String Quartet No. 1, 1976 (rev. 1977), 18'
Performers: Silesian String Quartet: Szymon Krzeszowiec - 1st violin, Arkadiusz Kubica - 2nd violin, Łukasz Syrnicki - viola, Piotr Janosik - cello; 2003 Polish Radio Katowice
Andrzej Panufnik’s take on the quartet genre goes back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. The archives of the Polish Composers’ Union contain documents testifying to the fact that as early as in 1948 the composer was thinking about writing a Ballad for String Quartet, perhaps using folk motifs. However, the deadline for the completion of the work kept being postponed and in the end the work was not written. It was not until 1976 that Panufnik wrote his String Quartet No. 1, dedicating it to his wife.
The original version of the work, presented in October 1976, consisted of two parts – Prelude and Transformations; however, after the premiere the composer added a third part – Postlude. Thus, he created another triptych. Panufnik constructed his String Quartet No. 1 as a kind of conversation between four individuals – instruments. This is particularly evident in the first part, in which each instrument performs like a solo instrument, introducing its own type of expression. According to the composer, the various instruments represent here very different personalities – like different people having a conversation:
(...) one agitated, very aggressive (Violin I); one ironic, witty (Violin II), one rather pompous (Viola) and the last calmly philosophical (Cello).
Thus, the composer presents here a ‘conversation’ of instruments, with each player performing like a soloist or in duet; only in the second part of the quartet can we finally hear the full sound of all four instruments. They can now be heard together and develop successive musical ideas slowly, in a calm but very expressive mood, achieved thanks to the fact that the voices move in long rhythmic values.
The sound material in the quartet is based on a 3-note cell composed of a minor second and a tritone (Panufnik’s favourite interval cell, this time in the form of the B-C-F sharp combination). The cell is given in a simple manner in the first and the last movement, undergoing various transformations in the middle movement, hence its title – Transformations. At the same time it is the main movement of the quartet. The final Postlude brings back the anxious conversation from the Prelude, the difference being that in this case it leads to an agreement symbolised by the unison of all instruments closing the work.
String Quartet No. 1 was premiered on 19 October 1976 in London by the Aeolian String Quartet. The same ensemble performed it again in May 1977 in its final, three-part form.