Prayer to the Virgin of Skempe for voice(s) and organ (or piano or group of instruments)
This short song is a prayer to a venerated statue of the Virgin Mary in Skempe in the Dobrzyń region of Poland. The text is a poem by Panufnik’s friend Jerzy Pietrkiewicz, a poet who came from that region and, despite living in London for many years, was very strongly attached to the regional 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 popularized in the region and for proceeds from the sale of the score to help fund 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 does a shared melody to words of a popular prayer to the Guardian Angel appear, which is included in a slightly modified version of Pietrkiewicz’s poem and which ends this brief, barely two-minute-long piece. 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. Today the Prayer functions in two versions: the very simple one for voice (or unison chorus) and organ (or piano or other instrument), written by Andrzej Panufnik, and the 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.