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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


THE SYMPHONIES OF ANDRZEJ PANUFNIK

by Paul Conway

Andrzej Panufnik was born in Warsaw on 24th September 1914. He began composing at nine years of age and in 1936 gained a Diploma with Distinction for theory and composition at the Warsaw State Conservatoire. For the next two years, he studied with Felix Weingartner at the State Academy of Music in Vienna, sowing the seeds of a talent for sensitive and incisive conducting as many recordings and broadcasts testify. Panufnik continued his musical studies in Paris and London, but in 1939 returned to Warsaw where he stayed during the Nazi occupation, devoting himself wholly to composition. He performed at a number of underground charity concerts as a pianist, championing banned works of Jewish and Polish composers. After the war, he was appointed permanent conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic and later Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic. In his native Poland he was highly honoured, receiving the Standard of Labour First Class and twice being made State Laureate. However, Panufnik was unable to accept the government’s increasing political intervention in his artistic endeavours and in July 1954, he escaped to the West to gain his creative independence.

In his autobiography, Andzrej Panufnik describes his reduced status after arriving in England: "I had leapt from my Polish position of No. One to No One in England" (1). It took an unconscionably long time for the composer to gain a measure of recognition in his adopted homeland and it is fair to say that even now, over ten years after his death on 27th October 1991, his true stature as a symphonist of the front rank is not widely recognised. For a long time, Panufnik suffered the same indifference to his creative abilities from the British musical establishment which met fellow political refugee Austrian composer Egon Wellesz in 1938. Whereas Wellesz had to rely to Oxford Academia to gain some measure of acceptance in England, Panufnik initially concentrated on conducting, directing leading British orchestras and eventually becoming Musical Director of the City of Birmingham Orchestra in 1957. During his three-year directorship of the CBSO, Panufnik championed British music, giving the world premieres of two symphonies - Edmund Rubbra’s Seventh and Lennox Berkeley’s Second, as well as performing Elgar’s rarely heard Polonia. Writing in the mid-1970s, B M Maciejewski argues that Panufnik’s "British period" saw a drying up of the composer’s inspiration: "I venture to say that from the creative (composition) and interpretative (conducting) point of view, the twenty years of Panufnik’s stay in Great Britain have been a great disaster!" (2)

The dismissal of Panufnik’s ‘British-period’ works by Maciejewski cannot go unchallenged. Undoubtedly, his first three symphonies all derive much strength of character and melodic inspiration from his Polish background, but the composer’s subsequent exploration of his theories of motivic development and patterned sequences in his later symphonies signals a logical progression of his musical personality rather than a falling off in inspiration. The last three of his ten symphonies, perhaps significantly all written well after Maciejewski’s book, seem to me to contain all the passion of his early orchestral masterpieces, together with a maturity and mastery of technique and craftsmanship. They are also imbued with a certain late-Romanticism, which illuminates the composer’s later works. As with most important cycles, there is a sense of continual development throughout the Panufnik symphonies which richly rewards listeners prepared to familiarise themselves with the composer’s individual style.

Panufnik’s symphonic odyssey really begins with the Tragic Overture of 1940. Dedicated to the composer’s brother, Miroslaw Panufnik, who fought and died in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, it marks the beginning of the composer’s stringent economy of expression and is the first work in which he started his great quest to find a perfect balance between emotion and structure. Panufnik achieves this in his Tragic Overture by making use of a four-note cell, which pervades the entire eight-minute work, sometimes transposed, augmented or inverted. This sequence of notes is sustained within a framework of repeated rhythmic patterns, which gradually increase in tension, building to a shattering climax. Despite this rigid framework, the composer could not help but include such programmatic elements as the sound of a falling bomb in the percussion, trombones describing the sound of a distant aeroplane and the final chord, a cry of despair. This Panufnik work is essential to an understanding of the composer’s entire output. As his first two symphonies are irretrievably lost, the Tragic Overture is the best existing guide to the wartime Panufnik soundworld. As Harold Truscott has stated, it is "the work of a born symphonist" (3). It sets out what was to become a lifelong mission to fuse dramatic power with a strictly disciplined economy and simplicity of musical material. Further blueprints of later preoccupations are the incorporation of a restricted series of note cells, the use of glissandi, and the interplay between major and minor keys. His favourite intervals are established as the perfect fourth, major and minor seconds and the occasional major third.

Maciejewski writes movingly of the premiere of this powerful work in the winter of 1943: "The hall was badly lit and the audience was cold, poorly clad and half-starved, and equally starved of artistic experience. The inspired performance of the Tragic Overture, under the baton of the composer, had a shattering effect on all music lovers gathered at that historic moment in Polish music. For a great composer was born." The recording by the LSO under Jascha Horenstein captures some of the elemental power of that first performance (UNICORN-KANCHANA UKCD2016).

In his autobiography, Panufnik describes his first symphony as "of lyrical character with delicate, almost fragile scoring" and Romantic in character. The Second Symphony, completed in the winter of 1942, was cast in three movements, more classical in form than its predecessor and more heavily orchestrated. It received a highly successful premiere in May 1944 with the composer conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic. Tragically, in May 1945, Panufnik discovered that his first two fully-fledged symphonies had both been accidentally destroyed during the Warsaw uprising. The composer tried to reconstruct the score of the Symphony no 1 and gave the resulting work a run-through with the Krakow Philharmonic but he found the results disappointing and afterwards disposed of the score himself.

In view of the circumstances of the loss of his first two examples in the genre, Panufnik decided against giving his next symphony a number. Instead, he called it ‘Sinfonia Rustica’. The work, his first surviving symphony, is an expression of the composer’s love for the Polish peasant music from northern Poland. Panufnik decided to emulate the region’s symmetrical paper-cuts. Thus, the orchestral layout is symmetrical with flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and trumpet in the middle of the concert platform, flanked by two string orchestras engaged in ‘stereophonic’ dialogue. The symphony itself is symmetrical in design with two outer movements in quasi-sonata form enclosing two more lyrical ones. Each of the four movements has an indication of its definite character (Con tenerezza, Con grazia, Con espressione, Con vigour) instead of the usual markings of tempo or musical form. The first movement has a plangent oboe theme as its first subject and a contrasting cantabile second subject, first heard on solo horn. The second movement is a set of variations on an artless folk tune, first heard on solo oboe against pizzicato strings. In the slow movement, a simple, arch-like construction opens with a beautiful bassoon solo at the top of its register against a sea of changing string harmonies. A grimly stomping bass, shared between the two string orchestras opens the finale, which is of a dance-like character with a gripping and joyful conclusion. Composed in 1948, the work was premiered by the Krakow Philharmonic under Panufnik in 1949, the same year in which it won the Warsaw Chopin Competition. At that time, Stalinist ideology was imposed with an iron will on Polish artists and, during a meeting of the Composers’ Union in 1950, the Polish Deputy Minister of Culture and Art, Wlodzimierz Sokorski, announced that the "Sinfonia Rustica has ceased to exist!" The success of the symphony since this pronouncement speaks for itself. The Sinfonia Rustica provides a perfect introduction to the Panufnik Symphonies, its imaginative use of earthy Polish folk tunes making it one of the composer’s most charming and easily accessible works. Deeply felt, texturally clear and formally perfect, the piece has an exhilarating, open-air freshness that never fails to delight. The 1967 recording (of the 1955 revised version) conducted by the composer with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra matches the work’s exuberance with a vigour and simplicity which marks it out as definitive (UNICORN-KANCHANA UKCD2016).

In the Spring of 1951, Panufnik completed a Symphony for Peace. The composer conducted the world premiere himself with the Warsaw Philharmonic in May. It was conceived in three contrasting movements. An elegiac Lamento for wordless chorus and orchestra, grieving for the victims of the recent war, began the work. The central Drammatico was a forthright anti-war statement for orchestra alone. The symphony ended with a hymn-like movement marked Solene, a call for peace in the form of a setting of a poem by Panufnik’s friend Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. The first performance was a success with the audience but the official response was cooler, viewing the work as too passive and supplicatory. In February 1955, Leopold Stokowski conducted the Symphony of Peace in Detroit. The composer travelled to America to hear the performance. Despite the powerful effect of Stokowski’s reading and the positive reception it received, Panufnik was unhappy with the work. He felt the emotional content dominated the structural aspects to the detriment of the symphony’s overall impact and that the work was too long. He decided to withdraw the symphony, despite Stokowski’s protestations.

Shortly before leaving for America, Panufnik had signed a contract with Boosey and Hawkes to publish all his works. However, there were problems in getting permission from his Polish publishers to gain the copyright on his earlier compositions. To avoid legal problems, it was decided by Boosey and Hawkes not to print the works exactly as in their first editions. Thus, the composer was requested to make small changes in each of his existing published compositions, sometimes altering names. Thus, the Sinfonia Rustica was slightly revised in 1955 and it is this version which was performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 27th July 1955 as part of the Proms festival with Panufnik conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Not long after this performance, his ex-publishers released the composer from his obligations and he was no longer obliged to revise the rest of his oeuvre. Nevertheless, the perfectionist in Panufnik felt he could improve on the Symphony of Peace by drastically compressing the same musical ideas. He decided to set aside the choral section and concentrate on the first two movements. He also chose to call the work Sinfonia Elegiaca, feeling that the word ‘Peace’ had become debased by Soviet misuse. The new symphony, his second, was completed in 1957 and dedicated to the victims of the Second World War.

The Sinfonia Elegiaca is one of Panufnik’s most powerful and poignant statements. Its depth of feeling is remarkable in the output of this most fastidious and controlled of composers - perhaps some of the raw emotion in the Symphony of Peace was retained. It is cast in one continuous movement, divided into three sections arranged symmetrically like a vast triptych. Whilst not programmatic in an obvious sense, there are allusions to aspects of war. The work begins with a barely audible tremolo on timpani, followed by a chorale-like lament on lower strings. A cor anglais enters with new song-like material. The lament is repeated on horns and the lyrical theme by violins. The central Molto Allegro also starts with a timpani solo, but this time crashing in with full force, announcing the rhythmic motif on which the middle section is based (a motif which resembles the principal rhythmic motto theme of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony’s first movement). Constructed as a quasi-sonata, the first sharply-etched thematic idea is stated by the brass, and the contrastingly lyrical second one, by the violins, beginning in a quietly persuasive mood. The whole orchestra and the cellos, respectively, repeat the themes. The third and final part of the symphony opens with fresh musical material of ruminative character, played by strings only, after which the woodwind enter, returning to the chorale-like lament. A long diminuendo brings the work to its conclusion on a barely audible timpani tremolo, as at the start. The central movement may be seen as a dramatic protest against the inhumanity and madness of war, whilst the two outer sections framing it are lamentations for the dead and the bereaved. The failure of peace and freedom in countries such as the composer’s native Poland is underlined by the fact that the symphony ends in same mood and character in which is began, as if nothing has changed. In January 1957, the symphony was premiered by Stokowski and the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The same orchestra recorded the work under Robert Whitney on a now-deleted Louisville LP (LS 671). This performance captures some of the emotional intensity of the work but this symphony sorely needs a modern recording by an orchestra and conductor of international stature to do it full justice. It was one of the pieces Panufnik was asked to conduct in Birmingham during the 1958/59 season, though, unfortunately he never commercially recorded it.

In 1963, the composer moved into a tranquil country house on the bank of the Thames in Twickenham, a house he happily lived in until death eighteen years later. Also that year, Panufnik decided to write a new symphony to mark the millennium of Poland’s Christianity and Statehood in 1966. It was to be based on the first known hymn in the Polish language, the Bogurodzica, a rousing Gregorian chant, dating from the Middle Ages, sung not only in church as a prayer to the Virgin but also by Polish knights like a National Anthem on the battlefields. Both these elements of the religious and the heroic were incorporated into the symphony, stressing their emotional power.

