Panufnik was fascinated by symmetry from the beginning of his creative development, since he associated it with the idea of classical proportion and balance, so important to him in a musical composition. All his works contain a series of symmetrical patterns and references, in terms of form and harmony as well as in melodic lines. Moreover, beginning in the 1970s, the composer represented the form of his works visually as geometric diagrams; often, these would be created prior to the actual sound material, at the pre-compositional stage. The diagram, inspired by shapes of geometric figures, would provide an 'unseen skeleton', which would help the composer to order his 'music, thoughts and feelings'. Panufnik often emphasised his fascination with geometry, and he looked for geometric forms more in the surrounding world than in pure mathematics. He said to Tadeusz Kaczyński:

The richness of geometric forms to be found in nature and in the cosmos supplies (...) enormous potential for choice. Prehistoric man used to draw circles, triangles and squares in the sand to reflect what was happening inside him. I myself see the works of Bach and Mozart as geometric structures. If only a way could be found to give them a visual equivalent! My geometry is intuitive. I see lines and shapes transposed into melodic systems of rhythm and harmony. A geometric figure thus has a hidden symbolic meaning, giving rise to the architectural shape of the emerging composition.

Panufnik’s reliance on symmetry – and above all mirror symmetry – in the shaping of the structure of a musical composition can already be observed in his early works. This element is most apparent in their formal outline, but at times involves even such aspects as the distribution of the orchestra, as in Sinfonia Rustica, written in 1948, which was inspired by the folk art of making paper-cuts.

Mirror symmetry inspired by folk paper-cuts is also apparent in Panufnik’s String Quartet No. 3, most directly in its fourth movement, Prestissimo possibile, which, played from the end to the beginning, would sound exactly as when played from the beginning to the end.

Sinfonia rustica A diagram for Sinfonia di Sfere A diagram for Sinfonia Votiva A diagram for Sinfonia di Speranza A diagram for Symphony No. 10

Mirror symmetry is also apparent in the triptych form of Autumn Music, in the musical spheres of Sinfonia di Sfere, in the circular structure of Sinfonia Votiva or the arch structure of Sinfonia di Speranza. Following the score one can see clearly that after crossing the axis of symmetry (the central part of the triptych, the centre of the circle, the centre of the rainbow arch) the music begins to move in reverse, returning to the point of departure. Obviously, usually it is not an identical return, which would be too mechanical, but the process is clearly discernible.

As one follows Panufnik’s creative development, one can observe that with the passage of years his tendency to use symmetry in different aspects of a musical work intensified, and gradually included an increasing number of elements. A clear turning point can be discerned at the beginning of the 1970s, when the composer not only decided to limit his musical language to operating with the three-note cell (E-F-B), but also decided to subordinate his work to a creative discipline defined by the principles of geometry.

I became deeply bound up in my explorations of the potential use of geometry within my compositions. (...) I felt that geometric shapes could provide my composition with an unseen skeleton within which my harmonic, melodic and rhythmic concepts could be bound together as a cohesive whole; an organised framework out of which both spiritual and poetic expression could freely flow.

Accepting the definition of music as 'unfrozen architecture' it seemed suddenly obvious that a composer, like an architect, might draw on the inspiration of geometric form. (...) As I planned my next compositions, it became clear to me that each of them would have to grow organically out of its own individual geometric base.

The majority of Panufnik’s works written during and after the 1970s is in fact based on a geometric core, represented by the composer as a diagram attached to the score. One of the most frequently used geometric figures was the circle, that most symmetrical of figures. It influenced the construction of such works as the composer’s fifth, sixth and eighth symphonies. Among other geometric shapes one could mention the spiral (Metasinfonia), elipse (Symphony No. 10) and mandorla (Cello Concerto). Panufnik also represented graphically, in the shape of a triangle and a square, the three- and four-note interval cell, which constituted the basis of the musical material in his compositions.

What is extremely important is that the structure of his works, in spite of being determined by symmetry and geometry, did not in any way limit their emotional depth or richness of expression. On the contrary, these elements were intended to make it easier for the composer to convey his feelings and 'poetic content'. They not only provide evidence of Panufnik’s enormous self-discipline as a creative artist, but also give expression to his striving for structural perfection of the music he composed; perfection which he was able to realise precisely because of finding inspiration in symmetry and geometry.

A diagram for Universal Prayer A sketch for Metasinfonia Part of Panufnik's diagram