• Górecki’s ‘Ad Matrem’ premiere on video

Once again I’m indebted to the eagle eyes of Tim Rutherford-Johnson (http://johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com/) who tweeted yesterday (https://twitter.com/#!/moderncomp) about a YouTube video he’d discovered of the premiere of Górecki’s Ad Matrem.  It’s a black and white film made by Polish Television on 24 September 1972 at the final concert of that year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  The venue was the National Philharmonic Hall, with Stefania Woytowicz and the National Philharmonic SO and Choir conducted by Andrzej Markowski.  It’s a bit of a shame that the film cuts out just before Górecki came onto the stage to acknowledge the applause.


The Górecki concluded the concert, and therefore crowned the festival.  Ad Matrem was preceded in the programme by a typically eclectic festival mix of repertoire: Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Tomasz Sikorski’s Holzwege (Paths to Nowhere, premiere), Franco Oppo’s Digressione (Polish premiere) and Penderecki’s Partita (also a Polish premiere), with soloists Felicja Blumental and Terje Rypdal.*

Woytowicz went on to give the premieres of Górecki’s second and third symphonies as well as O Domina nostra, which was dedicated to her.  (She also sang Lutosławski’s Lacrimosa at his funeral in 1994.)

Markowski was a great supporter of Górecki’s music, having given the premiere of his Epitafium at the second ‘Warsaw Autumn’, in 1958, and conducting several subsequent premieres: Little Music II (‘Warsaw Autumn’, 1967), Wratislaviae gloria (Wrocław, 1969), Old Polish Music (‘Warsaw Autumn’, 1969) and the Second Symphony with Woytowicz (Warsaw, 1973).  Markowski was a passionate advocate not only of Górecki’s music but also that of other contemporary composers from home and abroad.  Something of his character may be gleaned from the fact that he fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 as a member of the Polish underground Home Army.

Górecki’s Ad Matrem (1972) is a powerful and lean work.  The chorus utters only two words (‘Mater mea’), just twice in the early stages. The music’s trajectory, from pulsing bass drums, through these interjections and on to a luminous dominant thirteenth and beyond, is very striking, not least because Górecki places these textures sparingly.  The soprano does not sing her four words (‘Mater mea, lacrimosa dolorosa’) until the closing bars.  I’ve often thought of this approach as painterly in the sense that Patrick Heron, for example, created abstract paintings with a huge swathe of one colour at one end of the canvas but very telling and contrasting colour-blocks at the other end or in isolated patches in between.

* Despite Ad Matrem being one of the most unconventionally moving and striking of Górecki’s works, it has remained largely unrecognised outside Poland, even though it won First Prize at the UNESCO Composers’ Rostrum in Paris in 1973.  In the UK, it took the initiative of the British composer John Casken to bring about the UK premiere. This took place, performed by students at Manchester University under his direction, in December 2002, a full thirty years after its premiere in Warsaw.

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