About this Recording
8.570032 - PANUFNIK: Old Polish Suite / Concerto in modo antico / Jagiellonian Triptych / Hommage a Chopin
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Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
Homage to Polish Music


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.

As Poland's leading composer, after 1949 Panufnik was under extreme pressure to conform to the dictates of Socialist Realism. To keep the authorities at bay he sometimes turned to the self-imposed task of restoring musical fragments from Poland's distant past. He had already discovered his passion for early music in London in 1938, developing a deep admiration for Purcell, Avison and Boyce. In the post-War period, he could find virtually no early Polish music to conduct. (At that time the Jasna Góra Monastery collection was still undiscovered.) Between 1947 and 1966 he composed four works from historical Polish manuscripts, about which he wrote:

My compulsion to restore some of the early Polish music was engendered as I witnessed the superb reconstruction of beautiful 16th and 17th century houses in the old part of Warsaw, which had been flattened during the uprising at the end of the Second World War. To see this almost miraculous re-growth of seemingly lost architectural treasures so lovingly brought about by my compatriots filled me with enormous admiration. I felt a strong desire to undertake a similar task with fragments of Polish vocal and instrumental music of the same centuries which had suffered near oblivion because of Poland's long and tragic history of numerous foreign invasions. Little of this music survived in a performable state and I wanted to fill the gap, endeavouring to recreate as near as possible the true period style, like those ancient houses of Warsaw, and firmly intending not to superimpose my own musical fingerprints. My intention was to bring alive the spirit of Poland at that time, and to make use of these precious fragments which otherwise would have remained lifeless on the bookshelves of libraries...

Old Polish Suite, for string orchestra, composed in 1950 (revised 1955), consists of three dances divided by two shorter interludes. The string writing has a richness combined with an apparent simplicity because of the composer's intention not to drown the essence of the ancient music with his own musical language. The first dance, Cenar, comes from the Lute Tabulature of Mateusz Weissellius. Its somewhat rustic quality, according to an anonymous British critic in 1960, 'radiates primitive strength and naïvety, subtle as the arrangement is'. After the first dirge-like Interlude (Lento espressivo), the central dance, Wyrwany, emanating from an anonymous seventeenth-century tabulature, is a characterful minuet in a minor key. In the Chorale (Andante tranquillo), Panufnik excludes the violins to emphasise the sonorities of the violas and cellos. The third and final dance, Hayduk, drawn from the Tabulature of Jan of Lublin (written between 1537 and 1548), with elements of folk-dances of Southern Poland, is more sophisticated and graceful in style.

Concerto in Modo Antico, for trumpet, timpani, two harps, harpsichord and strings, (1951, revised 1955), also includes elements from Polish music across the ages from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. Again it demonstrates Panufnik's strength in composing with fragments from the past, the sonorous string writing here enhanced by the solo trumpet.

Jagiellonian Triptych in Panufnik's imagination conjured up a religious altarpiece from Poland's golden Jagiellonian age. The last of his restorations of ancient Polish music, composed in 1966 in England, using material remaining from the creation of his Old Polish Suite, it was specifically written for his London concert celebrating the Millennium of Polish Christianity and Statehood. (His other, major work to celebrate the Polish Millennium, his most performed, much recorded Sinfonia Sacra, won the Prince Rainier prize in 1963, having been commissioned by New York's Kosciuszko Foundation for performance by Leopold Stokowski).

Divertimento, by Janiewicz/Panufnik, for string orchestra was drawn from trios by the eighteenth-century Polish composer, Feliks Janiewicz, a founder member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, who came to Britain as a young violinist, eventually settling in Edinburgh. (While composing Divertimento in 1947 in Poland, Panufnik had no thought that he, like Janiewicz, and indeed Chopin, would also become an emigré composer, also for political reasons.)

A British critic wrote in 1957: 'The Divertimento begins with a vigourous but simple theme which expands easefully, and soon a rippling semi-quaver figure is added and each idea propels the other forward. Instead of a second subject the first is heard with a counterpoint superimposed, giving a more lyrical flavour. A codetta produces a new and significant syncopated rhythm. The development section, seemingly simple, works wonders of variation on the slender material. This shows the hand of a master. The reprise is yet another transformation. The music flows in new and surprising ways and comes to rest at a most satisfying point. The Andante is a piece of brilliant, robust string writing. One amusing and charming tune seems to follow another breathlessly in the manner of Haydn's effervescent rondos. Every part of the orchestra has lively music to play. The whole joyous mood seems to round off the Divertimento proportionately and in a really convincing manner to send an audience off delighted.'

Hommage à Chopin, the fifth work on this disc, was orchestrated by the composer in 1966 for solo flute and strings, but was first performed in 1949 as Vocalises for soprano and piano, commissioned by UNESCO to mark the centenary of Chopin's death. In that year, jointly with Arthur Honnegger, Panufnik was elected Vice-Chairman of the Music Council of UNESCO, though the heavy-handed Stalinist authorities would not allow him out of Poland to attend the première nor indeed any UNESCO events in memory of Chopin.

Panufnik wrote:

...I had an idea to pay my tribute to Chopin not by making use of his themes or his style of piano writing, but rather to attempt to go deep into his roots, drawing on his love of the rustic melodies and rhythms which inspired him throughout his life. Thus I made use of folk music from Masovia [Mazowsze], the central part of Poland where Chopin was born.

Throughout each of the colourful five movements of this spirited and spiritual composition, the line of the music is interwoven between the flute soloist and the string accompaniment. The work is designed symmetrically, both in metre and tempo.

Camilla Jessel Panufnik


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