Salve, sidus Polonorum op. 72 – St. Adalbert Cantata
Salve, sidus Polonorum – St. Adalbert Cantata is a large-scale work addressed to St. Adalbert, martyr and patron of Poland, written for the 1000th anniversary of his martyrdom and for the 1000th anniversary of the city of Gniezno. Scored for a great mixed choir, two pianos, organ and percussion, the cantata consists of three parts and takes about 30 minutes to perform.
The first part, the character of which distinctly resembles that of a litany, is based on the text of the Vespers antiphon Per merita Sancti Adalberti. The second part, a simple church song or direct prayer and supplication to the patron saint, sets the composer’s own text: “Saint Adalbert, our beloved patron, God’s Martyr, pray for us”. The bright mood is only disturbed at times by the hushed rumble of the pianos, suggesting a menace lying somewhere in wait. The third part, the culmination, begins with a splendid tutti. It is here that the composer eventually makes use of the full performing forces on the words of the title sequence Salve, sidus Polonorum.
The triumphant sound of the sequence is shattered, however, by strokes of the cymbals, and the mood of a choral supplication returns: first on the word “Halleluiah”, and later with the full version of Górecki’s text from the second part. The solemn and serene mood is destroyed again by unsettling percussion sounds, but the atmosphere of joyful triumph eventually prevails. In the coda, performed tutti, comes the lively, high-spirited phrase “Salve, sidus Polonorum, Halleluiah” repeated many times and supported by rhythmic accompaniment of piano and percussion. After the triumphant finale, the work closes with the choir’s devout “Halleluiah”.
Polonorum is often considered
one of Górecki’s weaker creations. It has, however, its distinct merits. It
preserves the contemplative, prayerful mood known from Górecki’s previous
compositions and, most importantly, the aura of mystery created by the clash of
bright, cheerful choral parts and alarming instrumental sounds. In this
context, the optimistic coda can be seen as a stylistic dissonance.