Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933 - 2010)
One of the greatest Polish composers of 20th Century, born 6 December 1933 in Czernica, near Rybnik, died November 12, 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 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. The 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 E. Knapik, A. Krzanowski and R. Augustyn.
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, Gorecki was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Warsaw.
He married Jadwiga Rurańska, a pianist, and had two children - Anna, who is a pianist, and a son, Mikołaj, who is a composer.
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki began his career as an 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 October 21, 2010 Henryk Mikołaj Górecki was presented with the Order of the White Eagle.