Gorecki, famed composer of symphony of sorrow, dies

The Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, famous for his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, including one about a woman held prisoner by the Gestapo, has died following a serious illness. He was 76.

Gorecki died yesterday in the cardiology ward of a hospital in his home city of Katowice in southern Poland, according to Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa, the director of the Polish Radio orchestra in Katowice.

The composer was suffering from a number of ailments, chiefly a lung infection, she said. Ms Wnuk-Nazarowa said she and another Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, had visited Gorecki in hospital on Wednesday.

"Penderecki insisted on seeing him," Ms Wnuk-Nazarowa said. "We tried to joke, make plans for the future. Penderecki promised he would direct (Gorecki's) Beatus Vir for the 80th birthday" that both would celebrate in 2013.

That work was commissioned by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, before he became Pope John Paul II, to mark 900 years since the death of the Roman Catholic martyr Stanislaw, bishop of Krakow – whom Pope John Paul II later made a saint.

Gorecki was best known internationally for his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Symphony No 3, Opus 36, for soprano and orchestra, which was published in the United States in 1992. It later became a best-selling recording, with more than 1 million copies sold.

Its three movements contain soprano parts about Mary, the mother of Jesus; a female Polish prisoner held by the Gestapo during the Second World War; and a Polish folk song about a mother searching for her dead son.