Composers draw inspiration from their environment and their circumstances. And since human conflict seems to unfortunately be part of the human experience through history, the horrors of war, tyranny and oppression have ignited the creative spark in composers as well. Josef Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of War) also known as Paukenmesse (Kettledrum Mass) is believed by scholars to express anti-war sentiment (although there is no clear indication from Haydn that this was his intention) from the ‘unsettled nature’ of the music quite atypical of the composer. Nearer our time, Dmitri Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, Alban Berg, Witold Lutoslawski, Michael Tippett have all worn their pacifist hearts on their sleeves in their music.
Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) lived through the German occupation of Warsaw during World War II, forming a piano duo with his friend and fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) and playing in cafés there. Panufnik composed several illegal Songs of Underground Resistance, especially “Warsaw Children” which became very popular. Other compositions of his with pacificism at their core include Tragic Overture, Symphony of Peace and its revised version Sinfonia Elegiaca dedicated to those who perished in World War II; and Katyń Epitaph, a commemoration of the 22,000 victims of the Katyń Forest massacre in 1940. This being Panufnik’s centenary year, a number of celebratory events and concerts are being held across the world.
It is perhaps not surprising that his daughter Roxanna Panufnik (b. 1968) should inherit a similar commitment and passion for peace.
In 2004, she wrote a violin concerto for Daniel Hope called “Abraham”, which explored the story from Genesis 22, the story of Abraham and Isaac. The story is common to Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths and her composition incorporated music elements from the three faiths.
Commissioned by the World Orchestra for Peace to write music for their concert in 2008, she sent them a recording of “Abraham” which they loved. “They asked me to make an orchestral prelude out of it which included making it two-thirds of the length and also assimilating the solo violin part into the rest of the orchestra.”
The result was “Three Paths to Peace”, which received its European premiere last month at the BBC Proms 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall London, and performed again by the World Orchestra for Peace and Valery Gergiev.
In an interview to the BBC last month, Ms Panufnik explained, “It opens with a quasi-Islamic ‘prayer’. I took advice from various mullahs, and used the rhythm of the words, the quarter-tones, the lovely elaborate ornamentation of them, and the way it moves. With the Jewish music, I’ve used a traditional prayer [Ashkenazi Jewish chant] and Shofar horn calls. And then with the Christian music, I’ve used church bells and there’s plainsong as well. So the idea is that at the last minute as Abraham is about to kill his son [Isaac], there is a reprieve, the angel coming down to stop him. And this leads to the last section of the piece which combines all these different musical elements from all the three faiths in a joyous and harmonious conclusion.”
The work also uses Sufi drum patterns. Panufnik spent much time on research to avoid any chance of inadvertently offending any faith. Muslim clerics advised her to listen to actual calls to prayer to derive inspiration for her music. She listened to calls to prayer in the United Kingdom and from Pakistan and Turkey and took musical elements from these sources.
At a time when the cradle of all three faiths in the Middle East is being torn apart yet again by bombardment, with children the most vulnerable casualties, such music could not have greater urgency and resonance.
For those interested in listening to “Three Paths to Peace”, it is still available to hear for a few more weeks on internet radio at this link: http://bbc.in/1nbB40C.
Panufnik’s interest in faith has found expression in other compositions too, notably her Westminster Mass (1997), Magnificat (2012), Nunc Dimittus (2012) and most recently her Tallinn Mass –Dance of Life, with our own soprano Patricia Rozario singing the part of Life itself.
A word or two about the World Orchestra of Peace. It was created in 1995 by noted conductor Sir George Solti to affirm, as he described it, ‘the unique strength of music as an ambassador for peace’.
It is an expression of harmony on several levels. It comes into existence for special occasions, attracting musicians from top-notch orchestras and ensembles all over the world, many of them concertmasters and section leaders. Status becomes a secondary issue however, with “the first being last and the last first” as their seating positions rotate, and they take turns leading. Even a simple matter of tuning becomes an issue, as orchestras around the world play at different pitches. None of the musicians in the World Orchestra for Peace draw a salary, but the fact that they keep returning to it is testimony to the value they attach to the cause of peace through their music.
In an interview to the BBC last month, the orchestra director Charles Kaye said, “They listen to each other from the first bar, in 10 minutes of coming together. It doesn’t matter what is happening in their countries. There’s conflict and war all over the place. That’s put aside, and they make music as best as they can, and the way they do it is by communicating with each other, listening to each other.”
“In the orchestra, we have one daughter of a man who fought and was medalled in WW I; four grandchildren of similar people whose lives were totally affected by WW I, and any number of great-grandchildren. But each of them comes to make music together and, a hundred years later, I hope that we’re doing something special to tell everyone ‘Let’s make beautiful music together for peace, rather than war.’”
“We are representing the whole world to the highest level of the profession. We can’t do more than set an example. And that’s why, as long as I can bring them back together, for special occasions, like this year, I’m very pleased, because, we keep reminding the world that musicians care about peace, and we’re doing our bit.”
(An edited version of this article was published on 10 August 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)