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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

(Rose by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 1759-1840,
French botanist and watercolorist)


Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And fate’s severest rage disarm;
Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please,
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.

~ Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English poet

Earlier this month, the classical composer Henryk Górecki died in Katowice, Poland. He was 76 years old.

His best-known and most popular composition is the hauntingly beautiful
Symphony No. 3 (1976) or Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Opus 36 for soprano and orchestra. The version featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Zinman has sold more than one million copies since it was introduced in 1992.

The Symphony is made up of three parts, the first movement set to a mid-fifteenth-century sacred lamentation of the
Mater Dolorosa or Sorrowful Mother at the foot of Christ on the Cross:

My son, my chosen and beloved,
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully,
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.

The lyrics of the second movement repeat the prayer scratched on the wall of a cell in the prison of Zakopane, by a Polish prisoner of the Gestapo:

Oh, Mamma, do not weep.
Most chaste Queen of Heaven,
protect me always.
Hail Mary.

[signed] Helena Wanda Blazusiak, 18 years old, imprisoned since 25. IX. 44

The third movement is based on a Polish folk song of a mother’s grieving over the death of her son in the Silesian uprising against the Germans in the 1920s:

Where has he gone,
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him.

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?

Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out.

Were my bitter tears
To create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son.

He lies in his grave
And I know not where
Though I keep asking people

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
And instead he could be
Lying in his warm bed.

Oh, sing for him,
God’s little song-birds,
Since his mother
Cannot find him.

And you, God’s little flowers,
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily.

To listen to a performance of the second movement by soprano Isabel Bayrakdaraian and the Sinfonietta Cracovia conducted by John Axelrod, please click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):

1 comment:

GretchenJoanna said...

I wasn't familiar with this composer. The symphony reminds me of the longing, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and is just right for Advent. Thank you for a prayerful meditation.