String Quartet No. 1
Panufnik’s work in the quartet genre goes back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. The archives of the Polish Composers’ Union contain documents testifying to the fact that as early as 1948 the composer was thinking about writing a Ballad for String Quartet, perhaps using folk motifs. However, the deadline for the completion of the work kept being postponed and in the end the work was not written. It was not until 1976 that Panufnik wrote his String Quartet No. 1, dedicating it to his wife.
The original version of the work, presented in October 1976, consisted of two parts, Prelude and Transformations; after the premiere the composer added a third part, Postlude. Thus he created another triptych. Panufnik constructed String Quartet No. 1 as a kind of conversation between four individual instruments. This is particularly evident in the first part, in which each instrumentalist performs like a soloist, introducing a distinct type of expression. According to the composer, the four instruments represent very different personalities here – like different people having a conversation:
[..] one agitated, very aggressive (Violin I); one ironic, witty (Violin II), one rather pompous (Viola) and the last calmly philosophical (Cello).
Thus the composer presents a “conversation” of instruments, with each player performing like a soloist or in duet; only in the second part of the quartet can we finally hear the full sound of all four instruments. They are now heard together and develop successive musical ideas slowly, in a calm but very expressive mood achieved thanks to the fact that the voices move in long rhythmic values.The sound material in the quartet is based on a 3-note cell composed of a minor second and a tritone (Panufnik’s favourite interval cell, utilized here in the form of the combination B-C-F sharp). The cell is given in a simple manner in the first and last movements, undergoing various transformations in the middle movement, hence its title – Transformations. At the same time, it is the main movement of the quartet. The finale, Postlude, brings back the anxious conversation from the Prelude, the difference being that in the concluding passage it leads to an agreement symbolized by the unison of all instruments.