has several symphonies with vocals and more than four parts, and Beethoven's 9th has vocals as well. So that was a kind of stupid thing to say, really.

That being said, this is indeed one of the greatest musical works ever created.

foreverendeared
December 24th 2009


14678 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I can't believe I haven't heard this yet

kitsch
December 24th 2009


5107 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

this might just be my favorite piece of classical music, along with brahms' requiem

Zizzer
December 25th 2009


915 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This intrigues me... how do you pronounce the composer's last name?

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2009


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's good



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