Released back in ’76, Górecki’s 3rd symphony wasn’t accepted until ’92 when Nonesuch Records released a version played by London Sinfonietta, soloed by Shawn Upshaw, and conducted by David Zinman. The album made major bank, selling over a million copies, which marks it as one of the greatest selling contemporary classical recordings ever. Unsurprisingly, people have tried to recreate these effects. Some have gone at this shit like historians, trying to figure out why this strange anomaly occurred. Others went classical music scientist and tried to figure out what was hella fly about this composition in particular. In most fields, the research on this went bust. But I don’t think it’s necessary. All you need is some, ironically uncommon, common sense.
You wanna know why a minimalist orchestration, that’s basically the epitome of being sad as fuck, was popular in the early ’90s. Are you fucking kidding me? Isn’t this obvious? Ask Nirvana.
Being sad as fuck wasn’t an emotion in the early ’90s, it was a state of being. Feeling fucked got you fucked. Sartre would’ve been a major player. Misery was how you got company. Lovers basked together in sexual fluids, ennui, and malaise. And this shit moved in tandem. Grunge wasn’t a singular source. Amid Hurricane Andrew fucking over Florida, a 3-year war among Croats, Serbs, and Muslims, Somalia in famine after a fucked up civil war, and an entire state (the Soviet Union) calling it quits, shit was heavy. People wanted a good cry. Enter: Górecki’s 3rd Symphony.
This symphony comes in three parts. Part 1 is Mary, mother of Jesus, lamenting for her son. Part 2 is written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during the Second World War. And part 3 is all about a mother searching for her son murdered by the German during the Silesian uprisings. Now that’s some fucking wallowing. This recording is played by The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. They own this shit. The rises and expertly played motif is laden with feeling and led by the hand of Krzysztof Penderecki, the man behind The Shining and The Exorcist. Add to this the singer and lyricist of Portishead, Beth Gibbons, singing out the heavy better (and in a totally uncommon way) than she’s ever done before, and you have a motherfucking classic on your hands.
It may not be 1992, but the world still has its fair share of wallow. What’s both positive and negative is that we’re now informed of every WTF tragedy at the speed of thought. Shit can feel overwhelming. Sometimes it helps to bathe wounds in sad music. It has a cathartic effect. And if you are going to do it, do this shit right. This music carries universal depths of despair and hope within it. Shit makes grunge look like a children’s Christmas play. As the album closes, there’s an emotional release, like after a good cry. You feel light, relieved, and able to move on with the day. This album is contemporary classical music showing off its blackest shade of dark and it’s fucking beautiful.