The Sinfonia Sacra is in two parts: Three Visions followed by a Hymn. The three Visions are based on the intervals between the first four notes of the Bogurodzica melody: a minor second in Vision III, a major second in Vision II and a fourth in Vision I. Thus, each Vision has its own basic sound. The Visions strongly oppose each other: Vision I is a colloquy between four trumpets representing a solemn and extended fanfare to the work. Vision II is for strings alone, creating a mystic and contemplative atmosphere. Vision III is a dramatic tutti, sustaining an interweaving conflict, mounting in agitation and protest until a sudden cut brings complete silence, followed by the second part of the symphony. The Hymn has the character of a simple prayer to the Virgin, which expresses adoration and warmth. It starts pianissimo with strings’ icy ‘flautando’ harmonics growing gradually into a more and more ardent invocation until at last the full melody of the Bogurodzica finally breaks through for the first time heard in its full melodic line, at which point the trumpets round the orchestra repeat their summons form the first Vision, bringing the Sinfonia Sacra to a climactic and monumental end. Commissioned by the Kosciuszko Foundation of America, the Sinfonia Sacra won first place in the Prince Rainier Prize in Monaco for the best orchestral work. It soon established itself as Panufnik’s most performed work and has remained his most popular symphony - deservedly so. Its inclusion in this year’s Proms by the RLPO under Gerard Schwarz is the latest in a long history of significant performances of this powerful work. In 1967, the composer recorded Sinfonia Sacra in Monte Carlo for the French branch of EMI. This was released as a Unicorn-Kanchana CD (UKCD 2020) coupled with equally authentic and satisfying performances of the Concerto Festivo, Landscape, Katyn Epitaph and Concertino for timpani, percussion and strings. A recording of the work dating from the mid-1980s, also under the composer’s direction, but featuring the Concertgebouw Orchestra, appeared on the ELEKTRA NONESUCH label (9 79228-2). Of the two versions, the earlier one is sharper and more vivid, though the luxury of hearing Panufnik conducting a world-class orchestra is a strong incentive to seek out the Nonesuch disc and the coupling of Arbor Cosmica for 12 solo strings played by members of the New York Chamber Symphony is highly desirable.

From 1968 onwards, a marked change became noticeable in Panufnik’s personal style, and a new idiom, system and process of composition began to emerge. This new idiom frequently involved the use of triads or 3-note sequences freely transposed to any pitch. No melody or harmony is used that does not have its origin in the 3-note source, in one of its transpositions, reflections or inversions. Frances Routh has observed, "the discipline that the composer thus imposes on himself has led to an idiom capable both of unity and of a cumulative dramatic expressiveness" (4). William Alwyn in his symphonies also explored the idea of constructing movements from a limited number of notes, though the effect is quite different, Alwyn lacking the spiritual dimension so essential to the Panufnik sound. Of the four middle-period symphonies, the Sinfonia di Sfere seems to me to be by far most immediately accessible and is definitely the work I would suggest to move on to first after the peaks of the first and last three symphonies. The other three examples in the genre from the 1970s all have their attractions, however, and richly reward repeated listening. In their extreme concentration and meditative passages, they presage the work of ‘holy minimalists’ such as John Tavener and Avo Pärt, whilst providing more food for thought than either of these composers. The intellectual rigour of a work such as the Sinfonia Mistica, for example, is poles apart (no pun intended) from the emotional, mesmeric incantations of compatriot Henryck Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Panufnik’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony no 4) for flute, harp and twelve solo strings was composed in 1973. Dedicated to the composer’s wife, Camilla as a 10th anniversary wedding present, it was commissioned by the Belgian Chamber Orchestra and premiered as part of the Redcliffe Concert Society season with the composer conducting Paul de Winter (flute), David Watkins (harp) and soloists from the Belgian Chamber Orchestra on 20th May 1974 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Written for a small orchestra, the symphony is in two movements: Molto cantabile and Molto ritmico (with the addition of a small passage marked Postscriptum). The two movements have many directly contrasting characteristics: cantabile – ritmico; slow – fast; static – non-static; symmetry – asymmetry; flow – abruptness; lyrical elements – dance-like elements. The first movement has an almost perfect symmetry with a strong sense of concord and harmony. The second movement is made up of a cycle of asymmetric microstructures which, like the leaves of a tree, are different in pattern, but from the same material and growing from the same root. The whole composition stems from one root only – a basic triad with its horizontal reflections, together with a secondary triad with its vertical reflections brought in for contrapuntal and harmonic devices. In the Postscriptum, the basic triad is reiterated several times consecutively by harp and flute (without reflections or transpositions - a reaffirmation of the lyrical intent of the work. To underline the dedication to his wife Camilla, Panufnik used her initial C at the very beginning and the end of the work: also at the very centre, where the harp solo of descending notes which logically should end the first movement, loses its last low C to the double bass which carries the C through to begin the second movement. The title is descriptive only in so far as the work is composed for two soloists in dialogue with the string orchestra which are also occasionally treated soloistically. The work was first recorded by the Menuhin Festival Orchestra under Andrzej Panufnik for EMI (EMD 5525) coupled with the Violin Concerto. The concerto has subsequently been released on CD, but sadly the symphony has not – a pity, as this incisive performance has the ring of authenticity about it which the composer always brings to any recording of his works. Nonetheless, the piece is available on CD - it was recorded by the London Musici under Mark Stephenson and released in 1994 (Conifer CDCF 217) with valuable couplings of Harmony and the Concertino for timpani, percussion and strings. The recording is admirably clear, though the performance does not always grip the listener. A work of this beautiful intensity and delicate complexity can fail to communicate if it is given at anything less than white heat.

