Between Emotion and Intellect. On the Musical Language of Andrzej Panufnik (1914–1991)

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Andrzej Panufnik’s (1914-1991) key objective as a composer was to achieve a balance between emotion and intellect. The composer very often emphasised the role of the relation between these two elements in his works. This topic is the leitmotiv of texts about his own music left behind by the composer. From those texts, it is clearly evident that symmetry (and in later years also geometry) played a central role in the composer’s formal concepts. The impulse for the study of the possibility of using geometric shapes for the construction of musical forms came from his 1972 composition for the BBC television entitled Triangles - for three flutes and three cellos.

The geometricisation of the formal structures of Panufnik’s works (frequently represented by means of sophisticated diagrams included in the scores) was correlated with a systematic reduction of musical language, based from 1968 on the three-note intervallic cell of E-F-B. In the course of the composition, this unit was submitted to a succession of symmetrical processes, such as transpositions and mirror reflections, superimposed on one another both on the melodic and harmonic levels, which was responsible for the specific sound climate of Panufnik’s music. The fullest realisation of the composer’s systematic thinking based on the principles of geometry can be found in his Symphony No. 5 - Sinfonia di Sfere (1974), in which every element was submitted to the principles of geometric symmetry represented in a diagram based on the perfect geometric figure of a circle.

What is particularly important, this prominent constructivist current in Panufnik’s works always coexisted, as the composer himself claimed, with powerful emotional expression in his music. Did he manage to achieve the intended ideal balance between emotion and intellect in his music? Everyone can judge by themselves. This paper discusses the principal qualities of Andrzej Panufnik’s musical language.

Bolesławska, B. (2001). Panufnik, Kraków: PWM; English version: Bolesławska, B. (2015). The Life and Works of Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), R. Reisner (transl.), Farnham: Ashgate.

Bolesławska, B. (2003). Symmetry in the Symphonies of Andrzej Panufnik. In: Andrzej Panufnik’s Music and Its Reception. Studies edited by Jadwiga Paja-Stach (pp. 94-113). Kraków: Musica Iagellonica.

Panufnik, A. (1972). Triangles, manuscript (kindly made available by the Panufnik Archive at Twickenham).

Panufnik, A. (1974). Impulse and Design in My Music. London: Boosey&Hawkes.

Panufnik, A. (1976). Sinfonia di Sfere, score. London: Boosey&Hawkes.

Panufnik, A. (1987). Composing Myself. London: Methuen.

Panufnik o sobie (1990). M. Glińska (transl.). Warsaw: Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza.

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Panufnik. Symphony No. 9 ‘Sinfonia di Speranza’, Bassoon Concerto, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrzej Panufnik (conductor), Robert Thompson (trombone), HERITAGE HTGCD 266.

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