They're listening to a symphony on pop radio stations in Europe? I was incredulous when I learned of this improbable turn of events, in the early 1990s. But it was true. A recording of Polish composer Henryk Górecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" had made its way to No. 6 on popular music charts -- not classical -- in the United Kingdom.
Yes, pop radio stations in Europe were playing this symphony, and Americans also were snapping up CDs of a symphony of songs sung in a language many had never heard. Of course I had to investigate; I also bought the recording, which was made in 1992 and featured the London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Zinman, with soprano Dawn Upshaw. The composition had actually been written more than 15 years before, in 1976. Though Górecki said the symphony was about the ties between a mother and child, people have interpreted it in many ways, as a tribute to Holocaust victims, as a religious statement, as a political one.
I played this symphony a few later, in a beautiful and memorable concert dedicated to the victims of AIDS, a disease which had taken many lives and, at the time, seemed to carry with it a certain death sentence. The cure, or the medicine to cope, was not yet in sight then, in the mid-1990s. The concert took place at church in Omaha, Neb., with the beautiful soprano dressed in white -- and pregnant, somehow this seemed significant. Grieving friends and relatives of people who had died from AIDS lit candles, and the music was so appropriate, so moving. It's a concert I won't forget.
When I found this movement from the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," I had to listen to the end, and remember.
Here also is an excellent tribute to Górecki, put together by NPR.Tweet
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