Lullaby for 29 strings and two harps, 1947, 7'

Lullaby /excerpt/

Performers: Warsaw Autumn Spring Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk - conductor; 1997 Warsaw Autumn, Polish Composers' Union


Lullaby for strings and two harps is the first piece by Panufnik (and one of the first pieces composed in Poland) in which he used quarter tones. The idea and first draft of the composition emerged in March 1947, during the composer’s stay in London:

Enjoying a short respite in London, I resumed my habit of wandering through deserted streets after the city had gone to sleep. Pausing one night on Waterloo Bridge, I rested my arms on the balustrade, and gazed for many minutes down into the water of the Thames. When I lifted my head, I saw dark clouds drifting slowly across a brilliant full moon.

The river’s flow and the night sky over the misty city prompted the idea of music on three planes: a pulsating rhythm of harps to correspond to the gentle, uninterrupted flow of the river; a group of solo string instruments, some moving in quarter tones, for the drifting clouds; and above, like the moon which was also looking down on Poland, the song of a Polish peasant, based almost entirely on the pentatonic scale and played by a succession of solo string instruments: violin, then viola, then cello. The music would thus convey the scene in front of my eyes, the clouds sometimes exposing and sometimes obscuring the full circle of the moon – so that the melodic line would be submerged and then emerge again from time to time.

In the end, Panufnik composed a work in which the vision created during the London walk along the Thames was brilliantly combined with the charm of a Polish folk song entitled Przyjechał do niej (He came to her). The folk theme at times emerges and then disappears again in an intricately woven sound texture. Panufnik created here an extraordinary, highly original sound world.

Polish critics were very interested in the Lullaby and were unanimously enthusiastic about it. Stefan Kisielewski wrote:

Extraordinary originality of its dissonant harmony, intricate instrumental texture (thoroughly individual sound colours), a subtle, profound mood and fresh melodic invention make up a whole which can be called, without any exaggeration, a gem: a gem of talent, technique and taste.

Just as enthusiastic about the Lullaby was Stefania Łobaczewska:

The idea of using a folk song as a melodic thread weaving through a web-like polyphonic canvas based on quarter tones produced fascinating results: stunning freshness of sound, pastel colours and totally unexpected atmosphere. This composition can probably be called the best, the most inventive and original musical composition written in Poland after the war.

The Lullaby was performed for the first time on 9 November 1948 in Kraków by the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer’s baton. In January 1949 Panufnik received the Kraków regional prize for the work, which enjoyed great success also abroad. To this day it remains one of the most fascinating and most often performed among Andrzej Panufnik’s works.