Warsaw Autumn 2006 – XIII

The 4:30pm concert today was at the St. Hyacinthus Church in Nowy Miasto, very close to where we live, and was a concert full of choral music by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki. Originally they announced at the concert that they were not going to be performing Miserere, but luckily for us they did perform it at the end as an encore, which was a really nice surprise.

Some notes on the pieces I took at the concert:

Totus Tuus – got chills at the opening chords as the sound of the chorus in the church was just phenomenal, the piece seemed a little out of balance formally but I enjoyed the feeling of an extended ending slowly drifting away

Marian Songs – five pieces; the first piece really blew me away, has that sort of modal pulsing that is in the 3rd Symphony, gorgeous undulating chords; the second piece was homophonic, simple divisions of time, harmonies like coloring of single line, a singular presence, reminded me of people singing at a memorial; the next three pieces did not leave as strong an impression as the first two, the ending of the fifth slowly unraveled

Five Kurpian Songs – first piece didn’t leave much of an impression; the second piece had some really nice dark harmonic shadings to a rather sweet color, very nice ending; the third was rather warm and nicely shaped; the fourth had a very interesting strong ritardando at the end to a rather unexpected cadence; fifth had a sort of canon-like feel, interesting pacing of phrase lengths, a weary sound of workers working away, got pretty dark in color, the penultimate chord progression was fantastic but end was just alright; overall thought it was just alright

Miserere – gorgeous, opening section is just phenomenal and very much like the 3rd Symphony where a single modal line goes, then a second line joins in bringing in fantastic colors, then a third, and so-on; each layer added brought wonderful color and when the lines reached the top of their contours and the harmonies opened up it was just phenomenal; later in the piece moves away from modal character to more major mode and seemed to lose a bit of steam; the piece moved from a sort of constant pulsing in the beginning to more pausing on chords; while I enjoyed the shaping of the form earlier, later seemed to stay at thick harmonies a bit too long for my taste; very glad they performed this!

I was very excited to go this concert as I enjoy Gorecki’s music very much; it’s also an interesting thing for me historically as when I first heard the 3rd Symphony it really struck me (I was driving on Riverside Drive in Marietta, GA, it was autumn with the leaves turning colors and I had the music on very loud, driving back to school in Athens…). It was also after reading a book on Gorecki back in college that I had first had the thought that I would like to visit Poland; now it’s my third time here and I will be able to say that I lived here a not insignificant amount of time when all is said and done.

At the concert today I was thinking a lot about the choral sound and why did it work in church when there is such a long reverb and why didn’t other chamber music work for me the other night which had a similar situation of sound be masked. I think that perhaps that with the harmonies being such a strong thing to identify by ear, that pronouncing words really cuts through the sound to help identify the changes, and that the music was mostly homophonic that made the pieces really work and cut through with such a thick reverb. I also felt that the pieces were at their best when they were at their simplest, and that the ones which had more polyphonic textures did not sound so strongly as the simpler textures.

Another aspect of the sound I found myself very interested in was the ambiance of the reverb coming from high above (the church was a tall Catholic church). I don’t remember ever being in a concert at a church and having such a clear sense of the sound, the somewhat glowing quality of it. I was amazed at how very affecting the sound was and thought back to other concerts I had heard in the past few years at churches and how I never had the same sorts of impressions I had today.

I also thought a lot about Gorecki’s music and what I like so much about it. There’s something very serious and contemplative about it but also at times it had a real sense of joy, and I think that is one of the hardest things to accomplish. For a while now I’ve been contemplating ideas on serious music that can be positive as well as ideas on serious music which can be warm in color. I remember something Rothko wrote discussing how fear is something that is easy to identify with in art as it is a common human experience but that other experiences can be much more difficult to create. I think that might very well be one of the most interesting aspects to Gorecki’s music for me.

It’s been amazing to hear so many different types of musics here at the festival, many pieces very serious but in their own way. I think the Gorecki offered a really different approach than most of the other pieces we’ve heard and it leaves its own distinct impression. Leaving the concert, it felt as if there was a sense of energy in the air and the crowd seemed very excited by the music. A very memorable experience…

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