Composer, born on 6th December 1933 in Czernica, near Rybnik, died on 12th November 2010 in Katowice.
He began his formal study of music in 1952 in the pedagogical department of the Music High School in Rybnik. Later, he studied composition under Bolesław Szabelski, at the State Academy of Music (known today as the Academy of Music) in Katowice (1955-60). On 27 February 1958, a concert of Górecki's own work took place, the first such concert devoted to the work of just one student in the history of that school. Five pieces were performed for the first time at that concert, including the first version of Songs of Joy and Rhythm, op. 7, (Pieśni o radości i rytmie op. 7) for two pianos and chamber orchestra (1956) and Concerto for five instruments and string quartet, op. 11 (1957).
That same year, he debuted at the Warsaw Autumn (Warszawska Jesień) International Festival of Contemporary Music, where his Epitafium, op. 12, for mixed choir and instrumental ensemble (1958) was performed. Thanks to that work, Górecki became known as one of Poland's most radical avantgarde composers. In 1960, he graduated from the Academy with honours. That same year, his Monologhi, op. 16, for soprano and three instrumental groups (1960) won First Prize at the Young Polish Composers Competition. At the Warsaw Autumn Festival, on 21 September 1960, his Scontri (Collisions), op. 17, for orchestra (1960), caused a sensation. In 1961, Górecki was active in Paris, where his First Symphony, op. 14 (1959) won First Prize at the Youth Biennale. In Paris, he met with Pierre Boulez, and in Cologne, with Karlheinz Stockhausen.
In 1965, Górecki began to work at the Academy of Music in Katowice, in 1968 as a lecturer, and in 1972 as an assistant professor; he taught score-reading, orchestration and composition. In 1973-74, thanks to the support of the Akademischer Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service), he spent time in Berlin. In 1975, he was rector of the Academy of Music in Katowice; he held this position for four years. In 1977, he was granted the title of assistant professor. Among his students were Eugeniusz Knapik, Andrzej Krzanowski and Rafal Augustyn. He married Jadwiga Rurańska, a pianist, and has two children - Anna, who is a pianist, and a son, Mikołaj, who is a composer.
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki began his career as an extremely avantgarde composer. His work Scontri, performed for the first time at the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music in 1960 challenged audiences and became a symbol of the Polish musical avant garde with its shocking modernity. In 1976, Górecki produced yet another challenge in the shape of his Third Symphony, Symphony of Lamentation Songs, also performed at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. This work was radically different, in which he simplified his language and reduced his means of expression. Some hailed him as a genius, others accused him of being a dilettante. The composer would have remained one of the many avantgarde composers "converted" to traditional music, if it had not been for the unusual events of sixteen years later. In 1992, the Third Symphony was first on the American and English bestseller lists, and the entire world was talking about Górecki. This was thanks to the American label Elektra Nonesuch and its recording of the Symphony by the American singer Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Zinman. The English radio Classic FM played excerpts from day and night, on request from its listeners. Both classical music lovers and people who had nothing at all in common with classical music listened to it, like young people and long-haul truck drivers. Górecki, with his simple yet fiery music, reached the hearts of them all, revealing the world of the most basic emotions of all.
On 12 April 2014 the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Borejko presented the eagerly anticipated world premiere of Henryk Górecki’s fourth and final symphony. The premiere performance was originally scheduled for 2010 but was postponed due to Górecki’s ill health. At the time of his untimely death in November 2010, the symphony was finished in short score with detailed annotations of orchestration and dynamics.
The full score for symphony orchestra, organ and piano obbligato was completed by Górecki’s son Mikołaj following his father’s instructions. The full title of the symphony is IV Symfonia: Tansman Epizody (Symphony No.4 Tansman Episodes). The four-part symphony reflects the composer's musical journeys and is a tribute to the Polish composer Aleksander Tansman. As noted Adrian Thomas, a specialist in Górecki’s body of work, the composer did not simply cite Tansman’s music but referred to his chamber music written in the 80s.
Górecki won many awards: in 1967, his Refren (Refrain), op. 21 for orchestra (1965) took third place in the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris; in 1968, his Kantata (Cantata), op. 26 for organ (1968) won first prize at the Szczecin Composers' Competition; in 1973, his Ad Matrem, op. 29, for solo soprano, mixed choir and orchestra (1971) won first prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Górecki also won the Music Award of the Katowice voivodship (1958 and 1975), the award of the Minister of Culture and Art (Third prize, 1965; First prize, 1969 and 1973); the award of the Polish Composers' Union (1970); the award of the Committee for Radio and Television Affairs (1974); the First State Prize (1976); the Award of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (1992). In 1994, Górecki was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Warsaw, the Award of Highest Honor of the Soka University in Tokyo (1996), the Totus Award bestowed by the Foundation of Polish Episcopate of New Millenium (2002), the Music Award of Polish Radio (2003), the Lux ex Silesia Award (2003), Commander's Cross with Star of The Order of Polonia Restituta (2003), the Pope's Order of Saint George (2009), the Order of White Eagle (2010).
Górecki was awarded the degree honoris causa from the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw (1993), the University of Warsaw (1994), the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (2000), the Catholic University of Lublin (2004), the Music Academy in Katowice (2004), the Music Academy in Kraków (2008), the Catholic University in Washington, the Michigan University in Ann Arbor, Victoria University in Victoria and the Royal Victoria College in Montreal.
Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, November 2001; updated: September 2015
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki