(A)symmetries of the 20th Century. Who Was Panufnik?
Andrzej Panufnik with his family, photo: © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
A composer, conductor, and an emigrant. A husband and father, an artist constantly inspired by the tantric tradition. A man who admired the power emanating from trees. Twentieth century history is reflected in the life of Andrzej Panufnik. What can we say about the composer, 100 years after his birth?
The First Violin
"God gave a us second son, tanned, with dark hair, a beautiful gypsy baby," wrote Tomasz Panufnik, the future composer’s father on the 24th of September, 1914. Little Andrzej was born in Warsaw. His mother was Matylda Panufnik, nee Thonnes. She was said to have had ancestors from the east of England, which was of significance for Andrzej as he later chose to call England his second home
Tomasz Panufnik was an engineer specialising in hydraulic engineering, but his biggest passion was making violins. He began as an amateur, but his instruments soon gained fame and appreciation among instrumentalists and music teachers. They could even be held responsible for the birth of his two sons, Mirosław and Andrzej. Professor Izydor Lotto, a great pedagogue and violin virtuoso recommended Tomasz to one of his students. Panufnik senior didn’t sell her his violin, not wanting to trade the works of his craft. But he did promise to appear at a dinner held by Lutto, in order to allow the young woman to try out one of his instruments.
Andrzej Panufnik wrote of his parent's marriage:
The violinmaker was enchanted not only with the looks of the young violin player, but also with the skillful performance and delightful warmth of the tones she brought out of his precious instrument. (…) Soon afterwards, they got married in a church on Jasna Góra, before the famous painting of the Black Madonna.
Jeremy and Roxanna Panufnik - the composer's children photo: © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
The first instrument to have reached Andrzej Panufnik’s ears was undoubtably the violin.
In childhood, I never consciously listened to my mother play, but it was constantly there in my ears, as a musical background, and a part of my life. I knew the concertos of Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms by heart, as well as Bach and contemporary Polish composers such as Wieniawski and Karłowicz. Music was as natural as brushing my teeth, eating my meals, or even breathing.
In his childhood memoirs, Panufnik recalls a lot of other sounds. For example, the ticking of old clocks that his father used to collect, or even the sounds emitted by telegraphic posts… In his autobiography and programme notes for the II Violin Quartet, he writes:
Our ears were attacked by the sounds of at least a dozen old clocks, which would go off every hour or so, but never at the same time, so it sounded as if they were having some kind of a heated conversation. When I was seven or eight years old, during summer vacation my favourite thing to do was to stick my ear to wooden telegraphic posts and listen to the sound made by wire that vibrated in the air. After a while I became aware that I was hearing real music.
The Toil of Music Education
The lady of the house would often improvise on the piano in the evenings, and she showed great subtlety and instinct in her spontaneous choice of accompaniment. She did not know how to note the melodies she came up with, and her husband decided to hire a teacher who conducted special lessons for her. When the young Andrzej saw that music could be written down on paper, (even from memory, or from one's imagination!), he wanted to become a composer. He confessed his plan to his grandmother, who became his first piano teacher.
In spite of his father’s opinion that "music is no gentleman’s profession", at the age of 11, Andrzej began studying at the Music Conservatory. After a year came the time of his first exam, as part of which he was meant to perform a concerto in front of an audience (with Karol Szymanowski present among members of the auditorium).
Panufnik recalls sweating with stress, his fingers sliding across the keyboard, and the notes not coming close to how he intended them to sound. A few days later, he was crossed out from the students’ list, with the argument that he lacks musical talent. This was quite a blow for the future composer, and for a few years, he was reluctant to have anything to do with music.
It was his brother Mirosław that inspired him to take up music again. Mirosław constructed home-made radios, and thanks to these contraptions, Panufnik came across a broadcast of Brahms’ violin concertos, fully accompanied by an orchestra, as well as early jazz and dixieland sounds. He re-entered the Conservatory at the age of 16, taking up percussion almost by chance. He was already too old to enter his preferred class of the piano. After transferring to the composition course, he graduated with honours from Kazimierz Sikorski’s studio in 1936.
