It was first performed by the National Philharmonic Choir under Henryk Wojnarowski during the World EXPO in Hannover on 21st June 2000. The Polish premiere took place at the Wratislavia Cantans Festival later that year.
The Cantata starts with "Per merita Sancti Adalberti", a vespers antiphon very popular in the Middle Ages and later added to the 13th century " 'Benedic regem cunctorum' - The Rhymed Office about St Adalbert". It includes motifs from the 14th century, if not earlier, Polish hymn glorifying St Wojciech, "O praeclara Adalberti". The second movement, a simple church song with instrumental accompaniment, addresses St Wojciech through Górecki's own prayer: "Saint Wojciech, our Dear Patron, Martyr of God, pray for us", while the third movement introduces the early 15th century sequence "Salve sidus Polonorum". The repeated singing of Alleluia integrates the work.
It was as a composer of extreme avant-garde that Górecki had started his career. Scontri, his work premiered at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1960, proved a challenge to the audience, and its shockingly modern sounds made it a symbol of Polish avant-garde music. Sixteen years later Górecki challenged the Warsaw Autumn audience again: his Symphony No. 3 - 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' represented a radically different position, its language simplified and its means of expression reduced. Some hailed him a genius while others considered an utter dilettante. But Górecki's time was still to come, and indeed did not start until the late 1980s. His Symphony No. 3 (1992) was an extraordinary global success, its simple yet passionate music appealing to people to whom contemporary music had been totally alien. Górecki referred to tradition, transforming it in his own way and unveiling the world of the most basic emotions.
It is not like that with his Cantata: here Górecki also reaches out for tradition, yet it is submission rather than transformation. Małgorzata Gąsiorowska pointed this out very aptly in her discussion of the Cantata in the programme of the 2001 National Philharmonic Lutosławski Forum", starting with a reference to the 3rd Symphony:
"We have the right to think that an artist who once stood in the first row of the avant-garde, now tired with the chaos of the modern world, makes an attempt to reconstruct the ruined order, restore the former hierarchy of values, and oppose the wave of artistic anarchy. The 'Cantata' approaches the music heritage of the past a little differently; there is more humility and fewer attempts at its creative revival."
Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, January 2004.