Panufnik’s music seems to be characterised by maturity even in his earliest works. Although we are not familiar with his pre-war compositions (with the exception of Piano Trio reconstructed after the war), descriptions of Symphonic Variations, his diploma piece performed at the concert of graduates of Warsaw Music Conservatory in 1936, indicate that some of the features which characterised his symphonic output were apparent even in his first substantial orchestral work. Reviewers noted Panufnik’s excellent control of the orchestra, interesting instrumentation, his tendency to take a soloistic approach to particular instruments and groups of instruments, and the significant part played by percussion – precisely those features which are also present in nearly all his later orchestral works.
Panufnik’s earliest surviving works: Tragic Overture, Five Polish Peasant Songs, Lullaby and Sinfonia Rustica are already characterised by strong individuality, apparent above all in original harmonics, interesting transformation of folk material and inventive instrumentation, which reveals previously unknown timbral aspects of strings (Lullaby) or woodwind instruments (Five Songs). The composer’s musical language evolved over the years, but in that development one would look in vain for radical turns, indicating a rejection of earlier values. Panufnik remained true to his convictions and to his own conception of music. Harmony and order, attachment to transparent construction, striving for harmony and balance between the formal elements and emotional content, with symmetry permeating the whole – these are the common features of all his compositions.
During the avant-garde years, with their experimental approach to all aspects of a musical composition, and their rejection of the traditional structural and timbral norms, Panufnik was writing works as subtle in their beauty as Landscape or Autumn Music; he did not even try to escape emotionality, which was being condemned at the time, and in Sinfonia Sacra he almost raised it to the dimension of pathos. The spiritual, or emotional, as well as religious elements, returned to the arena of world music around the mid-1970s. However, they had been present in Panufnik’s earlier works; interestingly, it was just then, in the second half of the 1970s, in works such as Sinfonia di Sfere, Sinfonia Mistica, Metasinfonia that these elements gave way to geometric abstraction, only to make their triumphant return at the beginning of the next decade (Sinfonia Votiva).