Andrzej Panufnik, photo © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Panufnik became a mature composer thanks to the fact that he learned how to conduct. After graduating from his composition course, he was granted a scholarship in conducting in Vienna, under the eye of Feliks Weingarten. Weingarten directed the Vienna Opera and was also one of the last students of Liszt.
Weingartner always moved me when he transmitted to his students the remarks he heard from composers themselves. Once, when I was conducting Tristan and Isold during a class, he interrupted me with the words "Wagner told me that this graza should begin mezzoforte rather than forte, like it is in the score, and then one should make a small crescendo." I felt as if I was advised by Wagner himself.
Panufnik liked conducting orchestras until the end of his life, and he often conducted the performance of his own works. The ability to conduct proved helpful for him in difficult financial circumstances both right after the war and as an emigrant. Panufnik’s first stable post overseas was conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
The War Breaks Out
Panufnik returned to Poland in mid June 1939, less than three months before the outbreak of the second World War. His brother Mirek would spend days on end at the Polish radio headquarters right until the capitulation of Warsaw. Mirek was the technical director and he oversaw the broadcasts of speeches by Stefan Starzyński, the mayor of Warsaw at the time. Andrzej helped his father to secure his precious instruments and to move his wife to a different apartment, one less prone to bomb attacks. The composer also volunteered for the air force defence - he was meant to dismantle missiles that fell upon the roofs of Warsaw. Does one think about art in such times? In early September, Panufnik wrote:
Every day, at least for a little while, I tried to push the terrifying bomb raids, dangers, and difficulties of our existence out of my consciousness and I began to write the "Heroic Overture" (…) Creative work helped to overcome a sense of helplessness and uselessness that tormented me as a civilian.
After the 17th of September, when Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union, he declared "I could not even force myself to look at notes".
Witold Lutosławski, Eugenia Umińska, Andrzej Panufnik in Stawisk, 1942 © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Music in the Shadow of Manhunt
After a few months, the reality of war became a routine, and Panufnik returned to composing. In the first months of 1940, he wrote Five Polish Village Songs for a boys’ choir (or a soprano choir in unison), accompanied by two flutes, two clarinets and a bass clarinet. He was able to present them to a wider audience only after the war.
The Germans banned any manifestations of artistic life, and the only concerts that were allowed to take place in Warsaw were to be entertaining. All cultural life moved to the cafe. The Aria cafe on Mazowiecka street hosted a piano duo. Two great personas of Polish 20th century music came together in these circumstances. Two colleagues from the Conservatory, and two musicians who both provided for their families by making music, and risked their lives in its pursuit - Witold Lutosławski and Andrzej Panufnik.
In early 1940, Panufnik proposed that I create a piano duo with him. This was a much more interesting proposition for me, because in this way I didn’t have to limit myself to popular repertoire.
They played their own arrangements of pieces by Feliks Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, organ toccatas by Bach, and fragments of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. At times they played jazz, including music by Gershwin, which was forbidden because of his Jewish descent. On occassion, they also played Polish music (which was also forbidden), with the author version of Szymanowski’s Harnasie.
From time to time we noted with joy that our Jewish friends were present among the audience, even those with prominently Semitic features, like the great graphic artist Marcin Szancer and the poet Jan Brzechwa. They had no access to the radio and missed music so much that, together with their wives (who were not Jewish), they risked coming out of hiding.
The Lutosławski-Panufnik duo was famous across all of Warsaw. The pianists won the hearts of the city not only with their cafe repertoire - they also took part in underground concerts, with which they raised money for the resistance movement as well as for Jewish musicians in hiding.
We soon discovered we had many admirers, and among them, numerous beautiful women who brought us flowers. A peculiar road to fame for two young, serious, and ambitious composers!
Mirosław, Andrzej's brother - The Tragic Overture
Apart from the many concerts, Andrzej spent all of his time composing. In 1941, a new piece surfaced in his thoughts, which he called the Tragic Overture. He intended for it to be a completely abstract piece, devoid of any references and based on a four-sound motif, which Panufnik called the "angst-theme".
Although I tried hard to respect the rules I set up for myself, I couldn’t master my subconscious and time and again, surprisingly onomatopoeic pieces came up in the piece.
