Variations for piano (1933)
Classical Suite for string quartet (1933)
Symphonic Variations for orchestra (1936)
Symphonic Picture for orchestra (1936)
Little Overture for orchestra (1936)
Symphonic Psalm No. 145 for four solo voices, mixed choir and symphony orchestra to words by Jan Kochanowski (1936)
Symphony No. 1 (1939-40)
Symphony No. 2 (1941)
The manuscripts of all works composed by Andrzej Panufnik before 1944 burnt in the Warsaw Uprising, which is why little is known about the composer’s early oeuvre. After the war Panufnik reconstructed the Piano Trio from memory and today it is the only representative of his youthful works. When it comes to the rest (and by no means all) of them, all we can find is just some information preserved in the press and the composer’s reminiscences.
Panufnik’s first works were Variations for piano and Classical Suite for string quartet, written even before the Piano Trio and regarded by the composer himself as ‘student works, written as part of [his] classwork in harmony and counterpoint’.
However, already his Symphonic Variations, performed during a diploma concerto at the Warsaw Conservatory in June 1936 under the composer’s baton, was favourably received by the Warsaw press. The work was based on a Polish folklore-inspired theme; the variations included a fugue and the whole was brilliantly orchestrated, foreshadowing qualities characteristic of the composer’s later oeuvre, qualities like treating instrumental groups like soloists or emphasising the role of the percussion.
Panufnik’s next orchestral work was Little Overture, performed on 4 January 1937 by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg and on 21 May 1937 by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mieczysław Mierzejewski. After the concert, the Kurier Poranny reviewer wrote:
The concert began with Little Overture by Mr. Andrzej Panufnik, one of our youngest composers and, at the same time, one of the most talented among them. The Overture strikes the listener with its lively rhythm and very ingenious, strictly polyphonic harmonisation. The concept in itself is all the more incredible given the fact that the piece is written for orchestra without any violins. (...)
Undoubtedly, this was a rather unusual device at the time and although the Little Overture did not survive the war, the idea of composing a piece for symphony orchestra without violins was used by Panufnik many years later in his Autumn Music.
The late 1930s and early 1940s were also the period in which Andrzej Panufnik wrote his first symphonies. The first, a single-movement work, leaned too much, as he himself said, towards the Romantic models, while the second, a three-movement work (with fast outer sections and a singing middle section) – towards Classical models. Symphony No. 2 was performed at a concert of the Central Welfare Council, on 25 May 1944, under the composer’s baton. The symphony made an indelible mark on the mind of Jan Krenz, who was present at the concert:
It made an extraordinary impression on me. To this day I remember the beginning of this symphony, some magnificent solo of the trumpet, I remember the brilliant orchestration; generally, everything in this work reached an ‘apex’ for me.
The composer reconstructed the score of his Symphony No. 1 after the war and it was performed on 30 November 1945 in Kraków, where the local Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Panufnik. Surviving descriptions tell us that:
despire its modernity (...) it is a lyrical work with predominating slow tempi, honest and inspired, with great simplicity in its structure. Panufnik’s first symphony has one movement. Its form is that of an extended sonata allegro, with the first theme being in a slow tempo, while the second and third are quite fast. (...) Besides, the Symphony seems to have a framework, spanning it from beginning to end. These 'framework elements' represent moments: of coming, emerging and fading, dying music.
In his review after the performance of the work, Zygmunt Mycielski stressed that with the symphony Panufnik showed that he was a 'born symphonist' and that the main feature of his music was the ‘fight between emotion and discretion’ – both these elements remained important also in Panufnik’s later works, marking his compositional style.
However, the composer himself came to the conclusion that in the case of this piece the memory had failed him and that the reconstructed version of the symphony was too different from the original – so he destroyed the score and eventually gave up any further attempts to resurrect his works lost in the ravages of war.