Nocturne for orchestra, 1947, 15'


Nocturne /excerpt/

Performers: London Symphony Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein - conductor; 1993 UNICORN-KANCHANA


Composed in 1947, Nocturne is one of Andrzej Panufnik’s most interesting early pieces, which – in addition to the Lullaby for strings and two harps and Sinfonia Rustica composed one year later – remains a testimony to the composer’s innovative sound experiments. The idea for the work emerged during the composer’s nocturnal walks through the empty streets of Kraków, where he lived in the first few years after the war, before he was able to return to Warsaw slowly reviving after the wartime destruction.

As suggested by its title, Nocturne is a ‘song of the night’, a dream-like musical vision, designed as a great arch in sound, with a turbulent middle section and quiet outer sections. This is how the composer wrote about his work:

I composed my Nocturne soon after the horrifying events of the Second World War, which I experienced in my native Warsaw. In this orchestral piece, I completely detached myself from the tragic memories of the past years. I was escaping reality, weaving for myself a kind of night vision, as in a dream – seeing at the beginning cloudy and mysterious images, which gradually emerge clearer and clearer, building very slowly and irrevocably up into an orgiastic climax, then transforming little by little back into the misty images as at the beginning, softly dispersing until they fade out completely.

This work is designed as a great arch in sound: at the beginning, from absolute silence emerges a muffled tremolo on the side drum. Other instruments gradually join in, mounting in a widely protracted crescendo to a point where they achieve maximum volume of sound – and after this extended climax, the sound very gradually decreases, once more right down to side drum tremolo then to silence.

Nocturne won the 1st prize at the Karol Szymanowski Competition for composers in Warsaw in 1948 and was premiered on 26 April 1948 in Paris. The French Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the composer. 

The work was immediately greatly appreciated by the critics, who recognised its originality and novelty of its musical language, especially with regard to the richness of sound of a large symphony orchestra. The suggestiveness of the composer’s vision still makes a strong impression on the listeners, but it is worth noting that shortly after the premiere this impression was so strong that one of the reviewers wrote: 

The musical content of the work and the suspense in which the listener is kept all the time are impressive and admirable. However, if it must be a Nocturne, then we do not wish for ourselves or anyone else such incredible nightmares as the composer must have apparently experienced...