Monday, November 15, 2010

Henryk Górecki, 1933-2010.

Dedicated to Henryk Górecki, the Polish composer, who died on the weekend, This is part of his Symphony Number 3, Opus 36 (Symphony for Sorrowful Songs) 3rd movement. One of the most beautiful pieces of the 20th century.

Górecki attempted to write a musical work in the 1960's about the Holocaust. He never finished it, but part of the lyric used in this Symphony is taken from a message from a young woman prisoner scrawled onto the wall of a Gestapo cell in 1944, addressed to her mother. Górecki has said that this piece is an evocation of the ties between mother and child. Of the challenge of writing music in response to something like Auschwitz, he said, "Many of my family died in concentration camps. I had a grandfather who was in Dachau, an aunt in Auschwitz. You know how it is between Poles and Germans. But Bach was a German too—and Schubert, and Strauss. Everyone has his place on this little earth."

When listening to this I'm reminded of the (misquoted) line from Theodore Adorno, usually said as 'There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.' (The actual quote, from Adorno's 'Cultural Criticism and Society,' in Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), p.19.) is 'The critique of culture is confronted with the last stage in the dialectic of culture and barbarism: to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and that corrodes also the knowledge which expresses why it has become impossible to write poetry today.'

I recall once hearing in a radio interview a response to this, from author Anne Michaels, author of holocaust novel Fugitive Pieces.  to paraphrase... 'Because of experiences like Auschwitz, there should be poetry.'  
And music.

Henryk Górecki died on Saturday in Katowice, itself a short railway journey from Auschwitz.

RIP. Maestro.