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Profound Sorrow (Hall of Fame #94)

For a long time I didn't understand why some people were drawn to sad songs. Mystified by an advert for the 'Greatest Tearjerkers' compilation CD, I was convinced people who strove to avoid misery in real life were a bit thick to pay good money to hear songs that would make them cry.

Number 94 in Classic FM's Hall of Fame 2020 is Henryk Górecki's (pronounced goretsky - thanks mum) Symphony No.3, known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. A solo soprano features in all three movements, singing outpourings of grief drawn from different texts. One is a short message inscribed by an 18-year-old girl on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell during World War II.

The music is nearing minimalism. Often understated, simple, repetitive. Easy to see why there would be mixed reactions. The Wikipedia article yielded some insights, including various unkind responses - 'Górecki himself recalled that, at the premiere, he sat next to a "prominent French musician" (Górecki did not name names, though it was probably Pierre Boulez), who, after hearing the twenty-one repetitions of an A-major chord at the end of the symphony, loudly exclaimed "Merde!"'

The work didn't really reach a wide mainstream audience until fifteen years after its premiere, but the response then was enthusiastic, partly due to Classic FM's airplay. And now it ranks in their top 100 list. I came to realise that people need expressions of grief in art, to help process their own grief. I tried to embrace that approach while listening and it was a healthily tearful experience.

The first movement in particular stirs the depths with its patient swell, soothing repetition and soaring climax. The dynamic range is huge. I had to turn up really loud to hear the growling opening notes, which made the high point a tad overwhelming!

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