Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Preface

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Preface

Article excerpt

Two significant contemporary works of art that participate in the Catholic artistic tradition, each in its own distinctive way, were presented (coincidentally) within a few blocks of each other in downtown Los Angeles during mid-January 2015: the first performance in the United States of Henryk Gorecki's Fourth Symphony by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Walt Disney Hall, and the first West Coast presentation of Andy Warhol's Shadows at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Grand Avenue, described by the museum as "a monumental painting in 102 parts." (1) The Roman Catholic roots of Gorecki's work as a composer are well known; the influence of Andy Warhol's upbringing as a Byzantine Catholic and his continuing practice as a Catholic have been widely discussed since his death in 1987.

There is much drama in the story of the composition of Gorecki's Fourth Symphony, even apart from the oft-told story (but I will not repeat it here) of the surprising rise in popularity starting about 1992 of his Third Symphony: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs composed in 1976. The Fourth Symphony was scheduled for its world premiere in London in April 2010 and for its American premiere in Los Angeles in January 2011, but the performances were cancelled when Gorecki was unable to complete the work because of failing health. He died on November 12, 2010 leaving the work unfinished, and its fate was unknown for several years thereafter. It was eventually determined that the composer had completed the work in piano score, and his son, Mikolaj, who is a composer in his own right, was able to orchestrate the work according to indications of his father's intentions. The London Philharmonic Orchestra first performed the work in London in April 2014, conducted by Andrey Boreyko, and Boreyko then conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing the work in Los Angeles on January 16-18, 2015.

In a talk given prior to the Los Angeles performance on January 17, Boreyko speculated that Gorecki was well aware of his failing health and perhaps his impending death as he composed the piece. When asked by interlocutor Christopher Russell about common elements found in Gorecki's Fourth Symphony and Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony (his final symphony), each quoting the funeral march from Wagner's Siegfried and ending on an A major chord, Boreyko speculated that each symphony was indeed a kind of farewell to life but that the two composers approached the awareness of death in contrasting ways. Noting that in general Gorecki did not feel an affinity for the music of Shostakovich, Boreyko suggested that he found a significant contrast between the underlying foundation of Christian hope embedded in Gorecki's symphony and the feeling of despair that he sensed in Shostakovich's final symphony.

Gorecki's Christian faith establishes a key to his Fourth Symphony, in Boreyko's opinion. While cautiously noting that he did not think the symphony has a necessary program that the listener must follow, Boreyko nonetheless disclosed that after considering the importance of quotations in the work from the funeral march from Wagner's Siegfried, from Karol Syzmanowski's Stabat Mater, and from the final movement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, titled "The Great Gate of Kiev," he found the work to be "a musical ritual with a deep religious background." He also suggested that the work might be thought of as Gorecki's Passion, with sections suggestive of the via dolorosa, the lamentation of the mother, and the Resurrection, among other moments.

This account of the symphony so far produces an inaccurate picture of the work as a whole because the elements that most directly suggest the religious background of the composition are embedded within the modernist musical framework that is also an important part of Gorecki's compositional style throughout his career. The work is built on a short initial theme whose notes are derived from the name of Polish-born composer Alexandre Tansman, and much of the first movement involves what music critic Alex Ross describes as "an almost torturous repetition" of elements. …

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