With the Sinfonia di Sfere (Symphony no 5) of 1975, Panufnik consciously set out to create an ingenious musical structure dominated by geometrical pattern and order. The title suggests a journey in space as well as the spheres of harmony, rhythm, melody and tempo on which the work is constructed. The image of the sphere is thus important in the symphony’s progress. In the words of the composer, "I maintained an image of the listener’s perception as a circular disc, journeying upwards from nothingness through the first, lower hemisphere of Sphere I; through Sphere II, still partly influenced by Sphere I; continuing its ascent through the upper hemisphere of Sphere I; progressing, with expanding awareness, through the rest of the spheres of contemplation, experiencing their symmetrical re-arrivals back into previous areas of contemplation, as happens to any thinker whose ideas flow into fresh spheres then return again to earlier thoughts."(5) The Symphony may be imagined as a journey through three spheres whose upper hemispheres are mirror images of the lower, with dynamics reversed, thematic material reversed and so on. The South and North Poles of each sphere are comparable to a classical exposition and recapitulation, the central landmass is not unlike a development, except that it too is repeated in a reversed way. The three spheres are comparable to the classic three-movement plan, though here the movements increase progressively in size and complexity. A notable feature is the use of three sets of drums, the players being placed on the left, at the centre and on the right. The communication of rhythmic messages between them is an excitingly primitive element in an immensely sophisticated work. The spherical concept even affected the composer’s instrumentation. Thus, drums became the dominant force in the orchestration. Three percussionists, each with four drums, are placed around the outside of the platform, arranged so that the sound constantly orbits the orchestra, clockwise or anti-clockwise. Four brass soloists with their circular bells stand as soloists at the centre front of the stage. As in the previous symphony, two triads dominate the work, providing the harmonic and melodic source for every note. However, the overall structure is much more ambitious and on a much larger scale than the Sinfonia Concertante. Its six sections make up one immense arch of music, inspired by inward contemplation. The score contains numerous instances of mirror phrases, inversion and canon, which knit the texture together in a homogenous unit. The Sinfonia di Sfere was not commissioned. It was first performed by the LSO under David Atherton in April 1976 and these artists released a DECCA LP of the symphony coupled with the Sinfonia Mistica (now deleted): HEAD 22. Amongst further distinguished performances of the work, the LSO played the work again under the composer’s direction for a BBC Prom in August 1978. A gripping work, demonstrating that the composer had not lost his ability to communicate directly with his audience even at the height of his ‘geometric period’, the Sinfonia di Sfere marks a glorious return to symphonic form.

Panufnik’s obsession with structural and geometrical matters reached its limit in his Sixth Symphony, the Sinfonia Mistica of 1977. Even the composer felt, on later reflection, that he had gone too far in letting his intellect constrain his emotions and communicative powers in this work, stating in his autobiography: "perhaps in this work I allowed my fascination with geometric coincidence to dominate my intention to communicate with the performers and the listeners" (6). It requires great patience and concentration on the part of the listener before it yields up its secrets and is not the place to begin an exploration of Panufnik’s symphonies. Scored for a chamber orchestra of double woodwind, two horns, strings and no percussionist, the symphony is a musical exploration of the mysteries of the number six. The composer regarded this number as having a twofold significance: a hidden power as well as its unique arithmetic properties: 1+2+3=6; 3x2=6; 2+2+2=6; 2x3=6; 3+3=6. One plus two plus three gave him the three triads for his melodic and harmonic devices, while three twos and two threes gave him the metre for the whole composition. Thus, every aspect of the Sinfonia Mistica is strictly related to this number: the whole work consists of six large sections (alternating slow and fast), based on six triads, six melodic patterns, six harmonic combinations, composed in the metre of six (and it happened to be his Sixth Symphony). It was commissioned by the Northern Sinfonia for Christopher Seaman and premiered in Middlesborough in 1978. Although written for a chamber orchestra, the symphony’s impressive writing for strings is heard to better advantage if played by a full orchestra. The DECCA LP HEAD 22 featuring the Sinfonia di Sfere also included a performance of the Sinfonia Mistica where the use of a full symphony orchestra benefits what Frances Routh has called "a study in string writing" (7).

