Andrzej Panufnik knew from personal experience what humankind can do at its worst; and yet his music, which has at its core a basically religious viewpoint, combines the melodic and rhythmic gestures of his native Poland with formal systems that reflect the Catholic intellectual tradition of his background, and in so doing aims to express the highest aspirations and the deepest feelings that we can know.
The Sinfonia Votiva is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and cor anglais, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells, three each of triangles, cymbals and tamtams in small, medium and large sizes, harp and strings. The composer strongly recommends doubling the harp part in the second movement with another placed on the opposite side of the platform. That arrangement was followed in this recording.
The following note on the Sinfonia Votiva was provided by the composer:
My Eighth Symphony is an abstract work without any programmatic content. It nevertheless carries a spiritual and patriotic message. It is a votive offering to the miraculous ikon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in my native Poland. This famous Madonna is said to have been painted by St Luke on a piece of cypress wood used as a table top by the Holy Family in Nazareth. It was brought to Poland by way of Byzantium and is still preserved at the Monastery of Jasna Góra, which celebrated its 600th anniversary in 1982.
This picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa (as she is popularly known) is reputed to have supernatural protective powers; it has always been, and still is, the sacred symbol of Independent Poland. For many centuries she has been worshipped by the Polish people; it is to her that they offer their prayers in times of national crisis, especially when their country is under threat from the invader.
The votive offerings made as tributes to the Black Madonna include numerous works of art and objects of great value, some given by ordinary men and women of the land, others by such famous heroes as General Kazimierz Putlaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who once fought bravely for American independence. My Sinfonia Votiva is a personal offering, profoundly influenced by my deeply-felt concern over the events that were taking place in Poland throughout the period of its composition. By chance I started work on this symphony in August 1980 when the shipyard workers in Gdansk had the courage to strike in the cause of justice and human dignity. For the whole year that I took to write this work, Poland was in turmoil, and I completed the symphony as the men, women and children of Poland began a series of desperate hunger marches.
As well as expressing my patriotic and spiritual feelings, the symphony is intended to show off the full splendour of the Boston Symphony Orchestra not only as an ensemble but as an assembly of brilliant individuals. Although the work is symphonic in structure it may also be regarded as a ‘concerto for orchestra’, allowing the players to show not only their technical skill but also their expressive and poetic qualities.
from notes by Sir Andrzej Panufnik © 1981