The percussion was evocative of a falling bomb, the glissando of the tuba was like an aeroplane engine, and everything culminated in the last part of the piece. The percussion instruments play a rhythmical canon (or is it rather a cannonade?), the entire orchestra begins to 'shout'. the first performance of the piece took place on the 19th of March, 1944, as part of a concert organised by the Main Protective Council (a charity organisation that was legalised by the Germans), in the auditorium of the Music Conservatory on Okólnik street, and it was conducted by Panufnik.
My brother Mirek was there in the auditorium. After the end, he came to tell me that he really liked the Tragic Overture, and had never before been so moved by contemporary music. Filled with enthusiasm, he proposed we go get a drink together to celebrate the concert.
Andrzej refused the invitation, as he was already meant to see his fiancée. Less than 4 month later, the Warsaw Uprising broke out, which Andrzej spent with his ill mother in the outskirts of Warsaw. Mirek, a lieutenant of the AK National Army, died on the 16th of September, 1944 in the ruins of a building. All of the scores of Panufnik’s pieces perished in the fires of a burning Warsaw. The composer reconstructed all of his most valued works from memory right after the war. He dedicated the Overture to the memory of his brother.
A New Order
After the end of the war, Panufnik moved to Kraków, and numerous chores fell upon him straight away. He became the Music Director of the Film Enterprise of the Polish Army, and soon afterwards, he took the post of a conductor at the Kraków Philharmonic (1945-46). His post as director of the Warsaw Philharmonic soon followed (1946-47).
In 1948, Panufnik took on the role of vice-president of the Polish Composers’ Association. In 1950 he was appointed the vice-president of the International Music Council of the UNESCO. The communist authorities never allowed him to travel to any of the gathering abroad, his presence in the Council was therefore symbolic. In 1953, he presided over the official Polish cultural delegation to China, with all musicians of the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Mazowsze song and dance ensemble.
Panufnik was then personally received by Mao Tse Tung.
Andrzej Panufnik, photo: Polona
Perturbations with Socialist Realism
Panufnik’s pieces garnered awards at festivals in Poland and abroad, and the composer travelled on numerous tours, during enabling him to gain recognition not only as a composer but also as a conductor. He was a favourite of the Ministry of Culture officials, who wanted to turn him into the Paderewski of the People’s Republic. Even the minister Włodzimierz Sokorski (who wanted to throw Lutosławski under a tram), still courted Panufnik’s favour. Indeed, Panufnik could not complain about a lack of duties. But he felt first and foremost a composer. And composing became a problem.
At times, he agreed to compromise. This was the case in 1948, when he took part in a strange competition by the Ministry of Culture. 15 composers were appointed to write a A Song of the United Party, to the lyrics by Leopold Lewin.
A part of my nature bent towards a cynical approach to the system, one within which we still had to eat and breathe. But another part made of patriotic feelings made me wish, if not yearn, to become a Polish composer, one capable of working creatively within his familial surroundings.
In spite of drawing on folk music, Panufnik's Kołysanka (Lullaby) was condemned at a famous Conference in Łagów. His Sinfonia Rustica, highly praised by the critics, was rejected by a Soviet Union delegate. Minister Sokorski’s declaration followed: "Sinfonia rustica ceases to exist".
Panufnik sequestered himself in a library and began to reconstruct 16th and 17th century pieces of historic Polish music.
Romancing with Film
Panufnik’s first adventure with the cinema began before the war, when he wrote music for a short film directed by Stanisław Cękalski and shot by Stanisław Wohl. Two years later, Cękalski and Wohl asked the composer to take part in developing the script as well as the final cut of a new film. This was the Three Chopin Etudes, an experimental impression, which delved into synchronising image with sound. The first etude, Ges-major, featured dancing geometric figures, the second C-minor, Revolutionary Etude had dancing tree leaves, and the third, F-major depicted a dancing ballerina. The film was very successful - it won a gold medal at the Venice Biennale, and brought its producers 10,000 zlotych (a very high sum for an artistic film).
After the war, Panufnik continued his cinematic adventure on a much bigger scale, as he headed the only Polish filmmaking enterprise of the time, which was owned by the army. It mostly produced propaganda films, but at times a little leeway was made for artistic and literary projects.
