Symphony no. 2, the Copernican, was commissioned to celebrate the 500th. anniversary of the birth of the astronomer Copernicus.
To most who know of Gorecki, his name is probably synonymous with his Third Symphony, the Sorrowful Songs (link there has the full symphony but the vocals of the singer on it to my mind aren't the best). Most probably haven't even listened to his Symphony no. 2, and probably wouldn't put up with the first five minutes of the first movement before giving up. Their loss.
Here's what one reviewer wrote on Amazon:
"The second symphony, written to mark Nicolaus Copernicus' 500th birthday in 1972, contains just as much emotion as Gó'recki's far more popular third symphony. But it's not too difficult to figure out why the second didn't make the charts: the first movement blares out a rhythmic hammer blow timpanic cacophony. It conjures up images of huge objects inexorably shifting and changing while the helpless listener sits in raptured awe. The music of the planets shifting, descending, or presenting themselves in full view slaps the listener right in the cochleas. It's not restful nor peaceful: it's disturbing. Here lies a representation of what the Copernican revolution of the 15th century might have felt like: Pregnant with strife, doubt, challenges, accusations, violent arguments, heresy, the very dignity of humankind at stake. No serenity, no calm summer day. A revolution is underway. The entrance of the choir towards the end of the movement provides a knock-down sonic experience. Something unavoidable has happened and the listener gets transported to that experience.
By startling contrast, the second movement provides the listener with a calm, peaceful, heartbreakingly beautiful landscape with which to ponder the violence that preceded it. Fans of Gó'recki's Third symphony will likely love this movement. Copernicus' own words float above the bubbling strings which wax and wane with intensity. The movement fades out slowly and almost silently. A relaxation of almost insurmountable tension fills the relatively harmonic and lovely second movement. Apparently the happening of the first movement has ended peacefully.
This symphony presents challenges that the third doesn't touch. The range of emotions is startling and even unnerving at times. The juxtaposition of the two movements creates deep meaning. Add to this a monumental historical event and a great symphony emerges. It also points the way towards the Third (finished some four years later in 1976)."
Turn volume up, as the recorded volume is not great: