This month we’ve been looking at various types of classical crossover. Today, let’s look at a classical symphony that shocked everyone, including the composer, when it topped Britain’s pop charts.
Henryk Gorecki (1933–2010) never thought his Symphony No. 3 would become one of the top selling contemporary classical recordings of all time, especially after it was quickly forgotten following its 1977 premiere. It wasn’t until his symphony, also known as “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” was released on a 1992 album with soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta led by David Zinnman that it became an international sensation.
Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 plays on deep emotions, each movement’s text taken from a Polish text. The first movement uses the “Lament for the Holy Cross,” a liturgical work dated from the 15th century. The second movement incorporates a prayer that was found written on the wall of a Nazi prison in Poland from World War II. The final movement uses a Polish folk song that refers to a mother who mourns the loss of her son in battle. Perhaps these moving texts and the stirring music are what sparked the symphony’s popularity?
Gorecki ended up becoming the first living classical composer to have a pop hit in the UK and a number one album on the US classical charts. You can hear the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs below. Does it move you? Can you see why it experienced success in both the classical and popular music worlds?