In the works of Andrzej Panufnik there is a clearly discernible strand of compositions inspired by old Polish music. Originating from the years immediately after the war, on the wave of reconstructing Polish culture after the ravages of war, this strand lasted until 1966, when he wrote Jagiellonian Triptych for a special concert in London to celebrate the Polish Millennium, which he organised together with the painter Andrzej Dzierżyński. Together with the Wind Quintet (Quintetto academico), composed in 1952 but discovered and published only after Panufnik’s death, the strand of early music comprises five works: Divertimento, Old Polish Suite, Concerto in modo antico (Gothic Concerto), Wind Quintet (Quintetto academico') and Jagiellonian Triptych.
Among these works, only Divertimento is a reconstruction of works by a single composer, Feliks Janiewicz. His Trios for Two Violins and Cello, discovered in the collection of PWM Edition (The Polish Music Publishers), were arranged by Panufnik for a string orchestra. The other compositions are to a greater degree works by Panufnik himself. By juxtaposing various fragments of early works, the composer combined them into cohesive wholes, giving them a new sound quality while retaining the style and character of early music.
As well as arrangements of old Polish music, references to the music of the past can also be found in Panufnik’s other works. One example is Bogurodzica, which the composer used twice. In Sinfonia Sacra the melody and the interval structure of this medieval song provided the basis for the music material of the whole work. Nearly twenty years later, in Sinfonia Votiva, Bogurodzica appears only as an allusion, in the form of a quotation comprising a few notes. Both works are closely associated with religion, hence the use of a medieval song. Panufnik reached for the melodics and character of traditional religious songs, as well as Gregorian chant, in other compositions inspired by religion.
An interest in pre-classical music, not only Polish but, for example, English, was also apparent in Panufnik’s work as a conductor. By including in his Birmingham concert programmes works by almost forgotten British composers (Avison, Boyce, and also Byrd), whose manuscripts he found in the British Museum during his first visit to Britain in 1938, he came to be regarded as a Polish conductor who was making the British people familiar with their own music.
Undoubtedly the whole of musical past had great significance for Panufnik. His work as a conductor allowed him to familiarise himself with an enormous repertoire, and this in turn had an influence not only on his inspiration as a composer, but also on his approach to composing, in which the continuity of musical tradition played a key part.