Harmony. A Poem for Chamber Orchestra, 1988, 17' strings (possible maximum or minimum

Harmony /excerpt/

Performers: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Andrzej Panufnik - conductor; 1990 "Warsaw Autmun", Polish Composers' Union



Although the work was commissioned by the New York Chamber Symphony to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the composer's birth, Andrzej Panufnik decided to use it to celebrate primarily the 25th anniversary of his marriage to Camilla Jessel (falling in November 1988). As a matter of fact, the title of the piece refers to a composition written 15 years earlier to celebrate the Panufniks’ 10th wedding anniversary. This piece was Sinfonia Concertante (1973), about which the composer wrote that its first movement ‘could have been entitled Harmony’. He used the title now not only to express the harmony of his marriage, but also to subordinate all elements of the work to the idea of harmony. He explained this in his composer’s notes in the following manner:

The title Harmony refers to the vertical sound (harmony based on 8- and 9-note scales); horizontal sound (melodic lines constructed on two 3-note cells); 'harmonious' use of metres 4/4 and 3/4; and the balance of orchestral colour – the composition is designed stereophonically, with dialogues between strings and woodwinds, both groups have equal significance. The subtitle – Poem – refers to the poetic and emotional element. This composition is dedicated to my wife Camilla in celebration of the 25th anniversary of our marriage – hence the warm and lyrical climate. 

Harmony is thus a subtle sonic poem to harmony and peace expressed by means of slowly flowing musical ideas, alternating between the strings and the woodwinds, and complementing each other in musical phrases gently taken over from each other. 

The composer achieves the eponymous harmony in all layers of the work through pairs of mutually complementing elements. They are: two 3-note cells marking the melodic development of the work; 8- and 9-note scales in the harmonic layer; two types of metres (4/4 and 3/4); and, finally, colour defined by two groups of instruments selected by the composer – the strings (without the double basses) and woodwinds. This duality of factors, collaborating with and complementing each other, creates a harmonious whole, which beautifully reflects the harmonious marriage of Andrzej and Camilla Panufnik.

The premiere of Harmony took place on 15 December 1989 in New York, with musicians of the New York Chamber Symphony conducted by the composer.