ANDRZEJ PANUFNIK (1914 - 1991)
Born in Warsaw, Andrzej Panufnik started to compose
aged nine. He graduated from the Warsaw
Conservatoire with Distinctions in composition and
conducting, increasing his classical repertoire as a
favoured pupil of Felix Weingartner at the Vienna
Academy, then studying impressionist composers with
Philippe Gaubert in Paris, with further music
explorations in London. At the outbreak of World War
II he returned to Warsaw to look after his parents. In
Nazi-occupied Poland, with public concerts banned, he
played the piano in “artistic cafés”, collaborating with
Witold Lutosławski, and with his Jewish violinist friend
Tadeusz Geisler until the Ghetto was enclosed. Despite
the terror on the streets of Warsaw, he also conducted
illegal and charity concerts, and composed resistance
songs, including the famous Warszawskie Dzieci.
During the War he lost most of his closest relatives, and
all the compositions of his first 30 years were destroyed
in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
After the war, Panufnik became chief conductor of
the Kraków Philharmonic and then the Warsaw
Philharmonic, appearing as a guest conductor with the
leading European orchestras. In those early post-war
years he won international admiration and honours in
his own country, the originality of his 1940s works
placing him as the “father” of the Polish avant garde.
After 1949, however, with the imposition of Soviet
Socialist Realism, the situation changed dramatically.
Stultified as a composer, unwilling to write the music
the authorities required, in 1954 he left Poland as a
protest against the controls over creative artists,
resulting in total censorship of his name and his music
for 23 years. He settled in England, Boosey & Hawkes
became his publishers, and from 1957 to 1959 he was
appointed musical director of the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra, his last official position before
deciding to dedicate his life entirely to composition. He
took British nationality in 1961. At last unfettered by
politics or conducting, the subsequent years became the
most freely creative of his life.
Eventually, from 1977, Panufnik works were
performed annually on the insistence of the Polish
composers in the ever-innovatory Warsaw Autumn
Festival. In 1990, when democracy was restored, he
made a momentous return to Poland to conduct his
music at the Warsaw Autumn. Panufnik’s autobiography,
Composing Myself, was published in 1987.
He received a British knighthood in January 1991, the
year of his death, and a posthumous Order of Polonia
Restituta from President Lech Walesa in Poland.
Panufnik’s oeuvre includes ten symphonies, with
centenary commissions from Solti in Chicago and
Ozawa in Boston, and three commissions from the
London Symphony Orchestra who also recorded much
of his work. Menuhin commissioned his Violin
Concerto, Rostropovitch his Cello Concerto (with the
LSO), the Royal Philharmonic Society his Ninth
Symphony. As well as four concertos, he composed
three string quartets, three cantatas and many works for
string ensembles. Choreographers of his music include
Martha Graham and Kenneth MacMillan.