“Miserere” by Henryk Górecki

“Miserere” by Henryk Górecki September 11, 2014

In the past, I have written about the terrible tragedy memorialized today. As the years pass, though, I find myself less and less inclined to do so. Not because the day’s events have faded from my memory or because they seem somehow less significant today than they did then, but because my words seems increasingly faded and insignificant in comparison.

So, once again, I find myself turning to music rather than the written word. More specifically, I’m spending this morning with Henryk Górecki’s work of political protest, re-purposing it into a bit of a prayer for those who lost their lives that day, for those at Ground Zero whose lives were irretrievably altered by its violent touch, and for all of us “bystanders” whose lives have been changed in ways we cannot even recognize (or comprehend).

Like so many of Górecki’s compositions, its effect is largely cumulative. But in this case, it’s not just a sonic accumulation. It’s a textual one:

Written for large (120 voices) a cappella mixed choir, a typical performance lasts 35 minutes. The text comprises five words: ‘Domine Deus Noster‘ (Lord our God), which are repeated for the first ten sections, resolved by a chorus of ‘Miserere nobis‘ (Lord have mercy on us) in the eleventh and final section.

If you have a half hour or so, I encourage you to listen to the whole thing. Those three simple words, repeated over and over and over, are extraordinarily powerful. And when the final section’s “Have mercy” breaks through, it’s shattering.

Attribution(s): “Wooden Cross” provided by Shutterstock.

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