Andrzej Panufnik with his first wife © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Scarlett and Mao’s Handshake
I could not take my eyes off her, or think about anything else. I could not also fail to notice that she, too, turned her hypnotic eyes in my direction, as if she was returning my feelings in spite of the presence of her newly wed husband. Somehow we managed to meet every day, and soon also every night .
While travelling to the Soviet Union, Panufnik declared he would write a symphonic piece that would address significant ideological issues. In 1950, he began to write the Symphony of Peace. Panufnik was deeply moved by his experience of war, and often drew on the theme of peace even after emigrating to the West. He was composing the Symphony of Peace in a holiday house in Obory, but he seemed to be lacking the necessary peace of mind. And, just as he thought he was beginning to get it together, everything began to fall apart once again. The charming Scarlett from Ireland, the newly wed wife of the writer Rudnicki, appeared in Obory. After embarking on an affair, Panufnik soon proposed to this unexpected love, and they got married in July 1951. The couple had a daughter whom they gave the Irish name Oonagh.
Panufnik would receive offers of travelling, some of which could not be refused. He was fascinated by some cultures,
I was especially infatuated by the traditional Chinese opera, which would bring together subtle acting, song and dance with such astonishing acrobatic performance that I thought the players had no bones.
Andrzej Panufnik was amazed with ancient Chinese art and the local cuisine, and the new and exotic culture that surrounded him helped to somehow endure the long meetings with officials as well as the omnipresent mass propagandist singing that poured from loudspeakers in the streets.
A few days before the gala concert in Mao Tse-Tung’s honour, I received a short telegram from Warsaw, in which, without any additional explanations, I was presented with the deepest condolences. (…) While taking a bath, Scarlett had suffered from an epileptic attack. When she regained consciousness, she saw that our beloved eight-month old Oonagh had drowned (…) After the concert, I had the honour of meeting the famous Mao, a bear-like figure, who shook my hand for a long time and looked into my eyes with a piercing gaze, as if wanting to tell me something very important.
Andrzej Panufnik, photo © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
The Great Escape
The major reason for my leaving Poland was the fact that I was exploited politically, and that I didn’t have either the time or the peace required for creative work. (…) In a communist Poland, an artist has neither the freedom of choice of what creative concepts he undertakes nor the freedom of individual expression. Any new tendencies without which, in my opinion, art cannot function, are considered harmful allusions to the so called "rotten West".
Panufnik’s situation could be envied by many artists living in Poland at the time - he was given an apartment, and, in spite of the tensions and the critique of his work, he was on relatively good terms with the officials, who treated him as flagship example of Polish culture. At times he was even allowed to go overseas. But Panufnik was not able to contain the tension that surrounded him on daily basis. He was surrounded with frustrated artists, who could not do what they wanted, and crushed by the personal tragedy of his daughter’s death.
Panufnik decided to flee Poland in 1954.
In his memoirs, he describes the flight in a very colourful way. First, his wife travelled to London and contacted Konstanty Regameyer, a composer who lived in Switzerland, who was a classical scholar and also a music critic. Regameyer was meant to come up with an excuse for Panufnik’s journey. Towards the end of June, Panufnik received an invitation through the state Committee of International Cultural Cooperation to record Polish music in Zurich. At first, in order to avoid any suspicion - as he had been reluctant to travel at the time - he refused. The Bureau of the Committee insisted, and in the end Panufnik received an order to travel abroad.
So, what does a composer fleeing his beloved country take with him? His musical scores, a conducting baton, and a small supply of underwear. He could not take any family souvenirs. On the table, he left behind all the medals and awards presented to him by the communist authorities, all arranged into an impressive triangle. (After his escape, one of the jokes that went around town was "What is Panufnik’s latest composition? A fugue on the national security organs").
The conductor-composer led the scheduled recordings, and he avoided state diplomats as well as the grounds of the Polish Embassy. After the recordings, he took a taxi to a hotel where he was meant to receive news from Regameyer.
