Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (Polish pronunciation: [ˈxɛnrɨk mʲiˈkɔwaj ɡuˈrɛtski]) (December 6, 1933 – November 12, 2010) was a composer of contemporary classical music. He studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice between 1955 and 1960. In 1968, he joined the faculty and rose to provost before resigning in 1979. Górecki became a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde during the post-Stalin cultural thaw. His Webernian-influenced serialist works of the 1950s and 1960s were characterized by adherence to dissonant modernism and drew influence from Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Krzysztof Penderecki and Kazimierz Serocki. He continued in this direction throughout the 1960s, but by the mid 1970s had changed to a less complex sacred minimalist sound, exemplified by the transitional Symphony No. 2 and the hugely popular Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). This later style developed through several other distinct phases, from such works as his 1979 Beatus Vir, to the choral 1981 hymn Miserere, the 1993 Kleines Requiem für eine Polka and his requiem Good Night.
Until 1992, Górecki was viewed as a remote and fiery figure known only to a few connoisseurs, primarily as one of a number of composers responsible for sparking a postwar renaissance in Polish music. In 1992, 15 years after it was composed, a recording of his Third Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs—recorded with soprano Dawn Upshaw and released to commemorate the memory of those lost during the Holocaust—became a worldwide commercial and critical success, selling more than a million copies and vastly exceeding the typical lifetime sales of a recording of symphonic music by a 20th-century composer. As surprised as anyone at its popularity, Górecki said, "Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music […] somehow I hit the right note, something they were missing. Something somewhere had been lost to them. I feel that I instinctively knew what they needed." This popular success did not generate wide interest in Górecki's other works, and he pointedly resisted the temptation to repeat earlier success, or compose for commercial reward.
Apart from two brief periods studying in Paris and a short time living in Berlin, Górecki spent most of his life in southern Poland.
The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki's dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal later style. It was premièred on 4 April 1977, at the Royan International Festival, with Stefania Woytowicz as soprano and Ernest Bour as conductor.
A solo soprano sings a different Polish text in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament of Mary, mother of Jesus, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed in the Silesian uprisings. The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.
Until 1992, Górecki was known only to connoisseurs, primarily as one of several composers responsible for the postwar Polish music renaissance. That year, Elektra-Nonesuch released a recording of the 15-year-old symphony that topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States. To date, it has sold more than a million copies, vastly exceeding the expected lifetime sales of a typical symphonic recording by a 20th-century composer. This success, however, has failed to generate interest in Górecki's other works.