Beatus vir, a psalm for solo baritone, choir and orchestra, was commissioned by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła for the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the martyr's death of the Cracow bishop Stanisław.
Beatus vir, a psalm for solo baritone, choir and orchestra Op. 38, was commissioned by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła for the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the martyr's death of the Cracow bishop Stanisław (who was later made a saint).
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki completed Beatus vir after Wojtyła had been elected Pope, having worked on it from 2nd April to 19th May 1979. The work was premiered at Cracow's Franciscan church on 9th June 1979, during the Pope's first pilgrimage to Poland, and featured Jerzy Mechliński as the soloist and the Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir under the composer. The Pope - to whom the music was dedicated - expressed his appreciation of the work and publicly thanked Górecki for providing "such a profound experience".
Beatus vir is a setting of a selection of verses from psalms 142, 30, 37, 66 and 33 from the Book of Psalms, which bring to mind the events of nine hundred years ago, when in 1079 Bishop Stanisław of Cracow, accusing king Bolesław II of the abuse of power, joined a rebellion against him and was killed while celebrating mass. St Stanisław has been specially venerated in Poland for centuries and has been immortalized in many works of music, sculptures and paintings. Some of the psalm verses selected by Górecki address John Paul II, and like in his earlier music, notably Ad Matrem and Symphony no. 2 'Copernican', the music follows from the words.
Górecki has intended a monumental cast for Beatus vir, including a "molto grande" four-voice choir and a very large orchestra with a quadruple group of wind instruments and "as many as possible" strings ("archi - molti strumenti"). The extensive cast is matched by the grandiose musical form. The sound narration is built from simple music motifs and maximally reduced harmonic combinations. Górecki has coded two events of symbolic significance in the music, the first being the four-measure ostinato, which is repeated eleven times to symbolize the day and month of St Stanisław's death on 11th April, and the other one the date of Karol Wojtyła's appointment as Pope on 16th October. Only at these symbolic moments do metallophones and tubular bells join in the music.
Beatus vir was planned as one of the first works of a cycle inspired by the lives of saints and entitled "Sancti Tui Domine florebunt sicut lilium". The cycle's second work is the Cantata 'Salve Sidus Polonorum' in honour of St Wojciech Op. 72 for mixed chorus, two pianos, organ and a percussion ensemble, completed in 2000. Nor is Beatus vir Górecki's only work dedicated to Pope John II: after a gap of several years Górecki wrote the acclaimed Totus Tuus Op. 60 to mark the Pope's third pilgrimage to Poland.
Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, February 2004.