Symphony No 3, composed by Polish composer Henryk Górecki in 1977, became one of the biggest sellers of classical music of all time, when Elektra Nonesuch’s 1992 recording of the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ was released. The symphony is centred on three texts – including a prayer inscribed by a teenager on a cell wall of a Gestapo headquarters – which the composer turned into haunting laments, backed by simple, slowly churning surges of beautiful music. ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ sold over 1 million copies and topped classical charts in the USA and Britain. This popular acclaim did not generate wide interest in Górecki’s other works, and he pointedly resisted the temptation to repeat earlier success, or compose for commercial reward. Górecki died in November 2010 aged 76.
Colin Stetson is an American saxophonist and multireedist. ‘SORROW’, led by Stetson, is a re-imagining of Henryk Górecki’s most famous piece.
“We all have those moments when we experience a piece of music that transforms us, and this was one of those moments for me. Over the years, I went on to listen to this record countless times, always determined to absorb every instance of it, to know it throughout and fully. And this dedication to a thorough knowledge of the piece eventually gave way to a need to perform it.
“The concept was simple, and true to the original score. I haven’t changed existing notation, but rather have worked with altering instrumentation, utilizing a group consisting heavily of woodwinds, synthesizers, and electric guitars, as well as retaining an element of the orchestral in a string section of violins and cellos, which features musicians Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre) and Rebecca Foon (Saltland, Esmerine).
“My approach was “additive”, in that I imagined certain sounds or parts, though not present in the original, were (to me) extensions of the emotional core of the piece. For example, the instrumentation is rounded out by the most extreme of those sonic/timbral/musical additions, the drum set. Performed inimitably here by NYC drummer/percussionist, Greg Fox (Liturgy, Guardian Alien, Z’s). My background and education in classical concert music is here, as well as a focus on group improvisation. The arrangement draws heavily from the world of black metal, early electronic music, and from my own body of solo saxophone music.
“The result is an intact rendition of Henryk Górecki’s 3rd Symphony, though one which has been filtered through the lens of my particular musical aesthetic and experience.” – Colin Stetson, 2015