andrzejimageAndrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was forced to start his musical career again in England from 1954, when he finally defected from Poland after some horrific wartime experiences. Much of his early music was lost, although some – such as the Tragic Overture of 1945, played at the BBC Proms on Friday – he later reconstructed. Based around a constantly present four note motif, the overture includes onomatopoetic sounds, such as gunfire, the noise of an aircraft, and at the very end a final “shriek of anguish” (in the words of the composer). It has been described as an “overtly violent, non-verbal protest against the Nazi regime”. It was great to hear it broadcast from the Proms (where Panufnik’s music has only rarely been heard in the past), but the biggest impact came from a second short work of his on the same programme.

Lullaby was composed in 1947, inspired by a visit to London before the composer came to live there. Walking over Waterloo Bridge, Panufnik stopped and noticed the slowly flowing river beneath him, and the moon above, occasionally obscured by clouds. He re-created the scene using two harps playing a rocking rhythm to represent the flowing waters of the Thames, with 29 solo string players creating a complex texture in chromatically sliding microtones, above them. Within that body of strings a violin, viola and cello play the lullaby of the title, based on a Polish folk song and representing the moon. The sound is ethereal and the folk song fades in and out of focus like the clouds gliding across the moon.

Lullaby is something of a landmark in Polish music, and set off a series of further “string texture” works from composers such as Penderecki and Gorecki. But like much of Panufnik’s music, it was neglected until a revival by Oliver Knussen in 2008 – which is a shame because it illustrates the kind of careful balance between experimentation, drama and emotion that makes Panufnik’s music so compelling. The centenary next year will hopefully spur a further revival.