Friday, March 11, 2011

Gorecki's Symphony No. 3
If there is one piece of music that can calm my nerves, it is this symphony by the Polish composer who died last year in November. I first heard the piece on a drive from Freiburg out to Umkirch to teach an adult education English class. The disc jockey of the classical radio station said the symphony had become a hit on the British pop charts recently. This was 1992 and the techno scene was in bad need of chill music. When the new recording of this work landed in the studios of the BBC and the DJ played the shortest of the three movements (26 - 9 - 17 minutes), the phones started ringing. When I heard this second movement, I thought it was very nice, but the story was for me even more interesting. A classical piece becoming popular? Bring it on!
Three slow movements make up this piece. The first one starts off so softly that you always want to check to see if the disc is spinning, or you turn it up, only to feel the double-basses laying down a fugue-like pattern that swells to a forte and then subsides. The second movement uses the words of a teenage girl, which were written on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell in Zakopane to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary. The third movement undulates at the rate of relaxed breathing. The music stops after 13 minutes. You breathe a sigh. You wish for more. Then comes a coda, a bit more, until you are totally relaxed. I've never tried yoga or meditation, but I'll bet this has gotten me close on many an occasion. The vocals, be they sung by Dawn Upshaw, Zofia Kilanowicz, or another soprano, lift and waft through the pulsing string accompaniment in a sad yet uplifting way. Is that possible? Check it out yourself!
A few months ago I got the orchestral score from the public library. I played it on the piano and found the experience relaxing as well. I'd love to have a full piano reduction of the piece. 
My love for the piece grew when I was in the middle of a break-up which was particularly messy. All the stress that goes with conflicts of that nature require equal time under the influence of beautiful music. When my heart would be racing, I'd run over to the CD player where Gorecki was starting to feel at home and press "play." I would invariably turn up the volume for the reason mentioned above and wait for the basses to sweep me away. I would try to follow one melodic line but would get caught up in another one which wove itself into the melody's progress. Then I couldn't think of anything else but the music. If I was lucky, I'd be asleep before the third movement ended.
Today I listen to it on those rare occasions when a migraine strikes, or when I just want to chill.

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