Prayer to the Virgin of Skempe for voice (or unison chorus) and organ (or piano or group of instruments), 1990, 2'
Performers: Wiesława Łukaszewska - soprano, Teresa Zawadzka - soprano, Jarosław Malanowicz - organ, Szymon Pawlicki - recitation, Schola Cantorum Gedanensis, Jan Łukaszewski - conductor; 1990 Polish Radio SA
This is s a short song – a prayer to a venerated statue of the Virgin Mary from Skempe in the Dobrzyń region. The text is a poem by Panufnik’s friend – Jerzy Pietrkiewicz, a poet who came from the region and, despite living in London for many years, was very strongly attached to the local cult of the Virgin of Skempe. Pietrkiewicz asked Panufnik to write a simple musical arrangement for his text in order for the song to be popularised in the region and for the proceeds from the sale of the score to help fund the renovation of the statue.
The composer complied with his friend’s request in a rather original manner, writing not a typical song but a kind of short poem in words and music. It begins with an introduction of the solo organ followed by recitation of the poem – without a musical accompaniment; only towards the end there appears a shared melody to words of a popular prayer to the Guardian Angel (included in a slightly modified version in Pietrkiewicz’s poem), ending this brief, barely two-minute-long piece. This is how Panufnik explained his idea in his composer’s note:
My good friend, the poet Jerzy Pietrkiewicz, showed me his impassioned poem to the Virgin of Skempe, and wanted me to set it to music. It was so beautiful in its own right that I did not feel that my music could improve upon it. Therefore, respecting the words, I set the original Polish version in a musical framework which I hope does justice to its intensity and fervour.
After the composer’s death his daughter Roxanna arranged the melody written by her father for string quartet and today the Prayer functions in two versions – very simple one for voice (or unison chorus) and organ (or piano or other instrument), written by Andrzej Panufnik, and a more sophisticated one for string quartet, written by Roxanna Panufnik.
Prayer to the Virgin of Skempe was written in England in 1990 and was performed for the first time during a concert held in Piwnica Wandy Warskiej in Warsaw, on 17 September 1990, during the composer’s visit to Poland.