Looking around, I noticed a black car right behind us, with a sinister driver and three other uninteresting types as passengers. I was about to shout to my phlegmatic driver that we were being chased by communist agents (…) I leaned towards him and explained very excitedly that I just realised what the time was, and that I had to meet with a friend in a hotel and catch a train, that we are both professional musicians and that if we don’t catch the train, we will be late for our concert. I proposed paying him double. (…) He cut corners then like a performer, pressing the gas through tight side alleys, he passed pedestrians and parked cars like a skillful Swiss skier on a slalom race. I was soon more terrified by the speed of our journey than the car that followed us like a shadow.
The Last Violin
The collection of the composer’s father, Tomasz Panufnik counted hundreds of instruments. The majority of them were his own creations, but he also owned rare and historic violins from Italy. With the outbreak of war, the collection was taken over by German officers, and Andrzej’s father was in despair. The son, risking his life in an obscenely cheeky way, went to the Gestapo headquarters to declare an act of theft.
For two weeks, nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden a functionary of the police came to our place on a motorbike. This time he did not kick our door, but rang the doorbell. He handed a letter to me, from a governor Fischer, in which he gave his consent for returning the instruments.
Ludwig Fischer was the governor of the Warsaw General District, an admirer of classical music and a war criminal. Panufnik went to him once again after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising, when the instruments became trapped in a basement under a ruined building. He helped him out once more.
Fischer was executed in 1947. Panufnik left the family treasure behind, and the communist authorities took over the unique and valuable collection of instruments and their fate is unknown to this day.
The most famous violin player to have performed on a Tomasz Panufnik instrument was the Russian David Oystrakh.
The Forbidden Artist
On the 14th of July, Panufnik landed in Heathrow, and thus his work became forbidden. It could not be performed or published, and his name was meant to vanish from the press. Before these orders, a short festival of condemnation took place, wherein Panufnik was monikered the "integral bourgeois", who got carried away by his nostalgia for the bourgeoisie culture, who "joined his own kind" and is "psychically alien to socialism".
After the escape of Panufnik, the conditions and requirements for travelling abroad became very tough for other composers. Beata Bolesławska, the author of a monograph on Panufnik comments:
Many people from the music environment were authentically indignant after his flight, reading it as a treason of this environment’s ideals, and an escape from building Polish musical culture within the country, under the protective conditions created by the new system
Andrzej Panufnik’s emigration had direct repercussions for the family, as his cousin Kazimierz was fired (he was the head of a factory in Poznań) and his niece Ewa was denied entry to the Wrocław Academy of Fine Arts.
Andrzej Panufnik © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Life in England was definitely not all roses. Panufnik had to struggle to survive and also quite simply to earn a living. He fought to be remembered as an artist.
In the UK, he competed with dozens of other composers in order to get any orders for his work, not to mention the presence of his music in concert halls and on radio broadcasts. It was especially difficult to maintain his presence on the radio after the retirement of Richard Howgill in 1959. Howgill was the musical director of the BBC and had a good inclination towards Panufnik. He was replaced by the younger Glock, who preferred the revolutionary avant-garde composers, and Panufnik’s music - filled with classic patterns and references - did not interest him at all.
Thus, for two different reasons, Panufnik disappeared not only from Polish radio, but also from the BBC.
Panufnik liked to compose commissioned works. He then had an exactly prescribed time that he could devote to the work, and frequently, also a prescribed set of instruments and themes. One of the few works of Panufnik which came about from pure inspiration was the Autumn Music, written for orchestra with no violin.
He began writing it in 1960, and hoped to describe the beauty of the season, intrinsically bound with passing and with death. Little did he know that the piece would soon gain a new, and very painful meaning for him.
In the autumn of 1959 Panufnik was introduced to Winsome Ward, a British artist. Andrzej Panufnik had already divorced Scarlett (the separation occurred shortly after his emmigration to the UK). Ward was diagnosed with advanced cancer in June 1960, and she passed away one year later.
Panufnik finished writing Autumn Music in 1962, but its premiere performance took place only in 1968, in Paris. The piece is exemplary of how different the Polish composer’s music was from the trends that reigned at the time in the European avant-garde. Panufnik wanted to evoke his own misery, melancholy and yet, try to convey his own coming to terms with what fate bestowed upon him by making his own suffering a more universal part of Nature’s scheme.
