Symphony No. 2 “Copernican” op. 31
This theme becomes the foundation for development of the entire first part, except for the contrasted middle section, based on fast overlapping chromatic progressions in the brass. The finale of this movement introduces a choir that sings verses from biblical psalms selected by the composer. And here it becomes obvious that the rhythm of chords that dominate this part of the symphony was determined by the rhythm of the choir’s text. The composer had used a similar technique in Old Polish Music, but here the effect is more powerful. Analogically, the technique of slowly shifting whole-tone chordal blocks had been presented earlier in Refrain and Canticum graduum.
The second movement leads us into a completely different world. Quiet chords based on the pentatonic scale (five sounds within an octave) harmonically complement the melodic line of the solo voices, a baritone and a soprano. Despite structural references to Part One, for example the semitonal descent of the melody, analogous to the chordal shifts of the main theme in the previous part, the movement introduces a lyrical, very peaceful atmosphere built upon modal and tonal (seven-tone) scales, which testifies to an important turn in Górecki’s technique and anticipates a major breakthrough in his development as a composer.
The finale of the symphony’s second movement uses a quotation from the 15th-century Gregorian hymn Laude digna prolem. Górecki preserved the four-voice texture of the original, but replaced the text with that of a fragment of Copernicus’ main work, De revolutionibus orbium caelestum, creating a coda of extraordinary beauty, the four-part chorale of which, based on a modal scale, links up with long sustained chords based on the pentatonic scale of the strings, harp and piano. The result is a full chromatic harmony, comprising all available tones.
By separating its layers, the composer created a very subtle sound world. The highly expressive simplicity of the chorale and the extended, multiplied chord that ascends slowly and majestically from the lowest registers and dynamics to the highest instrumental registers, then gradually dies away in the end, make a tremendous impression. It is like a symbolic passage into mystical and transcendent space, which lights up the darkness of earthly life with eternal, celestial light and peace.Symphony No. 2 “Copernican” is a consummate work and a masterpiece, both with regard to its concept and artistic realisation. It is also a clear sign of a major change in the composer’s style. Whereas Part One is a summa of his experiences with the avant-garde, Part Two foreshadows the future and anticipates the mystical, contemplative world of Symphony No. 3.