The Monday Platform at Wigmore - music of Szymanowski and Panufnik

Karol Szymanowski

Andrzej Panufnik

9 May 2011, 7.30pm,
Wigmore Hall,
36 Wigmore Street,
London W1U 2BP,
Ticket Prices: 
£8 £10 £13 £15,
Box office: 020 7258 8200,
Book online

Performers: Idomeneo String Quartet, Clare Hammond - piano

String Quartet in C Op. 50 No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Op. 82
Nos. 1–8 from 12 Studies
Nos. 7–12 from 12 Miniature Studies
String Quartet No. 3 in F Op. 73

Programme of this special evening consists of two works by Polish master composers - Karol Szymanowski and Andrzej Panufnik, along with classical works of Haydn, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

Andrzej Panufnik (1914 - 1991) began composing at the age of nine. After completing his theory and composition studies at the Warsaw Conservatory (1932-36), he continued music education with F. Weingartner (conducting, 1937-38) at the Vienna Academy of Music; he subsequently studied in Paris and London (1938-39). He spent the wartime years in Warsaw, appearing as pianist at legal charities as well as illegally organised concerts. He formed a piano duo with his friend, composer Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994); together they performed a number of two-piano arrangements of works from standard repertoire. After the war (in 1945-46) Panufnik served as the conductor of the Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra and (in 1946-47) director of the Warsaw Philharmonic. Widely regarded as the most important Polish conductor and composer of the time, Panufnik was invited as a guest-conductor to Germany (Berliner Philharmoniker), France, and England (London Philharmonic Orchestra). In 1950 he was appointed vice-president of the UNESCO International Music Council. In 1953 he was head of the official Polish cultural delegation to China, where he was personally received by President Mao.

Panufnik's early scores were burnt during the Warsaw Uprising (only three of them were later reconstructed). In the post-war years he won many awards at domestic and foreign competitions for composers: First prize at the Szymanowski Competition in 1947 (for "Nocturne"), First prize at the Chopin Competition in 1949 (for "Sinfonia Rustica"), First prize at the Helsinki Olympic Games-related competition in 1952 ("Heroic Overture"). In 1949 he received highest state distinction of the Polish People's Republic - Order of the Banner of Labour of the First Class, in 1951 and 1952 was winner of State Prize. As he could not come to terms with communist-imposed constraints on creative liberties, he decided to remain in London where he traveled on official business in 1953; he continued his conducting career as head of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 1959 he withdrew from this position to commit himself entirely to composing. Among the various honours that he received, he twice won the Prix de Composition Musicale de Monaco, in 1963 ("Sinfonia sacra") and in 1983 (for all his artistic work). Panufnik received the Sibelius Medal of the Century in London in 1965 and in 1984 was granted Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1987 he received Honorary Membership in the Polish Composers' Union (from which he was excluded in 1954 after his departure for England).

His pieces were not performed in Poland till 1976 and his name was blacklisted - it could not appear in dictionaries, press reviews, books or any other publications. In 1987 Panufnik published an autobiography (pub. Methuen) entitled "Composing Myself". In 1990 he was granted a prize of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs for his contributions to Polish culture. In the same year after a 36-year-absence, he visited Poland at the invitation of the "Warsaw Autumn" Festival as its honorary guest. The program included 11 of his pieces, three of them performed under his baton (Symphony No.10, Harmony, and Violin Concerto). In 1990 he was honoured by the British with a knighthood. Panufnik died at Twickenham on 27 October 1991. His wife, Lady Camilla Panufnik, is a renowned photographer, his daughter Roxanna Panufnik and son are composers.

Karol Szymanowski (1882 - 1937) is held to be representative of the beginning of new music in Poland. He travelled many times abroad and lived in Berlin (1906-08), Vienna (1912-14) and Russia (1917 - 19). In 1920 he settled again in Warsaw and was professor of composition and director of the Warsaw Conservatory from 1926 to 1929.

With late romantic models (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chopin) as his point of departure, Szymanowski composed a large corpus of symphonic music. In later years, European influences of the most varied kinds - Richard Strauss, Scriabin, and Stravinsky - broadened his range of sound and colour as far as expressionism, but he never renounced the classic-romantic sense of form which he had acquired at the start. Another significant element in his work is Polish folklore;  this can be observed especially in the compositions written after 1920.

Szymanowski's late-romantically influenced symphonic corpus culminated in four symphonies, two violin concertos, and a number of choral works ("Stabat Mater", "Veni Creator") and cantatas ("Agave", "Demeter"). It is as an opera and ballet composer that he is of great significance in the development of a Polish style. His opera "Hagith" was performed for the first time in 1922, and in "King Roger" (1926) he achieved a valid combination of neo-romantic expressiveness and  the melodic richness of Polish folk music.
His chamber music consists primarily of songs, pieces for violin and piano, and piano solo music. The two string quartets, Opp. 37 and 56, occupy an almost unique position in Szymanowski's work, for chamber music for more than two instruments is almost entirely missing. In the sets of songs ("The Hafis' Lovesongs" 1915; "Songs of the Fairytale Princess", 1915) and in the cantatas, the composer was inspired by the poetic content to express extra-musical ideas in musical terms, but in the string quartets he returns to the classically orientated source of "absolute music".

The Idomeneo String Quartet is a Fellow Ensemble at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and recently received great acclaim for its performance in the PLG New Year Series 2011. Clare Hammond is from Cambridge and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and performed in the PLG Young Artists New Year with outstanding success. 'Scintillating pianism … high-octane account … formidable articulation – fairly brought the house down'.
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