Sinfonia Rustica for orchestra, 1948 (rev. 1955), 29'
Performers: Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, Andrzej Panufnik - conductor; 1993 UNICORN-KANCHANA
Sinfonia Rustica is the first symphony in the catalogue of Andrzej Panufnik’s works, although it must be noted that two earlier works of this genre, written by Panufnik during the Second World War, were destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising (like the manuscripts of all his other works written before 1944).
Sinfonia Rustica was written in 1948. Panufnik composed it thinking about a competition organised as part of the celebrations of the Chopin Year in 1949. This is one of the reasons why he used in it folk melodies, alluding in this way to his great predecessor. However, unlike Chopin, Panufnik used folklore from the Kurpie region, i.e. melodies collected by Fr Władysław Skierkowski, the same man who had earlier inspired Karol Szymanowski to write his Kurpie Songs. In Panufnik’s symphony folk melodies appear as practically unchanged quotations, though presented in an original harmonic or chromatic context. Using Kurpie folklore, the composer was inspired not only by melodies, but also by symmetrical paper-cuts, typical of this region:
My Sinfonia Rustica emerged as an expression of my love for the Polish peasant music from the northern part of our country where the songs have exceptional charm. The art of the region is also outstanding, with imaginatively carved wood-work, brilliant folk costumes, and intricate, colourful paper-cuts, either abstract or semi-abstract, often of symmetrical design. I decided that I would reflect these naïve but aesthetically appealing features in my new symphony. The symmetry of the paper-cuts was to enter into all aspects of the composition. Even the orchestral layout was symmetrical, for acoustic reasons as well as for visual effect, with eight wind instruments in the middle of the concert platform and two small string orchestras on either side carrying on a dialogue.
Sinfonia Rustica is classically written in four movements. Con tenerezza is a two-subject sonata allegro, Con grazia has a form of the freely-treated rondo, Con espressione – lyrical variations, and Con vigore, like the first movement, is a two-subject sonata allegro. The spatial layout of two string ensembles separated by the wind instruments, mostly treated as solo instruments, adds an element of dialogue and competition to the work, a device that was seen as a reference to the Baroque concerto grosso or two folk bands playing simultaneously. The composer drew on the way village musicians played, using in his orchestration empty-sounding ostinatos in the lower strings (the cellos and double basses), similar to those in folk music. Thanks to the introduction of folk melodies, the symphony acquired a singing character, full of charm and carefree joy, not often encountered in Panufnik’s works.
At that 1949 competition for composers Sinfonia Rustica won the 1st prize, and its premiere in Warsaw on 13 May 1949 with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer was a great success.
After moving to England, in 1955 Panufnik made some slight changes in the score, giving up e.g. the introduction to the slow third movement. Today we can compare both versions of that movement thanks to a recording by the Polish Radio Orchestra conducted by Łukasz Borowicz released by CPO, which in addition to the official version of Sinfonia Rustica also includes the original version of the third movement.