Symphony No. 10 for orchestra
The last symphony in Panufnik’s catalogue resulted from his friendship with Georg Solti and the admiration this outstanding conductor had for the composer’s music. Solti, as director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, asked Panufnik to compose a symphonic work in connection with the orchestra’s centenary in 1990. This commission led to the writing of Symphony No. 10. The work is the culmination of Panufnik’s symphonic cycle, a cycle without parallel, in artistic and quantitative terms, among the oeuvres of Polish composers to date.
Symphony No. 10 is the only one of Panufnik’s symphonies without a programme title. The composer wrote about it:
Symphony No. 10 is dedicated to Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned it in celebration of the orchestra’s centenary. The commission was at once a great honour and a tremendous challenge. My first thought was to write a show-piece with virtuoso pyrotechnics to take fullest advantage of the celebrated technical possibilities of the Orchestra. However, I eventually decided that the best homage to these brilliant players would be a symphony which, through various combinations of groups of instruments, would demonstrate their supreme sound quality, show off their collective musicianship and humanity, and their ability to convey their intense and profound feeling.
The symphony is a single-movement work. Its structure, like that of most of Panufnik’s works from the 1970s onwards, is defined by a geometric figure. This time is the so-called “golden ellipse”, the shape of which determines the progression and structure of the work. The musical material of the symphony is based on a contrast between a tonal melodic line (introduced at the beginning by the trombone) and flow of the material of the E-F-B interval cell (the composer’s favourite cell). This device emphasizes an element of rivalry between instruments or groups of instruments, heightening the dramatic and expressive effect of the work. The tension thus produced, progressing through the various instrument groups – from brass with percussion and piano to string groups with the woodwinds – leads to the turbulent climax of an orchestral tutti. This is suddenly cut short for emotions to be gradually calmed – in the final coda, the composer brings in a prayer-like mood created by strings with small contributions from flutes and clarinets as well as the harp, the last two arpeggios of which gently close the work.