Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Gorecki in Context" at PAHA 75th Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. (January 2018)

Maja Trochimczyk presents Gorecki in Context. Photo by Marcin Szerle

The edited volume "Gorecki in Context: Essays on Music" (by Maja Trochimczyk, published in December 2017) had its public debut at the 75th Annual Meeting of the Polish American Historical Association in Washington, D.C.  The book was placed on display with other book by PAHA members, and was discussed during the paper by Dr. Maja Trochimczyk, entitled: "The Myth of the Third Symphony: Gorecki in California"

Photo by Marcin Szerle

The presentation focused on the performance history of the Third Symphony Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (composed in 1976, world-famous since the Nonesuch recording of 1992, and conducted by Gorecki himself in Los Angeles).  The author organized his visit and ensured that the composer, who was not thrilled about metropolitan performances, but rather interested in small-town ambience of "ordinary people" was comfortable and able to express his unique musical vision. 

Since the projector malfunctioned, the presentation became more traditional - with copies of the handout distributed among the audience. Among other aspects of the Third Symphony, its use of the lullaby as an expressive and melodic model was pointed out and illustrated by singing the Polish lullabies. Luckily, the audience did not go to sleep. 

The lullabies are characterized with limited melodic outlines, reduced to three or two notes, slow repeated motion, that may be associated with rocking a baby to sleep. The step-wise semitonal motion in Bzi-bzi-bzibziana is cited in the strings in the opening of the Third Movement of the Third Symphony.

Photo by Marcin Szerle

The audience was fascinated with Gorecki's views on the extremely slow and tranquil music in the Third Symphony - and quite difficult to perform in sustained way, without losing focus or intonation.  Dr. Trochimczyk cited Gorecki's words to USC Thornton School of Music students who played his work with dedication and attention to every detail. As a result, the composer was very pleased with their interpretation. The symphony clocked at 65 minutes, compared to typical 55-56 minutes length in other interpretations. The main difference stemmed from the much slower tempi in the monumental, arch=like first movement, consisting of two canons framing an entry of the solo soprano. 

The composer discussed in detail the general expressive character of the symphony as follows:

Movement No. 1, Lento sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile (34’53’’): 

Górecki: "Some general remarks: Please sustain the half notes, without diminuendo, in a contemplative mood. It should all be sostenuto and very tranquil, very cantabile. That is all […] Did you practice this section slower or faster?" 

Students: "Faster!"   

Górecki: "Nonetheless, I would like to play it slower. This is the whole problem. […] Here, in this music, we have to surrender ourselves to this other dimension of time. We have to slow down. Only then the sonority will be fantastic: the higher the music will go, the more distinctly it will sound. I dream of writing such tranquil music. I do not want to compose anything that echoes the modern "rush" - the cell phones, the telephones and faxes. It has to be calm. Life is too beautiful to be wasted in this way, by rushing things so much. How should I explain it to you? Perhaps you should think about an elevator: you leave behind the basement of everyday life, filled with noises, distractions and anxieties, and you take the elevator up to the tenth floor, or even into the sky of timelessness. When you are in this music, time slows down, it is as if you were in heaven, it is like eternity. "

Movement No. 3, Lento cantabile – semplice (21’16’’)

Gorecki: "Let us now take a small "breathing space" so that you can understand my intentions. This is a mother's song. This song has to be expressed both by the orchestra and the soloist. It has to be contemplative in mood, but still maintain the tempo. It approximates the speed of slow walking, when one walks alone, lost in thought. We have to enter into this mood. It is as if we were walking, or even slowly dancing. You have to think about walking here."
"For me it is a very difficult movement because I do not usually engage in conducting and I do not know how to enchant you with my hand movements, but music carries me away and I may at some spots (and please forgive me if I do) make a wrong movement at a certain time, but you know the score and could play on. So then do not look at me, at what I am doing, but listen to each other, listen to what happens around you."

Gorecki in Context among Polish American books at PAHA's 75th Annual Meeting.

paperback, 420 pages, $40.00, published in December 2017.

The paperback, due to its large size, is divided into four e-books in E-Pub format

More information about the book is available on this blog, with the table of contents: 

and on Moonrise Press websites: 

A preview about this book appeared in Post Eagle: