How I came to love Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3

“In the extensive first movement of Symphony No. 3 a lengthy orchestral introduction prepares the way for a late-15th-century lament from the Holy Cross monastery which tells of the love of a mother for her son, providing associations with the Pietà, the devotional picture of the Mother of Christ with her dead son in her arms.”

Picture, if you will, the reverend as a freckled boy, just 9 years old, roaming the loose-gravel streets of a working-class suburb back east. One day we kids decide to form a gang and make an initiation. The first test is a daunting crawl through a narrow, underground drainage pipe running about 40 yards diagonally beneath a cross-section of busy streets. On my turn, I go headfirst into the dark tunnel strewn with wet leaves, trash and God knows what else (copperheads and water moccasins were common in the area). Crawling into the cold stench of corrugated pipe, I shuffle along on my belly. About halfway through, I pass a dead rat (or squirrel) and realize my movement is so constricted that I can’t go back or even turn my head.

Panicked, I see there is no turning back, so I pretend the tunnel isn’t there and focus on the light. “In the third movement, the soprano soloist presents the text of a folk song about the grief of a mother over her dead son. The lyrical flow of the vocal line rushes into a wave-like expanse of sound which gradually subsides and flows into A major.”

Kids try to freak me out by covering the light, but I hold my nose and pull faster, through waves of claustrophobia, until I reach the end and burst into fresh air. The others run along to the next victim, their cries raining like white petals from the dogwood trees, but I stay on my back in the ditch staring at a sky that remains bluer in memory than practically any since. That’s when I hear slow music from the neighbor’s hillside porch. “The effect of this repeated concentration on one mode in the Third Symphony may be compared to rays of sunshine that break through a wall of clouds. The folk song ends with this comforting image: ‘And thou, God’s sweet flowers, surround me in bloom, that my son may sleep peacefully.'”

Weekly props
1. Spring fever/March madness

2. The audience dancers at Taraf de Haïdouks

3. Lefty Drisell

4. Creeper Lagoon’s cover of "Travelin’ Band" (CCR)