Three Pieces in Old Style
Composed in 1963 at the request of Tadeusz Ochlewski,
editor in chief of the music publisher PWM Edition, Three Pieces in Old
Style are another composition, after Chorale in the Form of
a Canon, in which Górecki draws on Polish early music. In that
period, these compositions were a kind of sidetrack or marginal music for Górecki,
and he did not give opus numbers to either of them.
Three Pieces in Old Style are, indeed, worlds apart from his
radically avant-garde work from the early 1960s. They are refined stylisations
of Renaissance melodies, maintained in modal scales, with no traces of
dodecaphony or aggressive sound and clear melodic lines and lively rhythms. It
is only in the third piece that the expression of successive phrases in the old
Polish song comes closer to that which we know from Górecki’s serial music. In
this piece, the composer overlaps the string parts, starting the melodic line
in each instrument with a different tone of the Dorian scale. This can recall
for the audience Górecki’s serial speculations, and results in a dense,
emotionally intensive eight-part harmonic structure. This finale is both the
culmination of the whole and the expressive peak of the cycle, coming after the
first piece, a subtle, lyrical song with beautifully captivating sound, and the
second, a folk dance based on a rhythmic ostinato.
Regardless of the composer’s intentions, Three Pieces in Old Style remains one of his most frequently performed works. The cycle also proved extremely important in the context of his later work and the role that quotations from early music came to play in his compositions from the late 1960s and early 1970s such as Old Polish Music and Symphony No. 2 “Copernican”.