Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik was born 100 years ago today. His music is meticulously planned, colourfully orchestrated and influenced often by Polish folk idioms. Here is our guide to what makes his style so distinctive along with a playlist of four outstanding recordings of his works.
Panufnik planned his musical structures like an architect. From the relatively simple Sinfonia rustica, whose layout is similar to that of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, to the complexity of Universal Prayer, his highly patterned compositions fill out ingenious skeletal frameworks.
Apart from his ten surviving and three abandoned symphonies, there is a large array of pieces that are testament to Panufnik’s orchestral imagination. He has favourite textures, often contrasting the main orchestral families, but there are instances of smaller forces, such as unpitched percussion, solo strings or solo piano.
Running through his music is a particular harmonic-melodic fingerprint, drawn from Polish folk idioms. This is Panufnik’s fondness for bittersweet major-minor chords, most typically a first-inversion major triad topped by the minor third, eg (reading from the bottom) F sharp-A-D-F natural, which sometimes falls down to the D.
There are only a few totally abstract works in Panufnik’s output. He invested his remarkably consistent and objectified musical language with a variety of different emotional states. While a few works have relatively specific programmes, the majority demonstrate his broader pursuit of an elegiac view of the world and his wish to cleanse it of iniquities.
Listen to four recommended recordings below.