Piano Trio opens the catalogue of Panufnik’s works; it is his Opus 1 and only surviving pre-war composition. Or, in fact, it is a reconstructed composition, because after all his scores written before 1944 were burnt in the Warsaw Uprising, the composer decided to reconstruct three of them from memory. Piano Trio is one; the other two are Tragic Overture for orchestra and Five Polish Peasant Songs for unison soprano voices and woodwinds.
Performed for the first time in Warsaw in 1936, Piano Trio was very warmly received by critics, who became interested in the young composer. Jan Maklakiewicz wrote about the work:
Panufnik’s Piano Trio is full of great panache and lively temperament of an artist of high musical culture. Elements of youthful rebellion, struggle and experimentation, elements that are strong and decisive, wrapped in the most sincere romanticism of fresh thematic invention on an incredibly rich and varied emotional scale, which we can hear in Panufnik’s music, bring to mind some analogies with the music of Brahms. Andrzej Panufnik enclosed the rich inner content of his Piano Trio in an elegant and colourful outer framework. The young composer’s evocative purity and sincerity of inspiration captured the performers. [...] Panufnik’s composition [...] is a new, very significant work in our musical life. It fully deserves as much attention as possible. Its brilliant entry should leave a stronger mark.
The formal structure of the Trio draws clearly on the classical model. The work consists of three movements: an extended sonata allegro preceded by a slow introduction (Poco adagio – Allegro – Poco adagio), a song-like, beautifully lyrical second movement (Largo) and a whirling, dancing scherzo (Presto). This youthful piece already displays many features typical of Panufnik’s later oeuvre, including clarity of formal structure, well thought-out in the smallest details, as well as original, profoundly emotional content filling that structure. Thus, even if we were to look for similarities between the style of the Piano Trio and neoclassicism, extremely popular before the war, there is no doubt that its individual, profound expression makes the work different from typical neoclassical productions of that period, attracting successive generations of performers.
After reconstructing the work in 1945, the composer dedicated it to the memory of his mother.