Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, famous for his "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," including one about a woman who was held prisoner by the Gestapo, died Friday following an illness. He was 76.
Gorecki died in the cardiology ward of a hospital in his home city of Katowice in southern Poland, Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa, the director of Polish Radio orchestra in Katowice, told the Associated Press.
The composer was suffering from a number of ailments, chiefly a lung infection, she said.
Wnuk-Nazarowa said she and another Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, had visited Gorecki in the hospital on Wednesday.
"Penderecki insisted on seeing him," Wnuk-Nazarowa said. "We tried to joke, make plans for the future. Penderecki promised he would direct [Gorecki's] 'Beatus vir' for the 80th birthday" that both would celebrate in 2013.
The work was commissioned by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II to mark 900 years since the death of Roman Catholic martyr, Stanislaw, bishop of Krakow — whom Pope John Paul II later made a saint. The composition, completed in 1979, is a psalm for baritone, choir and orchestra.
Gorecki was best known internationally for his Symphony No. 3, Opus 36, for a soprano and orchestra, which was published in the United States in 1992. It later became a best-selling recording, with more than 1 million copies sold.
Although his early works were more avant-garde, Gorecki was later influenced by traditional Polish music and themes of his nation's history, as reflected in works such as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs."
Its three movements contain soprano parts about Mary, the mother of Jesus; a female Polish prisoner held by the Gestapo during the Second World War, and a Polish folk song about a mother searching for her dead son. The second song is based on a prayer that was found inscribed by the prisoner on the wall of her cell in a Nazi police prison in occupied southern Poland.
In awarding him an honorary fellowship in 2008, Cardiff University praised Gorecki for "his independence of thought and independence of spirit. His work is grounded in a profound humanity and is rooted in the folk and religious culture of his native Poland."
Gorecki was born Dec. 6, 1933, in Czernica, near Rybnik in the coal mining Silesia region in southern Poland.
In 1960 he graduated from the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, where he studied composition. Eight years later he joined the faculty and was its head from 1975 to 1979.
His music uses simple harmony, minimal means and repetition in a style often called the "New Simplicity."
Conductor Antoni Wit said that Gorecki did not compose much in recent years, even though he knew his works would be welcome.
"He refrained from writing at times when he believed he did not have anything important to write," Wit told the PAP agency. "He did not care about so-called career."
Last month, in his hospital bed, he received Poland's highest distinction, the Order of the White Eagle, bestowed by President Bronislaw Komorowski.
The composer is survived by his wife, piano teacher Jadwiga; his daughter, pianist Anna Gorecka-Stanczyk; and his son, composer Mikolaj Gorecki.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Henryk Gorecki conducting a concert at USC in 1997. Credit: Los Angeles Times