"Sorrowful Songs" Composer Henryk Górecki Left This World Today
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Henryk Górecki died today. He was 76 years old. Like many others, I’ll be forever moved by the second movement of the Polish composer’s masterful Symphony No. 3, the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” — a glint of beauty that is ours to keep forever. NPR’s Thomas Huizenga writes:
"The symphony, which Gorecki wrote in 1976, is centered on three texts — including a prayer inscribed by a teenager on a cell wall of a Gestapo headquarters — which the composer turned into haunting laments, backed by simple, slowly churning surges of beautiful music."
The excerpt above features soprano Isabel Bayrakdaraian and Sinfonietta Cracovia, conducted by John Axelrod, performing Górecki’s masterpiece for Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz. And, if you haven’t heard Dawn Upshaw’s 1992 version that catapulted his work to international fame, I recommend purchasing the recording right away.
Music You Can’t Hear But Know Exists
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Being part of such a large outfit at Minnesota Public Radio, we encounter an awfully eclectic group of talented musicians, writers, artists, actors, performers, politicians… And, oftentimes, these brief introductions with greatness occur in the most mundane ways.
One day you’re accidentally brushing shoulders with former vice president Walter Mondale in the hallway, and another day you’re reading a mass e-mail instructing star-struck employees not to linger while Harry Connick Jr. is being interviewed.
Yesterday, while sitting in the control room of Studio P listening to the final edit of next week’s show with two Vatican astronomers, I look up and peer through the slanted glass only to witness part of the Johannes String Quartet warming up for "a couple of movements from Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59 No. 1."
Not a whisper from that cello can I hear. But, right then, I pinch myself knowing great aural waves exist in that vacuum across the glass. Sometimes knowing and imagining is enough. But, those mystical, mulled upon wanderings can be made real. The unheard serendipitously takes root in YouTube reality. And, if you look up, you might just realize that Moby and Leela James performed “Walk with Me” in that very same space across the way.
I’ll be “looking up” — and hopefully seeing — the Performance Today recording of the quartet in action, much like this video from artists-in-residence The Parker Quartet (whom I first incorrectly attributed to being in the photo above).
Colleen Scheck, Producer
I was a history major, and I love learning history through its physical artifacts. Last summer I visited Gettysburg for the first time. While I was brought to tears standing on its hallowed battlefields, I was also riveted by the stories behind the many Civil War relics there — stories told through well-researched exhibits, and then extended to mini-dramas in my own imagination.
So I was intrigued when I received an e-mail that the personal Bible of Johann Sebastian Bach (a commentary Bible) was going to be on display at a local choral concert. We’ve received suggestions to do a program on Bach and his personal faith — an item on our very big, very long list of show ideas. For now, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see Bach’s Bible up close, hear about its history, and learn what it reveals about his faith.
Dr. Thomas Rossin kindly gave me the opportunity to photograph the Bible and talk to him about it. Rossin did his doctoral work on translating the handwritten notes in Bach’s Bible and tracing its history. He’s the founder and conductor of Exultate Choir and Chamber Orchestra, and he was allowed to take two of the Bible’s three volumes on tour with him to display during Exultate’s recent performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (never will all three volumes travel at the same time). He describes how Bach’s Bible has 350 entrances that give evidence to Bach as a person of faith (II Chronicles 5:12-13 “In devotional music, God is always present with His Grace”), and his understanding of those entrances greatly impacts how he approaches performances of Bach’s works.
An aside: the story of Bach’s Bible reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Red Violin, a fictional story about a 17th-century, hand-crafted violin that travels over three centuries. It includes a beautiful score with violin solos by Joshua Bell.