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Honorary degree citation - Henryk Gorecki*

By: Wolfgang Bottenberg, November 1998

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Henryk Gorecki, one of the most renowned and respected composers of our time.

Henryk Gorecki was born in 1933, in the town of Czernika in Poland. It was certainly a problematic time and place to enter life. The unprecedented violence of the First World War had made many old values questionable or obsolete and had replaced them with the dictates of intolerant and combative ideologies. Poland faced the most extreme representatives of such ideologies both to the east and to the west, and soon became embroiled in the conflicts of these two giants. The young boy had to experience first German and then Russian occupation which left him physically so weakened that his very survival at stake.

In artistic matters, this was also a time marked by divisions and ideological intolerance. The beginning of the century had witnessed fundamental challenges of the esthetic and syntactic foundations of the art of music; the univerality of style which had rules Western Music lovers for centuries had given way to the multiplicity of mutually exclusive styles. Many music lovers rejected this so called modern music and turned towards more comprehensible popular or historic music.

This was the political and artistic environment which confronted Henryk Gorecki at the beginning of his career as a composer. It was certainly not an auspicious beginning for a young man of great talent, but right from the beginning, he proved to be stronger than his adverse surroundings.

Fortunately, he received significant support from the excellent institutions of musical education of Poland which had earlier nurtured the talents of Fredric Chopin and Carol Szymanowski.

As a young man, Henryk Gorecki surprised his teachers through the quality of his musical compositions. He became a master of complex compositional techniques and was accepted as an equal by most prominent composers of the time. However, gradually and almost imperceptibly, his musical style moved towards greater simplicity. His 1963 composition Three Pieces in Old Style marked the beginning of the evolution of his new style.

As a committed Catholic, he wrote many compositions based on the sacred texts, some in honor of the Pope’s visit to Poland, others in support of the Solidarity Movement.

Public acceptance of his music grew steadily, first in Poland and then on an unprecedented international level as a consequence of the 1989 performance in Germany of his Third Symphony. It became obvious that his music touched the hearts and the minds of music lovers at all levels of sophistication.

Henryk Gorecki is one of the greatest musical masters of our century; his music will endure into the next millenium and continue to elevate and inspire countless generations of composers. His music represents the most positive aspects of the closing years of the century, as we try to heal the wounds inflicted by the violence and intolerance of its beginning.

Concordia University wishes to honor Henryk Gorecki, and is similarly honored by his presence and willingness to accept this distinction from us. The Faculty of Fine Arts has long nurtured close relations with institutions of art education in Poland. We consider Mr. Gorecki’s presence among us today as a symbol of these productive relations and as a source of pride and joy for the large community of Canadians of Polish descent.

Henryk Gorecki has helped many people understand the music of our age. Through his work he reflects our willingness not only to accept, but to embrace our cultural and ethnic diversity. Mr. Gorecki, in honoring you and your music, we also honor that which is best in us as a nation.

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege and an honor to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and the Board of the Governors, Henryk Gorecki, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased

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