In February 1932, Andrzej Panufnik commenced his studies in Władysław Pichor’s percussion class at Warsaw Conservatory. At the same time he obtained permission to take part in theoretical classes – the theory and history of music, and score reading. During his first months at the Conservatory, Panufnik was unable to study full time, since he had promised his father to complete his secondary education and obtain his school certificate ('matura'). He kept his word and, in the autumn of 1932, began full time study at the Conservatory; he also immediately transferred to Kazimierz Sikorski’s composition class. As well as composition lessons, Andrzej attended classes in harmony and counterpoint with Piotr Rytel, and also studied conducting with Valeryan Berdyaev. He was taught score-reading by Jerzy Lefeld, a long-standing family friend whom he regarded very highly. Among his teachers were also the Rector, Eugeniusz Morawski, who taught instrumentation, and Witold Maliszewski, who lectured on formal analysis of music compositions.

The time spent by Panufnik learning to play percussion was undoubtedly not wasted, and had an influence on his later explorations as composer. Nevertheless the young student was delighted when at last he could start in the composition class. Kazimierz Sikorski was an excellent teacher, who knew how to value and nurture the individuality of his pupils. Panufnik was at first disappointed that his teacher required him to master traditional compositional techniques and did not approve of his bold compositional attempts; years later, however, he came to appreciate Sikorski’s approach:

I have to admit in retrospect that Sikorski was right to force me first to master the craftsmanship of conventional tonality before letting me fly off in an exciting whirlwind of exploration: in this way he helped to instil into me the necessity for unity of style and discipline, which was to stand me in good stead in my future searches for my own musical language and rules. Another unusual aspect of Professor Sikorski’s teaching, of lifelong value to me, was that he required his pupils to think symphonically from the inception and write orchestral music immediately as a full score – contrary to the usual practice, composing first for the piano then orchestrating afterwards.

Soon after commencing his studies Panufnik began to write his early pieces, but it was not until 1934 that he created a composition with which he was satisfied, Piano Trio. Today this is the only surving pre-war work of the composer, reconstructed by him after the war. Its performance in December 1936 was an important artistic success for Panufnik, widely commented on in the Warsaw press. Six months earlier the composer completed his studies with distinction, and the concert of graduates, at which Panufnik conducted the performance of his own Symphonic Variations, was also received very favourably by the critics, who praised the young artist both as a composer and as a conductor.

With parents and brother

With his first established compositional successes, Andrzej decided to continue his education abroad. However, in contrast to his colleagues who travelled to Paris to study under the already famous Nadia Boulanger, he chose to go to Vienna instead, and study conducting with one of the greatest authorities of those days, Felix Weingartner. He decided that he would learn more about music through working with an orchestra under the direction of an excellent conductor than from a teacher of composition. Moreover, he knew German well, he loved the works of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Viennese masters, and he was also interested in the music of the trio of Viennese dodecaphonists, Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, whose works he hoped to get to know better in the capital of Austria.

Panufnik began his studies at the Vienna Academy during the academic year 1937/38. However, during his stay in Vienna he did not limit himself to the classes at the Academy, but also went to concerts at the Opera or Vienna Philharmonic, where he could admire interpretations of musical works by such prominent artists as Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Bruno Walter; he also listened to contemporary repertoire. Unfortunately, compositions by the most avant-garde composers: Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, did not appear at that time in concert programmes even in Vienna; thus, Panufnik resorted to studying their scores at the Academy’s library. Having acquainted himself more closely with the principles of dodecaphony and their application in the works of its foremost proponents, he even began to draft projects of his own compositions based on the twelve-tone technique; however, he quickly came to the conclusion that this was not the method for him:

My instinct told me, however ambitious or pretentious it might seem in those early student days, that I must search unremittingly for my very own new means of expression, my own new language, at any cost to remain independent and true to myself. I knew that I would require some discipline, some framework within which to build my own works, but it would have to be constructed by myself. It would have to meet my need for emotional content as well as structural cohesion. I realised even then that my life would be one of ceaseless search; that I would be taking great risks – that I might never reach my goal.

While in Vienna, Andrzej Panufnik experienced for the first time the negative influence of politics. In 1938 the expansion of fascism led to Hitler’s annexation of Austria, and the composer witnessed personally the beginnings of Hitler’s rule in Vienna. The Academy was closed for a while, lectures and concerts were also cancelled. When classes were restored it transpired that Felix Weingartner was leaving the Academy – officially to retire, but unofficially he left because of his anti-Nazi views. Under those circumstances, Panufnik decided to return to Warsaw.

However, the desire to learn about the latest music made him consider spending a few months in France and England. The problem was lack of sufficient funds needed for a trip of this kind; fortunately, immediately on his return to Warsaw, he was asked to compose music for a film entitled Ghosts. The producers insisted that film music should be composed within only a few weeks, and for this reason agreed to a sizeable fee which enabled Panufnik to finance his travels. After seeing through the necessary formalities, at the beginning of November 1938, Panufnik found himself in France.

Strachy (film)

On arriving in Paris, the young composer approached the French conductor Philippe Gaubert, famous for his exquisite interpretations of the music of Debussy and Ravel. At that time, Panufnik was particularly interested in the work of these composers. Gaubert agreed to give him private lessons in interpetating contemporary French music; moreover, he refused to be paid for it. Apart from studying, Panufnik immersed himself in the rich musical life of inter-war Paris. As well as works by French composers and Stravinsky, Panufnik heard for the first time Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; both made a big impression on him.

In Paris Panufnik also began to compose his first symphony:

Before writing a single note, I had to search for he symphony’s 'architecture' and its musical material. Not surprisingly, my approach was deeply influenced by my recent studies; from Vienna the domination of my mind for a year by the perfect proportion of form in the German classics, particularly Mozart, then the recent voluptuous weeks bathed in the sensuality as well as the clarity of the French composers, especially Debussy. With the confidence of youth, I intended to try to fuse these two elements together. I was not especially seeking a new language, nor trying to invent new rules, but striving to arrive at an equilibrium between craftsmanship and emotion, attempting in a small way to emulate (though not imitate) my idols, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy, all of whom I felt in their different ways had achieved this near impossible balance.

After nearly six months in the capital of France, Panufnik left for England in March 1939. His mother’s ancestors were said to have come from that country, which was later to become his second homeland. He found the cheerfulnes and courtesy of the English people delightful, as well as being impressed by the degree of their political tolerance, not encountered in other countries, and their respect for privacy. Musically, the highlight of his visit was the discovery of manuscripts by early English composers which he found in the British Museum, above all the eighteenth-century compositions by Avison, Boyce and Arne. Soon, however, aware of the growing threat from Hitler’s Germany and fearful for the fate of his family, he decided to return to Poland. By the middle of June 1939 he was back in Warsaw.