I was sitting here at my desktop computer when a Facebook message came in to Claudia and me telling us that the Metropolitan performance of our all time favorite opera, “Der Rosenkavalier” was going to be broadcast to some specially-equipped movie houses around the country on May 13 (a Saturday afternoon). Well, we found that there was a theater in Norman that was indeed showing the performance, so we bought tickets and are going.
That got me to searching for other favorite past performances of Der Rosenkavalier, and I found several, and messaged the other three family members about them. I listened to them, and sent links of their DVD’s and YouTube snippets to Kristin and Eric (and Claudia), but that isn’t what this post is about. It is about some other moments in symphonic music (and operas) when the listener (ah, that’s me) is simply overcome with emotion that is being elicited by the composer, and through the composer to the musicians and vocalists who are doing the conductor’s bidding. The Final Trio is Der Rosenkavalier does that to me: I just sit there weeping silently as the three sopranos sing their guts out (well, their diaphragms, actually).
The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
That got to me thinking about another orchestral piece that I got to know a few years ago, one whose theme has special significance to the world: the Second World War, and the extermination of Jews in Europe. So I thought to check around Youtube for a recording of the emotionally gripping Symphony #3 of the Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki. From Wikipedia . . .
The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki’s dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal later style. It was premièred on 4 April 1977, at the Royan International Festival . . . .
A solo soprano sings Polish texts in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament of Mary, mother of Jesus, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed by the Germans in the Silesian uprisings. The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.
To get a fuller sense of the words that the composer found that lays beneath his final composition, read the section labeled “Composition” in the Wikipedia article from which I took the block quotes above.
Now, there are several recordings of this quietly powerful symphony on YouTube, but I decided to link to a very novel partial recording of the symphony (its second movement) that was actually performed in Auschwitz (!):
Gorecki Symphony No. 3 “Sorrowful Songs” – Lento e Largo (YouTube, 9:10) [Lento e Largo is the second of three parts of the symphony]
The whole symphony is about an hour in length, and here is a great recording with Dawn Upshaw, soprano, and the London Sinfonetta, with David Zinman conducting:
Gorecki symphony No. 3 “Sorrowful Songs” – Dawn Upshaw w/ David Zinman (YouTube, 53:50) Turn up your volume on this recording when compared to the one above.