The sounds of the piano are "as regular as the ticking of a clock, perhaps suggesting the reckless passing of time, the brevity of life and human existence", as the composer himself commented. In Autumn Music, he employed the traditional coupling of major and minor chords, taking a path that diverges completely from the rest of the contemporary music of the period.
Suffice it to take a lot at what was happening in Poland at the time. Penderecki had composed his noisy Polymorphy, Kilar wrote his mad, jazzy collage called the Riff 62, and Górecki experimented with his famous Genesis series.
Andrzej Panufnik and Leopold Stokowski, 1970, photo: Camilla Jessel / Boosey & Hawkes Collection
The Themes that Matter
In 1957, Panufnik received a telegram from Leopold Stokowski, an acclaimed conductor, and later also his dear friend. Its subject was the warmly received Sinfonia Elegiaca, and the message had a review attached to it, in which a journalist stated "The middle phrase (…) depicts the strength of character and a heroic stance of that which is being mourned". Such writing truly irritated Panufnik, and pointed to an aspect of contemporary music that he did not tolerate:
Why were they afraid to say, what this symphony was about, to mention World War II and my sadness caused by the lack of freedom in my country and in other places taken over by the communists? Was music in the West not allowed to have a concrete theme? Did everybody have to politely and antiseptically deal with abstraction, always detached from important issues? (…) And perhaps I was the one who gave in to the socialist realism so much, that, although I thought differently, I still wanted to speak my mind through music?
When Panufnik came to terms with the idea that he would be alone for the rest of his life, he met Camilla Jessel, a woman 23 years his junior, who came from an old, respected, aristocratic British family. In spite of her young age, she had already travelled far and wide. First she lived in India with her father, then she moved to the United States by herself for a year, where she also earned her own living (which was still quite an eccentric move in the 1960s). After returning from the US, she became interested in the fates of Algerian and Moroccan refugees, and went to Morocco to document their lives in photographic reportage. While in Morocco, she realised that she did not know French well enough and she went to Paris in order to study French literature at the Sorbonne.
Andrzej Panufnik with his wife © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
"He was so handsome that I fell in love the minute I saw him", she would recall her encounter with Panufnik. The composer added "I was enchanted by her beauty, an extraordinary charm and inner peace combined with the strength of spirit that emanated from her, a surprising quality for a girl her age".
Camilla Jessel and Andrzej Panufnik got married on the 27th of November, 1963, and from that moment onwards his life took on a completely different dynamic.
Camilla’s family gave the young couple an old house in Twickenham, a beautiful area near the Thames river, a little under 20 kilometres from London. They renovated their new house together, and Andrzej built his own studio there. Camilla planted pine trees under the windows for him, as he really missed those plants as a Polish immigrant.
From that moment on, he could devote himself to composing. His wife took care of the house, the garden, and the kitchen. She was a fantastic cook, and prepared three meals a day for him. Camilla also took care of his correspondence, and his work schedule. She remained active as a photographer, and also wrote children’s books. She also sometimes wrote lyrics to her husband’s music.
From the day they were married, Camilla only missed one of Andrzej’s concerts, when their son Jeremy fell sick. Andrzej would never travel anywhere without his spouse.
How Panufnik composed
He would enter his studio everyday at about 9 am (after breakfast) and he would leave it at 1 pm for lunch. Then, he would go for a stroll down the alley that ran by the Thames, or to the Richmond park, which was filled with deer and very old trees. Panufnik was consumed with his thoughts about music to the point where he would rarely answer neighbours that passed him by. Camilla recalled that he didn’t like to compose in the afternoons, as this left him so restless and excited that he could not fall asleep.
Andrzej Panufnik with his son Jeremy and daughter Roxanna © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Roxanna was born in 1968, and she was named after the heroines of King Roger and Cyrano de Bergerac. The night before giving birth, Camilla was listening to the drama on the radio. Roxanna Panufnik is now a composer and has written dozens of pieces to date, including 3 operas and 22 orchestral pieces. She devoted one of her compositions to her father’s cafe duo with Lutosławski.
