Biography
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Górecki. A Stubborn Genius

Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs passed Sting, Madonna and Nirvana in British and American music charts

It all started when David Drew, the then direc-tor responsible for expanding the catalogue of London publishing house Boosey & Hawkes, met Henryk at the Warsaw Autumn Festival during the first performance of “Lerchenmusik” in 1985. He went back to London intrigued with the unusual personality and immense charisma of this supposedly simple guy from Silesia. He took home a small pile of music scores from PWM (Polish Music Publishing House). He began studying them.

The first was a copy of Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) opus 36.

One page, then another. Very low double basses, then cellos, then violas… A dark canon being built up by the strings. And suddenly – a penetrating soprano. David Drew jumped up and ran to see his boss.

Tony Fell, the then head of the publishing house, listened to the agitated soliloquy about the discovery David Drew made in Poland.

“This is a revelation! It’s magic, it’s an absolute force!” Drew was persuading him. “This’ll be a sensation, this guy’s a volcano! And barely anybody knows him in his own country…”

Indeed, there was still an embargo on Górecki’s mu-sic in Poland. The National Philharmonics’ musicians were still resentful. Symphony No. 3 had been in fact released on a longplay in Poland, but it wasn’t easy to find the recording by Jerzy Katlewicz and Stefania Woytowicz. In a word, Górecki didn’t exist in his own country.

David Drew had a good intuition. A dog’s olfactory sense – Szabelcio might phrase it that way, he who also prided himself in having the same talent. Tony Fell sensed good business.

He immediately got in touch with the heads of PWM Muzyczne in Kraków. Then with Górecki himself, who was nonetheless sceptical. Once a publisher from the West was interested in him in the 1970s. The composer got very excited because Schott had a reputation of being the main and oldest publisher in the world, together with Breitkopf & Härtel. But it all resulted in just a few editions of his works and that was that. The end.

But this time it was meant to be different.

The final agreement between Górecki, PWM and Boosey & Hawkes was signed in 1988. They signed a co-edition contract for 10 years. During this period the copyright was supposed to remain with PWM and the Polish publisher was to take care of the distribution of Henryk’s scores in the Eastern Bloc, while Boosey was to promote his music in the West.

At around the same time, the British pianist Paul Crossley thought back on Symphony No. 3. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, he was the artistic direc-tor of the London Sinfonietta. Crossley first heard Henryk’s piece in 1983 in Berlin, when he entered a music shop and saw his record. He was mesmer- ised. With flushed cheeks he played the recording to  his friends in London: to the Sinfonietta’s director Michael Vyner, and to the conductor and co-founder of the group, David Atherton. They wanted to start playing Górecki in the UK. (…)

Atherton conducted Symphony of Sorrowful Songs for the first time in the 1987-88 concert season. He persuaded the Australian soprano Margaret Field to collaborate, as well as two well-known British sym-phony orchestras: the BBC Radio Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Symphony No. 3 began its career in England. (…)

Meanwhile David Drew got cracking. Symphony No. 3, with his vigorous support, travelled from hand to hand. Even before Boosey signed the official agreement with Górecki, it had found its way into the hands of the rock legend David Bowie. In June 1987, the British singer played the Third Symphony’s extensive fragments during a break at his London concert at Wembley. Bowie’s fans, hypnotised with Górecki’s music, listened. Pretty much no one among the seven-ty thousand people in the audience left the room.

John Sherba, a Kronos Quartet violinist from Cali-fornia, was in the audience that day. This is how he described the impression made by Symphony No. 3 written by the unknown composer from Poland: “Yes, during the intermission this incredible music came on…  (…) And everybody’s reaction, including my own, was – what is this? It was the Third Symphony! David Bowie knew the piece very early… It made a great im-pact on lots of people…”.

Excerpt translated by Anna Błasiak

Biography
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Górecki. A Stubborn Genius

Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs passed Sting, Madonna and Nirvana in British and American music charts

Publisher: Znak, Kraków 2018
Translation rights: Znak Publishers, bolinska@znak.com.pl

Górecki:   A   Stubborn   Genius   is   a   biography   covering  the  entire  lifespan  of  the  composer,  who  died  in  2010  and  whose  Symphony  of  Sorrowful Songs passed Sting, Madonna and Nirvana in British and American music charts and was used in twenty films; its recording has sold a million copies.

Henryk  Mikołaj  Górecki  and  his  music  figure  most  significantly in this book, but the author also describes the  political  background  (especially  the  realities  of  socialist  Poland),  which  heavily  influenced  the  life  of  the protagonist. The atmosphere of places where the composer lived is brilliantly conveyed, especially that of Silesia, where he hailed from. The reader discovers much  about  the  musical  circles  Górecki  moved  in  –  about  his  teachers,  friends,  pupils  and  important  music festivals.

Maria Wilczek-Krupa has succeeded in describing the complexity of the composer’s personality. On the one hand,  we  are  presented  with  evidence  of  Górecki’s  (titular)  improbable  stubbornness,  manifesting  itself  in  his  drive  to  pursue  his  goals  despite  numerous  obstacles. We find out that it is true – although quite unbelievable  –  that  young  Górecki  was  forbidden  to  touch  the  piano  and  he  only  learned  to  play  it  when  he was eighteen. He gave up his teaching job to study music  composition  at  the  age  of  22,  despite  gaps  in   his   musical   education.   Moreover,   he   struggled   with  various  illnesses  all  his  life.  On  the  other  hand,  we  get  examples  of  the  composer’s  difficult,  fiery  temperament.  He  was  easily  set  off,  he  liked  to  offend  people  and  was  able  to  sever  years-long  acquaintances.

Even   if   Henryk   Mikołaj   Górecki   didn’t   achieve   commercial   success,   this   biography   still   serves   as  an  example  of  a  life  fulfilled  and  evidence  of  his  uncompromising  fealty  to  his  art.  To  her  account,  the  author  has  previously  published  a  well-received    biography  of  yet  another  composer,  Wojciech  Kilar.  I  am  thus  convinced  that  this  book  is  also  bound  to  succeed.

Andrzej Mirek, translated by Anna Błasiak

Publisher: Znak, Kraków 2018
Translation rights: Znak Publishers, bolinska@znak.com.pl

Selected samples

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