Warszawska jesień [Warsaw Autumn], dir. Eugeniusz Cękalski, 1936
Trzy etiudy Chopina [Three Studies by Chopin], dir. Eugeniusz Cękalski, 1937
Strachy [Fears], dir. Eugeniusz Cękalski, Karol Szołowski, after a novel by Maria Ukniewska, 1938, 94 min
Ballad in F minor, dir. Andrzej Panufnik, mus. Fryderyk Chopin, 1945, 10'
Ręce dziecka [Children’s Hands], dir. Tadeusz Makarczyński, 1946, 20 min
Teatr mój widzę ogromny [I See My Theatre Vast], Jerzy Zarzycki, Jan Marcin Szancer, 1946, 20'
Zdradzieckie serce [Tell-Tale Heart], dir. Jerzy Zarzycki, after a story by Edgar Allan Poe, 1947
Dzieło Mistrza Stwosza [Master Stwosz’ Masterpiece], dir. Stanisław Możdżeński, 1950, 35'
Ślubujemy [We Pledge] (featuring Andrzej Panufnik’s mass song Ślubowanie młodych [Youth pledge]), dir. Jerzy Bossak, 1952, 42'
Andrzej Panufnik came into contact with the world of film when he was a student. At that time he made close acquaintance with the director Eugeniusz Cękalski and the cameraman Stanisław Wohl (whom he knew from his school days), who soon became known as some of the most talented and active film-makers. Even before he completed his composition studies, Panufnik, asked by Wohl, wrote music to a short film entitled Warsaw Autumn. The screenplay enabled him to write lyrical, atmospheric music and marked the beginning of his collaboration with the film-makers.
After graduating from the Conservatory, Panufnik, together with Wohl and Cękalski, took part in the making of Three Studies by Chopin, in which he focused on linking Chopin’s works to specific images – he thus worked more as a film-maker than a composer. Volume Three of the History of Polish Film contains the following description of the film:
[it] was an attempt to interpret music by means of film tools (...). The subject matter was three pieces by Chopin: Study in D flat major, Study in C minor and the Revolutionary Study. The narrative was carried by sounds commented on by film images (...), with the images accompanying the sounds of Chopin’s music providing their 'psychological supplement'.
Thus Panufnik’s role was to collaborate in combining Chopin’s music with images. In 1937 the film won an award at the Venice Biennale and Panufnik felt some resentment towards the other two film-makers for a while, because his name was not displayed in the opening credits when the film was shown in Italy. Unfortunately, no copy of the film has survived.
In 1938, immediately after returning from Vienna, Panufnik received another offer from Cękalski and Wohl – this time to write music to a feature film entitled Strachy [Fears].
The composer, already with some experience of writing revue hits under his belt, eagerly accepted the offer, especially given the fact that the authors of the film (the directors Eugeniusz Cękalski and Karol Szołowski, and the director of photography Stanisław Wohl) insisted that the music be composed within just a few days, which meant a generous remuneration that would enable the composer to go on his dream trip to Paris.
The film, based on Maria Ukniewska’s popular novel with the same title, tells the story of two girls working in second-rate revue theatres. The History of Polish Film contains the following description of the film:
The action takes place in the present and revolves around the vicissitudes in the careers and love lives of two friends, girls from a second-rate ballet group. Teresa, the more clear-headed and more sensible of the two, is hopelessly in love with Modecki, a revue actor. Linka, sentimental and helpless in the face of traps laid by colleagues, gives in to the director of the theatre, Dwierycz, and gets pregnant. When the company goes bankrupt, the girls, persuaded by the ageing ballet master Dubenko, move to the provinces. Linka aborts her child and leaves to join her fiancé who lives in ignorance of the events. Dubenko’s revue fails and he dies of a heart attack. Teresa returns to Warsaw (...). In the meantime, Linka, blackmailed by her old lover, hangs herself in the attic. Shocked by her friend’s death, Teresa also wants to commit suicide, but at the last moment she is stopped by Modecki, who has decided to marry her.
The main roles featured leading pre-war actors: Hanka Karwowska, Jadwiga Andrzejewska, Eugeniusz Bodo, Józef Węgrzyn and Jan Kreczmar.
Panufnik returned to the world of film in the first few years after the war, as his first post-war employer was the Polish Army Film Unit. In 1945-1946 the composer took part in the making of three short documentaries. The first was Ballad in F minor – an impressionistic film showing the ruined Warsaw, in which images were accompanied by Fryderyk Chopin’s Ballad in F minor. Panufnik produced the film, once again combining Chopin’s music with film images. His next two films were Ręce dziecka and Teatr mój widzę ogromny. The former, educational, was to expound the role of toys in the development of toddlers and small children, with special attention being paid to the development of cognitive functions of children’s hands. The latter was a story of the rebuilding of Polish theatre after the war. What matters most in both films is the content, given by voice-over, with Panufnik’s music serving to create the mood and emphasise emotional aspects. We can clearly hear in it elements typical of the composer’s style at the time – especially in the atmospheric parts of the strings and in fragments using woodwinds and percussion.
In 1947 Andrzej Panufnik wrote music to a medium-length feature film entitled Zdradzieckie serce. The film was never presented to the public and was never released. It has remained unknown to this day and probably the only evidence of its existence (in addition to the note on the website filmpolski.pl) can be found in the composer’s reminiscences, full of black humour:
As Musical Director [of the Polish Army Film Unit], I not only supervised, chose and sometimes conducted music for a variety of subjects, but from time to time was expected to produce new scores. One film I selected was Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, a macabre story of its own right. At the exact moment in the story when the old man gets murdered, the actor playing the part [Stanisław Grolicki] was all too convincing. He had suffered a genuine heart attack, and died shortly afterwards.
Once we had recovered from the shock, we began to record the music which I had composed for a small ensemble of harpsichord, piano, celesta and timpani. The first part seemed to be falling together well enough when suddenly the timpanist shattered everything with a storm of wrong rhythms. I repeated the section and again there was chaos. The same thing happened a third time. I rapped my music stand with the baton, and asked what was wrong. He did not answer. I shouted at him: 'Why don’t you answer me?' There was another silence, then a crash as he fell to the floor. The recording producer rushed over to him. It was too late. The timpanist was dead. Shortly afterwards the producer too died of heart failure.
Although my own heart kept going, the film did not. At its private screening, everyone involved was highly praised and our work deemed to be of the highest artistic standard. But the censors stepped in again and the public was never allowed to see it, because the occult content was too far removed from the practical ideal of building a 'People’s Paradise'.
1950 was the year in which another film, Dzieło Mistrza Stwosza was made. It was a story of a renovation of Stwosz’ famous Kraków altar. One year later Panufnik transformed the music he had written for it into an autonomous piece – Concerto in Modo Antico).
The last film made with Andrzej Panufnik’s music before the composer’s escape from Poland was a propaganda picture entitled Ślubujemy. Shot in 1952, it was a story of a rally of young labour leaders, held in Warsaw on 20-22 July 1952. Although the soundtrack was written by Władysław Szpilman, the film does feature a mass song composed by Panufnik especially for the purpose – Ślubowanie młodych to lyrics by Władysław Broniewski.