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Revisiting Górecki, Part Two: An interview with Mikołaj Górecki

Written By | Mar 23, 2014

COLLEGE PARK, Md., March 23, 2014 — Thousands of miles from the Katowice of his youth and even farther from his father’s beloved mountains, composer Mikołaj Górecki finds himself living now in the desert of Texas. The son of Henryk Górecki, Mikołaj is a fascinating composer in his own right whose works deserve the greater attention they are beginning to receive.

For the second article in the “Revisiting Górecki” series (see part 1 here), we sat down with Mikołaj to talk about life, music, his father’s fourth symphony and what the future may hold.

Mark Nowakowski (MN): Thank you, Mr. Górecki, for your time today. What was your childhood like? Where did you spend most of your time living?

Mikołaj Górecki (MG): My childhood and youth I spent in Katowice, Poland. When I was six I started playing violin, a year later – piano. The piano was my major until finishing high school. Actually, for many years I was writing music in secret. One of my first drafts of music is from 1977.

One day when I was already 13, I played for my father for the first time one of my pieces and from that day my writing became more “official.” [While] still in high school I won a composition competition for young composers [1988, in Bielsko-Biała, a southern Polish city] and during my last year there I had a performance of my first orchestral piece played by Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra.

MN: How was musical life in the Górecki household? Was there a lot of music playing on the radio? Were there any musical restrictions?

MG: Music was present in our lives every day. Not only because of the fact that we — my sister and I — practiced the instruments, but also we listened to the concerts on the radio, television, recordings, or attended live performances. Restrictions were applied to popular music. My father was against it and did not want us to listen to it. That is probably why it was so exciting for me to “discover” for myself [at] the age of thirteen The Beatles for example…

MN: When did you realize that you were meant to be a composer?

MG: Since [my] early years I was hoping to write music. The word “composer” was too big for my dreams. It was reserved for Bach, Beethoven, etc. I simply always wanted to write music. It was neither a suggestion of my father nor my mum.

MN: Did you ever have any musical or aesthetic disagreements with your father during your formative years or otherwise?

MG: Generally, when dealing with the big musical issues there was not much of disagreement. But if I had a different opinion I had to keep it to myself. It was not easy to disagree with him while living in the same house … As an example of a different personal taste, not so much of opinion: He always was very close to Beethoven and Schubert, for me Mozart and Brahms were greater inspirations. I prefer Mahler [to] Richard Strauss, he [the] contrary. And so on.

MN: Conversely, is there any particular event or experience with your late father that inspired you or perhaps stayed with you in some way?

MG: Yes, many. He very often was saying that many composers write notes, not music. When we listened to music together, he would sometimes point out, using only one or two words, essential elements of the piece. Those single words would give a completely different perspective to the entire listening experience.

MN: What brought you to the United States, and what has kept you here?

MG: In 1998 I came here to study at School of Music at Indiana University, Bloomington. While being there I met my future wife. After studies we lived in Montreal and now in South Texas.

MN: The comparison is not hard to draw: Your father often withdrew to the mountains, and you live in the desert of Texas. Is there a shared reclusive nature between father and son?

MG: I have never thought about it  in that way, but indeed there is some similarity. There are many reasons why I live in the desert, but one of them is the fact that I like peaceful places. Also warm weather.

MN: Looking at your list of recent works, there are several that may be of interest to our readers. “Jasności promieniste” [generally “Rays of Dazzling Light” in English] and “Arioso e furioso” have yet to be performed. Might you tell us a bit more about these compositions?

MG: “Jasności promieniste” were premiered last year in Poznan by Maria Rozynek, soprano, and Amadeus Chamber Orchestra under Agnieszka Duczmal. It is a piece in four movements for the soprano and the string orchestra. Three vocal movements are written to Czesław Miłosz’s text. “Arioso e furioso” is a concerto for the guitar, strings and percussion. It will be premiered in October during International Guitar Festival “Silesian Guitar Autumn” in Tychy, Poland.

MN: How do you go about planning and executing the act of composition, and how long do you generally spend on your pieces?

MG: There is no rule for how long I write a given piece. Some of them I wrote very fast, some others very slowly. One thing I find rather consistent: I like to have time before I start actual writing of the piece. The more time I spend before writing the better.

MN: Your Father’s Fourth Symphony — which you realized — is just about to be premiered. Might you explain to the lay reader just what was involved in such a process? In what form did the symphony reach your hands?

MG: My father left his Fourth Symphony in the form of a short score, it means all music is there but some information about orchestration may be missing. I orchestrated particular movements in their partial or entire length. But I did not add any notes. Everything is original.

MN: DUX Records has released two CDs featuring your works, including an entire recording of your string music in 2013. Might you tell us a bit more about this project?

MG: On the first CD are works of my father: “Piano Concerto” and choral songs; and mine: “Concerto Notturno” for the violin and strings and “Nocturne for Orchestra,” dedicated to the memory of my father. On the second CD there are six pieces of mine written between 1998 and 2009. Some of them are for the string orchestra alone or with the solo instruments. This CD was just nominated for Fryderyk, which is a Polish award for Polish recordings. The final results we will know in April.

MN: How often do you return to Poland, and how “Polish” do you feel as a composer?

MG: I come to Poland at least once a year. As a composer I feel very “Polish.”

MN: Are there any projects that you are currently working on that you could tell us about? What is next for Mikołaj Górecki?

MG: Yes, there are, but I usually do not talk about my plans. The future will show what’s next.

Mark Nowakowski

Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a composer whose works have been performed across the United States and Europe. He holds five degrees in various music concentrations