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October 2014
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Panufnik at 100


He was one of the leading Polish conductors and composers of his time – but his was a time defined by brutality and oppression. For five years, Andrzej Panufnik’s homeland was occupied by the Nazis. Jewish Poles, Polish intellectuals, religious and political leaders were murdered; the Roman Catholic majority was classified as untermensch, inferior people. Polish property deemed vital to Germany was requisitioned.

Under those conditions, Andrzej Panufnik quietly resisted Nazi occupation. With a ban on public concerts, Panufnik and his recital partner Witold Lutosławski played two-piano arrangements of classical works in cafés. Together they managed to organize some concerts for charity and played others illegally. Panufnik also wrote patriotic songs that were taken up by the Polish resistance.

Toward the end of the War, all of Panufnik’s manuscripts, including two symphonies, were destroyed in the chaos of the Warsaw Uprising.

After the War, it was Andrzej Panufnik who helped bring music back to the Polish people, resurrecting the orchestras in Kraków and Warsaw.

panufnikSadly, this did not signal better times. By the end of the 1940s, Polish composers had a new bully to contend with: the Soviets. Prominent artists like Panufnik were pressured to conform to the party’s official artistic guidelines, called Soviet Socialist Realism. Panufnik found the new dictates unworkable and defected to England in 1954.

For a time he worked as the chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before devoting his energy full time to composition. He became a British citizen in 1961.

In his homeland, his voice was once again extinguished – this time because he was a defector. His music was banned in Poland until the end of the Soviet era. In 1990, at the end of his life, Andrzej Panufnik made a return visit to Warsaw to attend performances of 11 of his works.

He was knighted in 1991, the year of his death, for his service to music in the United Kingdom.

September 24, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Andrzej Panufnik. To honor the occasion, WFMT presents a special concert from the European Broadcast Union featuring Panufnik’s Sinfonia Elegiaca on Friday at 8:00 pm.

Also this weekend, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti presents Panufnik’s Concerto in modo antico with principal trumpet Christopher Martin as soloist.

About Concerto in modo antico

Early Polish music has remained quite unknown to the worldwide musical public in spite of the fact that there were many composers who wrote both ecclesiastical and secular works. Unfortunately, due to Poland’s most tragic history with its numerous foreign invasions, little of this music survived, and virtually none is available for performance.

In my Concerto in modo antico I tried to fill this gap, and make use of fragments of vocal and instrumental work by 16th and 17th Century Polish composers, whose work I discovered during my research, I endeavored to recreate as near as possible the true period style…My main 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.

—Andrzej Panufnik

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