Tracing our way through the rich legacy of the works of Andrzej Panufnik, we can find there at the very least a number of sources of inspiration. They often mingle with each other, and meet in the same compositions. Panufnik did not make a secret of his fascinations, and often talked about them in his programme notes or press interviews. Even when encountering his work for the first time, what strikes one in his words and his music is his bond with Poland and his love for his homeland, in the widest understanding of the concept.
Panufnik always cared deeply about Poland’s fate. He already gave expression to this feeling in works written during the Second World War – the Tragic Overture and Five Polish Peasant Songs. The first composition reflected the drama of war which he had lived through in occupied Warsaw; in the second one, the composer escaped from that nightmare into a world of ideal Poland, rustic and free from threats. Writing songs for the Polish Resistance Home Army was a natural extension of this feeling; and his song Warsaw Children still remains symbolic of those years, and of Poland’s struggle for freedom, honour and homeland during the Warsaw Uprising.
During the post-war years Panufnik expressed his interest in the nature of the Polish spirit by arranging Old Polish music and exploring the possibilities of using Polish folk music to create a modern sound language. In both these undertakings he was truly a pioneer on the Polish musical stage, and his ideas were admired for their daring and originality (Nocturne, Lullaby, Sinfonia Rustica).
The imposition of socialist realism restricted Panufnik’s creativity and inventiveness, which were developing so impressively. However, even then he continued to express his affection for his country through music, and the Heroic Overture, with the melody of Warszawianka, a nineteenth-century patriotic song, concealed within it, provided a way of expressing his personal protest.
After he settled in Great Britain, the composer’s patriotic feelings became even more pronounced, not only in the character of the music he composed, or the references to Polish folklore, but often even in the titles and dedications. Rhapsody, Polonia, and above all Sinfonia Sacra are undoubtedly expressions of homage to the Polish land and the tradition which shaped him as a man and as an artist. Through his music he tried to draw the attention of the world to the situation in Poland, or to give expression to subjects which were forbidden by the communist regime. Hence his Sinfonia Sacra, celebrating the millennium of Polish statehood and Christianity, the Katyń Epitaph, Sinfonia Votiva dedicated to the Black Madonna (the famous icon at the monastery in Częstochowa), or the Bassoon Concerto dedicated to Father Popiełuszko, who died a martyr’s death at the hands of the security police.
It was only during the 1970s that Panufnik’s work moved away from its clearly Polish inspirations and towards abstract geometric structures (Sinfonia di Sfere, Sinfonia Mistica, Metasinfonia), only to turn again towards his homeland at the beginning of the 1980s. When he arrived in Warsaw in 1990, his life had come around full circle; however, Polish influences did not disappear – we find them both in the String Quartet No. 3 'Wycinanki' [Paper-cuts], and in the atmosphere of his final work, the Cello Concerto.
Although he obtained British citizenship in 1961, he always remained a Pole. Poland was the main focus of his feelings and concerns, and it remained the most important and significant source of his inspiration. The spirit of Poland pervades his music, and the majority of his compositions is imbued with reminiscences of Polish folk melodies, the atmosphere of Polish churches and prayers, and the Polish landscape.
The composer’s own words provide the best evidence that his homeland was his most important sphere of inspiration:
In my work I try to reflect those events through which I have lived personally. These are above all social, political and religious affairs of our country, since Poland is everything to me. I am bound to it with my heart and soul.