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Roxanna Panufnik: Byrd-inspired

Roxanna Panifnik b.1968 ARAM, GRSM(hons), LRAM studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and, since then, has written a wide range of pieces – opera, ballet, music theatre, choral works, orchestral and chamber compositions, and music for film and television – which are performed all over the world.

In 2015, conductor Suzy Digby OBE asked me if I would write a Byrd-inspired piece for her new super-choir, ORA. My son had just become a Westminster Abbey chorister so Byrd’s extraordinarily beautiful music was only just really becoming known to me. As I studied his Five Part Mass, I was struck by how quickly and suddenly he would transpose and was happily surprised at his radical (for his time) harmonic changes. My favourite piece is his Ave Verum Corpus – the false relation on the word ‘miserere’ still catches my breath, even though I know it’s coming.

headshot of composer roxanna panufnik at the piano writing music

My Kyrie after Byrd has become one of my most performed pieces (especially this year!) and now I’m very excitedly anticipating the world premiere (9th November, 2023) of a new harpsichord piece Tears, no more - commissioned by London International Festival of Early Music for Jane Chapman. The piece takes its inspiration from Byrd’s Pavana Lachrymae (which, in turn, takes its inspiration from Dowland’s original work of the same title) and is variated passionately, quirkily and exotically…

I also hugely admire his courage at sticking to his Catholic guns despite living in a time of brutal persecution for being of the ‘wrong’ faith. It's a mark of an extremely fine composer to still be inspiring composers and performers today and I look forward to discovering more of his work.

Roxanna Panufnik, 12th October, 2023


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