Since immediately after the war the capital was in ruins, cultural life began to regenerate relatively faster in Krakòw. Panufnik also made his way there. Initially he accepted an offer of work from the Polish Army Film Unit, but shortly after he was offered the post of conductor of the Krakòw Philharmonic Orchestra. In spite of some doubts, he decided to accept it. Towards the end of May 1945 he brought his parents and his orphaned niece from Zakopane to Krakòw. His mother’s condition continued to deteriorate, and when she learned that her elder son had been killed during the Uprising she lost the will to live and died shortly after.
Depressed by the death of his mother, the composer tried to find solace in work. In spite of workload at the Film Unit and having to prepare for the season at the Philharmonic, he wanted to return to composing. He decided to reconstruct a number of his compositions as his first task:
I had intended to abandon all my lost compositions and rebuild a completely new oeuvre without looking backward, but I found my Tragic Overture constantly forcing its way into my consciousness; I could not forget Mirek’s warm words of praise, nor my regrets at not having found time to drink with him after the performance, on the last occasion I has seen him alive. I decided to reconstruct the Overture and dedicate it to him, as a memorial to his great courage and sacrifices.
Rebuilding the Overture turned out to be an easier task than I had expected; the four-note 'motif of fear' and the tautly organised construction were still clearly imprinted in my mind. Encouraged by that experience, I used every free moment – mainly in the middle of the night – to resuscitate two more short works: Five Polish Peasant Songs and Piano Trio, again without too much difficulty.
An opportunity soon arose to present one of the reconstructed works to the public. At the turn of August and September 1945, Krakòw hosted the first National Composers’ Convention, the first after the war. Its final event was the Festival of Contemporary Polish Music, which saw the performance of a number of works composed during the war. Panufnik’s Peasant Songs had their première then, and met with a very positive response from the composers’ community gathered in Krakòw.
The success of Five Polish Peasant Songs, as well as the successful reconstruction of Tragic Overture and Piano Trio, encouraged Panufnik to reconstruct from memory his Symphony No. 1. The première of the reconstructed work took place on 30 November 1945. It was performed by the Krakòw Philharmonic, conducted by the composer. It was also Panufnik’s first appearance as the resident conductor of the orchestra. The symphony was given a warm reception by the critics, but Panufnik decided that on this occasion his memory had failed him while reconstructing the lost score. He therefore decided to destroy the manuscript of the symphony which had just been performed, and not to undertake any more attempts at reconstructing compositions which had been destroyed during the war.
The concert season 1945/46 brought Panufnik high regard from the public for his performance as a conductor. In his concert programmes he presented Krakòw’s music lovers with works by the Viennese classics, mainly his beloved Mozart, by the Romantics – Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, works by twentieth-century composers, including Shostakovich, and works by Polish composers: alongside his own symphony and Tragic Overture there were works by Karłowicz, Maklakiewicz, Ekier and others. Without a doubt, the favourable reviews as well as the positive reaction of the audiences influenced the decision to appoint the young up-and-coming conductor and composer as the Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra – an offer made to Panufnik in the spring of 1946. This appointment was a great honour for the young artist, and carried with it the enormous responsibility for rebuilding the country’s best orchestra. Andrzej Panufnik approached this task with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, problems arose from the very beginning, mainly in connection with the difficulty of housing the orchestra in the destroyed capital. The Philharmonic Hall had burnt down as early as September 1939; immediately after the war, symphonic concerts were being organised at the premises of Warsaw Operetta at Nowogrodzka Street, which had been spared. However, Panufnik was eager to find better premises. At the same time he was making arrangements to go to France for a few months, where he wanted to buy scores for the orchestra. He succeeded in obtaining the permission of the appropriate authorities and, at the end of May 1946, began his first journey abroad in the post-war period.
During that first post-war visit to the West, Panufnik not only bought scores for the orchestra which were unobtainable in Poland, but also made a number of important contacts. He made an appearance as a conductor in London, at the Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, and in Paris. Both concerts received excellent reviews, praising him both as a conductor and as a composer. These were Panufnik’s first successes on the international stage, and he achieved them in both capacities.
He returned to Poland at the beginning of November 1946. It became immediately apparent that the situation in Warsaw had deteriorated. It turned out to be impossible to find new premises for the orchestra, and the city authorities had not kept their promise regarding the provision of accommodation for the musicians. Under these circumstances, Panufnik handed in his resignation and still in December of 1946 started on another artistic journey through Europe.
This time he visited Switzerland, and also again Paris and London, where in mid-March 1947 he conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In his concerts, alongside classical repertoire, he presented the latest Polish compositions. His concerts received favourable reviews from critics in various countries, and echoes of these performances were reaching Poland, helping to establish Panufnik’s reputation as a composer and conductor.
At the same time he decided to return to composing. He started his search for new ideas with the piano, and thus created a cycle of twelve piano études entitled Circle of Fifths; these were immediately followed by two orchestral works, Nocturne and Lullaby. In addition, he produced an arrangement for string orchestra of Divertimento by Feliks Janiewicz, an early Polish composer. It was one of the first works in Polish twentieth-century music to draw on Old Polish music.
Panufnik sent the score of Nocturne to the Karol Szymanowski Competition, and received the first prize. The first performance of that composition in Paris in April 1948 met with a very positive response from the critics.
The Lullaby also achieved success on the international stage; it was included in the programme of the next Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, in June 1948 in Amsterdam. Moreover, in January 1949, Panufnik received the prize from the Krakòw Voivodship for that very composition. The composer was then still living in Krakòw, at the same time trying to obtain an apartment in Warsaw, which both he and his father missed very much.
The successes of Lullaby and Nocturne established Panufnik’s position as a leading Polish composer. In November 1948 he was elected Vice-President of the Board of the Polish Composers’ Union by his colleagues. Unfortunately, Panufnik’s elevated position in Polish musical life meant that the communist authorities ruling the new Polish People’s Republic were also taking more interest in his person, as would shortly become apparent. The era of relative creative freedom was coming to an end, and the spectre of socialist realism was about to begin haunting Polish art.