Panufnik’s son Jeremy was born a year later. He is also a musician, but is preoccupied with electronica and works as a DJ.
Geometric New Age, or Panufnik’s Metaphysics
Andrzej Panufnik often touched upon the metaphysical in his works. At times he referred to the biblical Mary, and on occasion he would evoke cosmic harmony or tantric symbolism. At the turn of 1968 and 1969, he was composing the vocal-instrumental piece called Universal Prayer, which he wrote to the lyrics of an Alexander Pope poem. Panufnik dreamt of the piece being performed by a choir with singers of all nationalities, beliefs and races. He wished to overcome all conflict with this piece and turn back the tragic course of 20th century history.
Leopold Stokowski even claimed
In my opinion, this piece sets an entirely new direction in the art of composition. I hope that all of the world’s religions will appreciate the greatness of the poem as well as the music, and that the piece will be performed as frequently as Beethoven’s IX Symphony.
In the 1960s, when Panufnik composed the Universal Prayer, the ecumenical movement was in its very beginnings. Prayers shared by people of different religions were not at all common. These circumstances made the performance of the piece all the more difficult. Stokowski, who insisted on being the conductor of the premiere performance, spent a lot of time searching for a church that would agree to host such a progressive enterprise.
The first performance of this ecumenic prayer took place in the Anglican cathedral of St. John in New York City. Universal Prayer was played twice in a row, with about 4000 participants each time.
The piece then travelled to the Catholic St. Patrick’s cathedral, with Christians, Jews and Buddhists.
Winter Solstice is a piece composed by Panufnik with lyrics written by his wife Camilla. It takes up the theme of dualism which the couple traced both in the religions of the East, and in Christianity. The title refers to a pagan feast which is nowadays celebrated as Christmas. Camilla employed an almost identical sound of the words "son" and "sun", and Andrzej decided to split the choir into a masculine "pagan" one, and a feminine "Christian" one. The choir is accompanied by soloists, with the soprano symbolizing the Mother Earth and a bass baritone as St. Augustine, whose texts the Panufniks decided to also employ.
Andrzej Panufnik with his wife © Camilla Jessel Panufnik FRPS
Another creative and mystical obsession of Panufnik's was geometry, and in particular, the symmetry of reflections. The Polish composer approached it as a scholar, similarly serious in his stance to Iannis Xennakis and Zbigniew Karkowski, who used to compose based on algorithms.
"My geometry is intuitive", Panufnik used to say, as he referred to archetypes and the perfection of shapes that we can all perceive in nature. He also called music an "unfrozen architecture", and almost all of his oeuvre makes use of symmetry. He would employ short, 3 to 4 sound cells, which he repeated, reversed and transposed.
While still in Poland, Panufnik marvelled at the symmetry of Kurpie cut-outs, and when he came to England, he became interested in tantric yoga. Under its influence, he wrote the piece Triangles in 1972. It is divided into three parts. Trikon I features men only, who are all dressed in white and play on cellos. Trikon II has only women flute players, all dressed in orange. And in Yantra, there is the meeting of the two groups.
In the first part, I tried to musically evoke the mood of a philosophical and contemplative peace, expressed optically through colourful tantric geometric patterns, and then I introduced a contrast with a life rhythm emanating from the figures of dancing goddesses. In the finale I tried to show the dualism, by coupling contemplative and dance music, illustrated with lively and mystically erotic tantra paintings that depicted sexual union.
Andrzej Panufnik at the Warszawska Jesień festival in 1990, photo: Camilla Jessel / Boosey & Hawkes Collection
Sir Andrzej Panufnik
In January, 1991, Andrzej Panufnik was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was the first Polish artist to be honoured in such a way for his merits and achievements in the United Kingdom.
Andrzej Panufnik died on the 27th of October, 1991.
Author: Filip Lech, translated by Paulina Schlosser, 25/02/2014
Sources for Filip Lech’s original article:
Panufnik A., ''O sobie'', Warszawa 1990; Bolesławska B., ''Panufnik'', Warszawa 2001; Kaczyński T., ''Lutosławski. Życie i muzyka'' w: ''Historia muzyki polskiej'', Warszawa 1994; filmpolski.pl.