The Metasinfonia (no 7) was composed in 1978 for the Manchester International Organ Festival. It is scored as a gripping duo between the solo organ and the timpani with string orchestra. Although a kind of ‘Organ Concerto’, the composer called it ‘Metasinfonia’ since ideas of metamorphosis, metachromaticism and metaphysics informed the writing of the work. It has an extremely disciplined structure, though its brand of symphonism is far from the classical model. The first half of the symphony spirals towards its centre and the second concentrically and symmetrically works its way out again. An ear-catching passage where the timpani travel up and down the scale in varied glissandi is a development of a shorter passage containing the same effect in Vision III of the Sinfonia Sacra – thus the composer continually develops his symphonic language and stretches his ideas. Another work inspired by geometrical considerations, the Metasinfonia’s musical content reflects a chain of meditative thoughts and expressions. It was recorded on the Unicorn-Kanchana label (DKP 9049) on a long-deleted LP and merits revival on disc and in the concert hall. Like all Panufnik symphonies, it would be heard to best advantage in the context of a live performance where its dynamic extremes would register most effectively.

The Sinfonia Votiva, or Symphony no 8, was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra as part of their 1982 Centennial celebrations. Completed in August 1981, four months before martial law was imposed on Poland, the symphony is scored for large forces, including glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells, three each of triangles, cymbals and tamtams in small, medium and large sizes, and two harps, preferably placed on either side of the platform. Although an abstract work without any programmatic content, the Sinfonia Votiva carries a spiritual and patriotic message. It is a votive offering to the miraculous ikon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland, brought to Poland by way of Byzantium and still preserved at the Monastery of Jasna Góra, which celebrated its 600th anniversary in 1982. The Sinfonia Votiva reflects the composer’s deeply felt concern over the events that were taking place in Poland throughout the period of its composition. By chance, Panufnik began work on the symphony in August 1980 when the shipyard workers in Gdansk were striking in the name of justice and human dignity. For the whole of the next year, he completed the symphony as the men, women and children of Poland began a series of desperate hunger marches. As well as expressing Panufnik’s deepest patriotic and spiritual feelings, the symphony is intended to show off the full splendour of the Boston Symphony Orchestra not only as an ensemble, but also as an assembly of brilliant individuals. Although the work is symphonic in structure, it may also be regarded as a ‘Concerto for Orchestra’, allowing the players to show not only their technical skill but also their expressive and poetic qualities. The symphony is in two movements, the second a greatly speeded-up version of the first. Haydn used a similar device in some of the first movements of his symphonies (90 and 98, for example). Other powerful and interconnected bipartite structures are to be found in the symphonies of Robert Simpson and Alun Hoddinott, to name but two successful examples. A long, hushed opening paragraph of great intensity contains a continuously developing line in the form of a great long-drawn slow melody first heard on piccolo with vibraphone support. It develops and changes in orchestration from one part of the orchestra to another, resolving at last into a moving prayer of supplication to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, the patron saint of the Polish people and the symphony’s dedicatee. In its idea of the various solo orchestral instruments paying their respects, it echoes the manner (but not the matter) of Harrison Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment in memoriam Michael Vyner. The seemingly prophetic ending builds into a fierce climax and then hangs on a musical question mark is therefore not based on historical events. What the composer did intend was to create a sort of supplication for Poland’s lasting freedom. The meaning behind the dissonant last chord in the symphony and its extended reverberation, emanating from the metal percussion instruments, is a shout of protest echoing into the future until Poland finds independence. The work was premiered by the Boston SO under Seiji Ozawa, who recorded it for Hyperion (CDA66050) coupled with Roger Sessions’ Concerto for Orchestra. This disc is being reissued in May 2002 on the Helios label (CDH551100) and is well worth investing in at bargain price – it is a very fine example of Panufnik’s heart and mind in full accord. The BBC also released a now-deleted CD featuring a performance of the work at the Proms on 14th September 1983 with the composer conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBCRD 9124). Should this passionate reading return to the catalogues, it would also be well worth acquiring.

