Andrzej Panufnik

1914 1991

Andrzej Panufnik

Composer • Conductor


Panufnik was one of the greatest symphonists of the second half of the twentieth century and an avid supporter of Polish music.

Andrzej Panufnik was born on 24 September 1914 in Warsaw. He started composing at the age of nine and later studied percussion, theory and composition at the Warsaw Conservatoire, where he graduated with honours in both composition and conducting. His teachers included Kazimierz Sikorski, Jerzy Lefeld and Maliszewski. After graduating, Panufnik went to Vienna to study conducting with Felix Weingartner for a year before heading to Paris to study the music of the French Impressionists under the guidance of Philippe Gaubert. He returned to Warsaw just before the outbreak of World War II to care for his parents.

Public concerts were banned in Poland during the Nazi occupation, leading Panufnik to arrange music for two pianos, to be played in artistic cafes with his friend and colleagueWitold Lutosławski. He also arranged music to play with the violinist, Tadeusz, who became known as Thadé Geisler after the war. Panufnik took great risks during the war years and conducted illegal underground concerts and composed patriotic resistance songs. The most famous of these songs is hisWarszawskie Dzieci (‘Warsaw Children’, 1944), which became a major anthem for the people of Warsaw during the Uprising. The song is still used in films as a symbol of this period. All of his music up to 1944 was destroyed in the fires from the Warsaw Uprising. He also lost nearly all of his relatives.

Determined to revive classical music in Poland, Panufnik took the post of chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra in 1945. Having successfully reformed the orchestra, it was also requested that he restore the Warsaw Philharmonic.

Panufnik was obviously distraught that he had lost thirty years’ worth of music, but he slowly began to recreate his old works, only to decide that he must move on and start anew. The only works he fully restored were hisFive Polish Peasant Songs (1940, 1945, rev. 1959), the Piano Trio (1934, recon. 1945, rev. 1985) and the Tragic Overture (1942, recon. 1945, rev. 1955). The Tragic Overturewas especially important to him, and was dedicated to his brother Mirek, who worked as an underground radio operator. In these early years following the aftermath of the war, Panufnik received much attention and admiration for his works and was established as the father of the Polish avant-garde by the mid-1940s after completing hisKrąg kwintowy (‘Circle of 5ths’) (1947),Kołysanka (1947, rev. 1955) and Nocturne (1947, rev. 1955). In 1949 he also won theChopin Prize for his Sinfonia rustica (Symphony No. 1, 1948, rev. 1955).

His good fortune didn’t last long, however, as he was required to write artificially positive music that pleased the Soviet Socialist Realism from 1948 on. However, they were displeased with his work as it was too western and bourgeois. TheSinfonia rustica and Nocturne were two of his first works to receive bans.

Although he was elected Vice-President of the Music Council of UNESCO in 1949, he was never permitted to attend the council’s activities. Instead, he worked tirelessly to promote the future of Polish music until the constant criticism and demands from the authorities killed his creativity, prompting him to escape from Poland in 1954 in protest. The authorities were furious with him and spread propaganda and lies which later led to total censorship of his name and music for the next two years in Poland.

Panufnik settled in England, where he struggled, not only due to his extremely shy personality, but also because his style of composition differed greatly from the current trends in England. For two years, from 1957 to 1959, he led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, before deciding to pursue only composition. Shortly thereafter, in 1961, he obtained British nationality.

Panufnik’s tendency to keep to himself and to shy away from the public led to his disappearance from the English music scene in the 1960s. He was not disturbed by the fact that he existed in obscurity, however, and began to compose prolifically, winning the Monaco composition prize in 1963 for his still popularSinfonia Sacra. By the 1970s Panufnik had made a name for himself in England and his music was performed throughout Britain by the top orchestras. Of his composing, he wrote, ‘In all my works, I attempt to achieve a true balance between feeling and intellect, heart and brain, impulse and design’.

Back in Poland, Panufnik’s works began to return to the concert stage in 1977, with the help of his contemporaries in Poland. HisUniversal Prayer (1969) even appeared in the distinguished Warsaw Autumn Festival. However, despite this move in the right direction, he still refused to set foot in Poland while it was under Communist rule. It wasn’t until 1990 that Panufnik finally returned to Poland, after the return of democracy. He was greeted upon his return at the airport by a large crowd and a brass ensemble performing a fanfare from his music. Eleven of his works were programmed on the festival that year.

Panufnik’s music is widely available on recordings, and has probably been recorded as much as that of his contemporaries.

Panufnik married the author and photographer Camillar Jessel in 1963 and had two children. Both of their children also became composers,Roxanna a classical composer and Jem an electronic composer, graphic artist and DJ. A combination of father and daughter music can be found on the Chandos album Messages, which features several of the elder Panufnik’s fine string quartets.

Panufnik’s accomplishments have been recognized internationally. He was knighted in 1991 for his services to British music and received, after his death, the Order of Polonia Restituta from the president of Poland.

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Panufnik’s output is vast and includes ten symphonies, four concertos, three string quartets and three cantatas among many other chamber ensemble works. He received commissions from top conductors and orchestras such as Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also three works from the London Symphony Orchestra. The Royal Philharmonic Society commissioned his Symphony No. 9 (1986/1987/1990), which he conducted at the premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Panufnik conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for recordings of his own work, as did Jascha Horenstein. The internationally renowned conductor, Leopold Stokowski also premiered several of his works. Virtuoso soloists such as Evelyn Glennie, Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovich also commissioned and premiered his works.