Society for the Promotion of New Music

The Society for the Promotion of New Music (originally The Committee for the Promotion of New Music) was founded in London, 1943, by composer Francis Chargin, for the purpose of promoting the creation, performance and appreciation of new music by young and unestablished composers. The SPNM was a membership organisation which sought to find the best new composers and to help support their careers, especially in the UK. All schools, styles and nationalities (as long as the composer was a UK resident) were welcome. Composers would submit work to the SPNM and, if their work was found to be of merit, the young composer would have a chance to hear it performed in concert. The panel reviewing submissions were not looking for masterpieces and expected works to be rough and ready in part, allowing for the inexperience of the composer. What the SPNM’s reading panel were looking for was originality and potential. After the performance, constructive feedback was provided not only by professional musicians but audience members as well. If a composer’s work was judged to be of outstanding quality, then it would find its way onto the List of Recommended Works, meaning that it would be recommended for publication and performance outside of the SPNM.

Despite its charitable ambitions, the SPNM faced criticism throughout its history. The SPNM’s chief concern of providing self-help to composers meant that the music played at its concerts was not always popular with a general audience. The SPNM’s criteria for choosing its repertoire was also broad and inconsistent. Although older and more established composers’ work still counted as ‘new music’, if the composer was ‘unrecognised’, some felt that there was a bias in favour of younger composers. Nevertheless, the SPNM’s significance should not be undermined by these criticisms. The organisation helped a number of contemporary classical composers gain recognition. Composers such as Harrison Birtwisle, Roger Smalley, and Peter Zinovieff benefitted from the SPNM’s support. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Music (6th edition), in its first 50 years, over ‘8,500 composers were represented in its concerts and over 9,000 scores were submitted to it’. In 2008, the SPNM merged with other organisations, including the British Music Information Centre, to form Sound and Music, ‘the national charity for new music in the UK’.

The SPNM’s archive at Heritage Quay contains records relating to the administration of the Society, including correspondence and papers, recordings, calls for work from composers, and programmes.

Have a look at our recent post on Arthur Arathoon Paul, whose fascinating story was unearthed during work on the SPNM archive.

The Philip Greenwood Archive

The Philip Greenwood Archive consists of research material from former University of Huddersfield student, Philip Greenwood’s PHD project on the life and works of the late Polish classical composer, Sir Andrzej Panufnik. Items in this collection include: Greenwood’s research notes, books and journal articles, letters, interview transcripts, written work by Panufnik, newspaper and magazine extracts about the composer- and a great number of music scores! I was unfamiliar with Panufnik before I began helping to catalogue this collection, but quickly became intrigued by his story, which emerged from the pages of Greenwood’s notes.

Andrzej Panufnik at 100
Andrzej Panufnik. Courtesy: http://www.classical-music.com/article/andrzej-panufnik-100

Andrzej Panufnik was born in Warsaw, Poland on the 24th September 1914. Panufnik’s father was an engineer by trade with a passion for designing and making violins, while his mother was an accomplished violinist and composer. Despite being immersed and interested in music from an early age, Panufnik’s father discouraged him from perusing a career in music as it was ‘not a profession for a gentleman’. Nevertheless, with his mother’s support, he started receiving weekly music lessons at the Warsaw Conservatoire. He became a full-time student there at age seventeen and gained his Diploma with Distinction in 1936, graduating in half the usual time. He then completed his studies in Vienna, Paris and London. With the prospect of an imminent war in Europe, however, Panufnik returned home to Warsaw to be with his parents. Shortly afterwards, the Nazi and Soviet armies came marching into Poland, an event which triggered the Second World War. All Polish music was subsequently banned by the occupying forces. Panufnik fiercely opposed the Nazi occupation, and spent the war years playing piano for underground and charity concerts, as well as writing patriotic songs under a pseudonym. The failed Warsaw Uprising of 1944 had tragic personal consequences for Panufnik, as not only were all of his early compositional works entirely destroyed, but his brother also lost his life as a member of the Polish Underground Resistance Army. Panufnik later recreated three of his lost works and dedicated his rewritten Tragic Overture to his brother. After the war, Panufnik was appointed conductor of the Cracow and Warsaw Philharmonic orchestras and enjoyed success as a composer and conductor. However, Panufnik was frustrated with the political control over the lives and work of creative artists. In 1954, he left Poland and settled in England. He said that he would only return to his home country once it was free from Soviet occupation.

Three years later he was appointed conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he experienced great success as a conductor, although he left the post in 1959 to concentrate on composing. In 1963 he married his second wife, photographer Camilla Jessel, settling in Twickenham near London. Shortly afterwards he won first prize at the International Composers’ Competition for his Sinfonia Sacra which proved to be his breakthrough. More compositions followed and he achieved international recognition for his work. During his lifetime he wrote ten symphonies, three string quartets, and concerti for piano, violin, bassoon and cello. In 1990, he finally returned to his native Poland for a performance of a number of his works at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. He died the following year. Shortly before his death, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music.

Unfortunately, there is no record of Greenwood’s completed thesis being held by the University library, although we did come across a possible draft version of the thesis in the collection. Nevertheless, Greenwood’s passion for Panufnik’s story and music is evident through the dedication he put into his research. For example, in his research notes, Greenwood describes an emotional meeting with the composer’s widow, Lady Camilla Panufnik, where she showed him her husband’s studio. This meeting proved instrumental in convincing Greenwood to pursue his PHD project idea.

If you’re curious to hear what Panufnik’s music sounds like, have a listen to these recordings of his Tragic Overture and Sinfonia Sacra, the scores for which are held here at Heritage Quay.