Panufnik was asked by the Royal Philharmonic Society to write a new symphony for their 175th Anniversary season (1986-7). The composer was not put off writing his Ninth Symphony for the same organisation which had commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth. Conceived in a single movement arc, the Ninth, is, at forty minutes, his grandest and most expansive symphony. It might almost be regarded as a mighty set of variations based on the magnificent melodic line that grows and develops from the opening sustained fortissimo E which grows in power against a testing battery from woodwind, horns and trombones. The original tune eventually returns, wreathed in triumph and providing a powerfully affirmative ending for the work. The Ninth Symphony reflects the composer’s musical interpretation of the idea of Hope (its subtitle is Sinfonia della Speranza). Within its notes, Panufnik has tried to incorporate a spiritual message, an expression of his faith in mankind as well as his longing for religious and racial tolerance amongst all people. With a slow tempo predominating in this work, Panufnik gave all sections of the orchestra the opportunity to demonstrate the singing qualities of their instruments (for example at the beginning and end of the symphony, where the strings play in the manner of a chant in a huge cathedral, with the wind instruments shadowing them like an echo). The Ninth Symphony is part of Panufnik’s eternal search for a new musical and spiritual dimension. Once more, he attempts to balance a severe, self-imposed technical discipline with an expression of his deeply felt emotions. The Ninth gives full expression to the burning hope that fires so much of the composer’s music. It was recorded by the composer and the London Symphony Orchestra on 7-9th June 1991 (Conifer CD CF 206), coupled with a fine performance of his Piano Concerto. A moving document in many ways, this disc is the composer’s last recording as a conductor and a provides a magnificent summing up of his own formidable symphonic achievement.

Nevertheless, the composer wrote one more symphony, a kind of glorious, celebratory coda to the cycle. The Tenth was commissioned by Sir Georg Solti for the centenary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1990-91 season. A compact work, at about twenty minutes, its character moves from brash assurance with the opening brass, piano and percussion fanfares to poignant mystery in the pianissimo harp figure, which leaves the music hanging in the air with an enigmatic question mark, an appropriately open ended conclusion to such a challenging and questing symphonic odyssey. The composer premiered the tenth symphony with the Chicago SO in Orchestra Hall, Chicago on 1st February 1990. He later conducted the work in a very moving concert at the 1990 Warsaw Autumn Festival, to mark his return to Poland after 36 years in exile. Exuberant and vital, this is no death-haunted farewell in the manner of Mahler, but a celebration of the expressive range and sonic richness of the modern orchestra. Both this final great symphony and the last Panufnik work, his Cello Concerto written for Rostropovich in 1991, show no dimming of the creative energy that pulses through the best of his writing. Rather, they demonstrate the effortless craftsmanship peculiar to great artists at the very peak of their powers. The Tenth is a worthy symphonic swansong and a hymn to the undiminished strength and beauty of the symphony orchestra. It epitomises the satisfying parity between formal cohesion and emotional expressiveness that informs Panufnik’s oeuvre – as the composer himself memorably put it, "In all my works, I attempt to achieve a true balance between feeling and intellect, impulse and design" (8). © Paul Conway

  1. Composing Myself by Andrzej Panufnik. (1985) p245. Methuen, London
  2. Twenty Polish Composers by B M Maciejewski. (1976) p82. Allegro Press, South Croydon.
  3. The Achievement of Andrzej Panufnik by Harold Truscott. Tempo No 163, December 1987.
  4. Rediscovering the Symphony by Frances Routh. Records and Recording. May 1979. p37.
  5. Composing Myself p328
  6. Composing Myself p330
  7. Rediscovering the Symphony by Frances Routh. Records and Recording. May 1979. p38.
  8. Impulse and Design in my music by Andrzej Panufnik (1974). p4. Boosey and Hawkes, London


  9. See also Polish Music Centre website


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