Sinfonia Elegiaca for orchestra, 1957 (rev. 1966), 22'


Sinfonia elegiaca. Molto Andante /fragment/

Performers: National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tadeusz Strugała - conductor; 2000 Polish Radio SA

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In 1951 Andrzej Panufnik wrote a three-part choral Symphony of Peace to the poem Peace by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. The ideological message of the symphony was dictated by the requirements of socialist realism, the official doctrine at the time in Poland, and the communist authorities’ expectations with regard to Panufnik. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that after moving to the UK the composer decided to withdraw it from the catalogue of his works. 

Yet he must have been pleased with the artistic quality of the Symphony of Peace, if he decided to use its material to compose a new symphony. Rejecting the choral third movement, he slightly recomposed the remaining two movements, thus creating the purely orchestral Sinfonia Elegiaca. The elegiac tone of the original work, referring to the Second World War, was highlighted in the title of the new symphony. In his programme note, the composer wrote:

The new version of the symphony was to be in one continuous movement, built in three parts, symmetrically arranged like a vast triptych. It did not have any literary programme, only allusions to contrasting aspects of war. The central section (molto andante) would be a dramatic protest against inhumanity, madness, blood lust and violence. The two outer sections (both molto andante) would be lamentations for the dead and for the bereaved, with added grief that their agonies and sacrifices had failed to bring peace to the world, or full freedom to countries such as my native Poland.

The dramaturgy of the work follows an arch, from a quiet lamentoso in the first movement to a tempestuous climax in the middle movement, gradually calming down in the last movement. Instead of a final choral prayer for peace (like in the finale of the Symphony of Peace) the composer returns to the initial lament, providing an emotional framework for the symphony. 

Sinfonia Elegiaca was completed in 1957 and was dedicated to the victims of the Second World War. It was premiered on 11 November 1957 in Houston, United States, with the Houston Symphony Orchestra being conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Less than ten years later, in 1966, the composer once again made some changes to the score. Sorrowful and melancholic, the symphony is rarely performed, however, unlike other compositions by Andrzej Panufnik.