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The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki's dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal later style and "represented a stylistic breakthrough: austerely plaintive, emotionally direct and steeped in medieval modes." It was premièred on 4 April 1977, at the Royan International Festival, with Stefania Woytowicz as soprano and Ernest Bour as conductor.A solo soprano sings Polish texts in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament of Mary, mother of Jesus, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed by the Germans in the Silesian uprisings. The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood, despair and suffering.
Until 1992, Górecki was known only to connoisseurs, primarily as one of several composers from the Polish School responsible for the postwar Polish music renaissance. That year, Elektra-Nonesuch released a recording of the 15-year-old symphony performed by the London Sinfonietta, that topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States. To date, it has sold more than a million copies, vastly exceeding the expected lifetime sales of a typical symphonic recording by a 20th-century composer. This success, however, has not generated similar interest in Górecki's other works.