Polish minimalism redux

Image: Unist Composition no.14, by Władysław Stremiński

In a post trailing tomorrow night’s episode of Sacred Music, which focuses on Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt, Norman Lebrecht returns to a favoured assertion of his that Górecki and Pärt found their own voices “independent and largely ignorant of American minimalism”. This echoes a post Lebrecht wrote back in 2007, in which he claimed

The so-called East European Holy Mininmalism of Part and Gorecki was pretty much sui generis, rooted in counter-communist early Christian monodies, unaware of US trends.

This is a complicated assertion to make: how aware or unaware Eastern European composers were of Western trends during the 1960s is difficult to ascertain without some detailed research on the ground. When such research has been undertaken (such as Rachel Beckles Willson’s piecing together of precisely which recordings Hungarian composers had access to in the early 1960s), the discoveries can be surprising. What is known is that works of US minimalism had been performed on several occasions in the East, at festivals such as the Warsaw Autumn and, on at least one such occasion, it was a Polish group who were performing (Terry Riley’s In C in 1969). For more details (and a little introduction to the Polish artistic movement of Unism), please read my 2007 response to Lebrecht.

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