Monday, November 15, 2010

Dobranoc, Henryk

A beautiful Indian Summer afternoon. As I walked down the path from top of Whitney Peak-- carefully, as the fallen leaves have now accumulated, hiding rocks and roots which cold send one sprawling-- I wasn't even looking for mushrooms. Despite the warm weather and recent rain, I knew the season for mushroom foraging was over.
A few days ago we heard that Henryk Gorecki, the great Polish composer, had died at the ge of 76 in his native city, Katowice. I wondered as I walked if Gorecki had been a mushroom hunter. I knew that he lived part of the time in a chalet in the Tatras mountains, not far from his childhood home (Supposedly paid for with the royalties he received from his big "hit," the Third Symphony --over a million copies sold!), and it seemed to me he would have been the type. In Poland, apparently, everyone hunts mushrooms, especially in the mountains. Why would he be any different?
So I thought about Gorecki and his music on my walk, but I didn't listen to his music on my iPod. Instead I listened in my memory-- especially the amazing, inexorable eight part canon in the Third Symphony. When I got home I put on the recording of "Good Night" one of his more austere pieces,and one that could truly be called "minimal". Dawn Upshaw's shrill (in the good sense ) declaiming of the famous lines from Hamlet sent a chill up my spine.

Good Night, Henryk, flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Both Gorecki and Arvo Paert composed music in the late seventies that spurred the so called "Holy Minimalist" school. This could be a misnomer but they did start something. A considerable group of Eastern European composers writing in a new, simpler, deeply spiritual manner grew up in their wake. Tormis, Kancheli, Silvestrov, Martynov, Sumera, etc to name a few at random.
One composer from Slovakia that I have recently discovered is Vladimir Godar. A CD of his music has come out on ECM (where else?). Even though his music might occasionally remind you of Paert or Gorecki it has a distinctive sound and his voice is unique. Especially noteworthy is his Slovakian Stabat Mater --Stala Matka --which is built around the astonishing, brooding alto voice of Iva Bittova

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