About this work
Pope John Paul II made his third visit to Poland, his homeland, in the summer of 1987. The outdoor masses were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. At one of these events, on July 19, a new choir piece by Henryk Górecki was performed. Totus Tuus sets a brief prayer to Mary, the patron saint of Poland and a strong priority in the prayers of the Pope (and all faithful Poles, including the composer).
The music is chorale-like, and quite traditional. But, while the harmonies tend toward the triadic, the progressions are much simpler and more static than would be found in the chorales of J. S. Bach, for example. Stepwise motion in the outer voices leads to a contrasting harmony, often the subdominant, and then back to the tonic, E flat major. At one point, where the text is an imploring "Maria," over and over, the music slips away from the tonic, creating a section of contrast for the overall design. But, soon enough, Górecki returns to the key and phrase structure of the opening. This composer is a master, even (and perhaps especially) with very simple material, of shaping the flow of repetition and variation. The final passage of Totus Tuus, for example, gradually closes in from the phrase "Totus tuus sum, Maria!" It leaps up and falls back to the tonic chord alone, with the choir intoning the word "Maria!" by itself.
At the premiere of Totus Tuus, the choir would have been large, the audience large, the occasion large. Górecki, who had written a great quantity of sacred choral music over the past decade and a half, responded with a score that is humble and prayerful, finely judged to project both the sonorities of the music and the message of the text.