Polish composer Henryk Gorecki dies aged 76

Poland's composer Henryk Gorecki talks with his hands during an interview in Helsinki November 2, 1998. Reuters/file

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, whose works ranged from dissonant modernist compositions to traditional choral hymns, died on Friday aged 76, the state news agency PAP reported.

Gorecki is best known for his contemplative Third Symphony or “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” composed for orchestra and solo soprano and exploring the themes of war and loss.

The symphony, which won Gorecki international renown, includes a Polish religious lament, a message written on the wall of a Nazi prison cell by a young Polish woman and a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son.

His later work, often religious in inspiration, has earned him comparisons with other composers of sacred music such as Britain’s John Tavener and Estonia’s Arvo Part.

In his early career, Gorecki was influenced by avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Bela Bartok and cultivated an austere, cerebral style.

His monumental Second, or “Copernican,” Symphony marked a transition to a more traditional mode of expression.

Composed in 1972 and featuring a choir and texts from biblical psalms, it celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who established that the earth circled the sun and not the other way round.

Gorecki was born on December 6, 1933 into a musical family in southern Poland. He combined composing with an academic career.

Writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Andrew Dobbie