Panufnik – Harmony: A Poem for Chamber Orchestra

by Max Derrickson

Andrzej Panufnik  (1914-1991)

Harmony: A Poem for Chamber Orchestra

Harmony: A Poem for Chamber Orchestra by Andrzej Panufnik was commissioned by the 92nd Street Y Performing Arts Division in New York in celebration of Panufnik’s 75th birthday. It was premiered in 1989 under the composer’s baton.

Born in Warsaw to a respected violin maker and theorist (father) and a violinist (mother), Panufnik grew into a lifelong passion for music. Having completed study at the Warsaw Conservatory and briefly in Vienna for conducting, he rather quickly established wide recognition as a composer and conductor throughout Europe, especially in Poland.  But by 1953, Panufnik was at last so confounded by Stalinism’s artistic stiflement, he made a daring escape to England. He vowed never to return and became a naturalized British citizen. As an expatriate, his travels led him to the United States to briefly conduct the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Alabamafrom 1957-1959.

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The result for Panufnik, though, led to entire compositions built on 2, 3, or 4 note cells. This technique, however, can produce a very static harmonic and linear progression. To Panufnik, the technique simply presented a challenge, not a sacrifice of elements. The self-imposed restriction of such a limited amount of material offers a cleansing and rarefication for compositions, leading to more harmonious unity and closely magnified, intensified beauty. Panufnik’s masterfulness at this method is very evident in Harmony, which moves forward with dense beauty.

Panufnik said of Harmony that the basic motifs were based on 2 three note cells
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Panufnik also believed that in Harmony he had compositionally achieved something completely original.

The musicologist Boguslaw Schaffer said of Panufnik, “ His work is proof that expressive power and richness of sonority are not inconsistent with an admiring approval of the (Pope’s) principle, “Order is Heav’n’s first law.”