Henryk Mikołaj Górecki


Henryk Mikolaj GoreckiPolish composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933–2010) began to study music regularly at the age of 19, attending a secondary school of music in Rybnik, where he specialised in music teaching. He then went on to study composition with Bolesław Szabelski at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice. He graduated in 1960.

In 1958 the first concert of his works was held at his alma mater. It was also the first time the school organised a monograph concert of such a young composer. During the event five of Górecki’s works were played. Also in 1958 he successfully debuted at the International Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, becoming known as one of the more radical avant-garde composers of the young generation. After graduation he premiered more works and won more praises. His Scontri was widely admired at the 1961 Warsaw Autumn festival, while Symphony No. 1 won the first prize at the Paris Biennale of Young Artists. When in the French capital Górecki met Pierre Bouleze, while in Cologne he encountered Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Since 1965 he had been employed at his alma mater, moving gradually up the ladder from lecturer to rector in 1975. During this time he achieved many successes at home and abroad, including the first prize of the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, the Minister of Culture and Arts Award (of the third degree in 1965; of the first degree in 1969 and 1973), and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (2003).

A turning point in his career came in the 1990s. Composed using a simpler musical language, his 1976 Symphony No. 3 (The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) for soprano and orchestra, hit British and US record charts in 1992, while the UK Classic FM radio aired its fragments non-stop at the listeners’ request.  

The composer held honorary doctorates from the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw (1993), University of Warsaw (1994), Jagiellonian University in Kraków (2000), Catholic University of Lublin (2004), Academy of Music in Katowice (2004), Academy of Music in Kraków (2008), Catholic University of America, University of Michigan, University of Victoria, and the University of Montreal.

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki spent the last years of his life in Ząb, near Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains. He died in Katowice in 2010.