Roxanna Panufnik | Playlist

I have two favorite pieces by my father. It’s no coincidence, I think, that they were actually written in the same year. And I didn’t realize it until this year because this year, for obvious reasons, I’ve been reading a lot about my father and I’ve had to write a lot about him. These two pieces, Sinfonia Sacra and Song to the Virgin Mary, were both written in 1963, which is the year that he married my mother.

And I’d never made this connection before. Sinfonia Sacra is a stunningly beautiful and spiritual orchestral work. It’s actually best heard live, it makes an incredible impact, particularly one part when there’s a lot of loud, mellifluous, fantastic music, with brass and winds. And then it suddenly stops and there’s this bed of strings with beautiful, warm harmonies. For me, it encapsulates everything that I love about my father’s music. And Song to the Virgin Mary –beautiful, one of very few pieces he wrote for voice. When I listen to this, I wish he had written more for choir. It’s a beautiful piece and it has gorgeous harmonies. I think it’s quite difficult to sing, but it sounds gorgeous. He also made an arrangement for strings and both my father and I share a great love for strings and how they have almost a vocal quality, a very human quality about the sound they make. So my favorite Virgin is actually for string sextet because of the warmth of the harmonies and it’s very ardent and passionate. It’s very obvious to me that at the time he was writing it, he was extremely happy and extremely in love.

I also love his third string quartet “Wycinanki”, the one about the paper cuts. I love it because I’m in awe of how he wrote a piece that was meant for a competition. There were a lot of technical demands, he had to write a piece for string quartet that exploited every possible technique, every timbre, being able to balance between the parts. It’s apparently very, very difficult. But when I hear it being played, it also covers every mood and emotion in a very short space of time. I think it’s a remarkable work, which he wrote toward the end of his life.

My next favorite work is his Violin Concerto. It was written in 1972 when I was four years old. There’s so much to love in this piece! It’s a piece, I think, that everybody would like. Particularly the slow movement, which is one of his most profoundly beautiful works. And he employs one of my favorite musical things, which is a simultaneous major and minor, and he plays with this melodically and harmonically. But it’s very hard for me to listen to now because Radio 3 played it when they announced his death. It’s a very emotional piece for me. But it is wonderful and its third movement is very playful, exciting and rhythmic. It's based on the traditional Polish dance called the oberek which I used later in my Wind Quartet not knowing that he had used it in his Violin Concerto – one of many coincidences. It’s a stunning work and I highly recommend it.

And then I love Tragic Overture, which was written in 1942 in Warsaw. It’s not a happy piece, but it’s incredibly exciting and uplifting. I love the almost sound effects – but they’re not sound effects, they are very musical, but you hear bombs falling, you hear machine guns and he’s putting everything that he’s feeling and hearing at that time in that music and it’s an incredibly important part of his history and a part of everyone’s history. Again, I think this would appeal to lots of people.

Finally, I love his Piano Trio. He was only nineteen when he wrote this and it’s incredible to think that, as with the third string quartet, he wrote it as an exercise. He was studying composition in Warsaw and he was trying all these different things – to me it sounds beautiful, incredibly sophisticated both harmonically and structurally for a nineteen year old. I could never have written this even in my twenties. And I also love it because it has a rather French flavor and when I first heard it I was learning to play flute and harp, and learning a lot of French music. It appeals to me very much on that level. I could go on and on for hours and hours, but I think that’s probably enough for the moment.