Who was Grażyna Bacewicz?

Posted on: October 20th, 2020 by Racine Symphony Orchestra No Comments

Program notes written by Pat Badger

Quartet for 4 Violins (1949) – Grazyna Bacewicz (1909 – 1969)

  • I Allegretto – Allegro giocoso
  • II Andante tranquillo
  • III Molto Allegro

Grazyna Bacewicz was born early in 1909 in Lodz, Poland. Like Mendelssohn and Mozart, her family figures prominently in the cultivation of her talents. Her father begins to teach her violin and piano at age five, and she develops an amazing skill, performing concertos with the local orchestra before she is 12. She graduates summa cum laude from the Warsaw Conservatory with degrees in both composition and violin. At the Ecole Normale in Paris she studies composition with Nadia Boulanger and, later, violin with Carl Flesch. After teaching briefly in Lodz, she settles in Warsaw and becomes the principal violinist with the Polish Radio Orchestra. During World War II she lives in Warsaw, sometimes giving underground secret concerts. Following the Warsaw uprising, she and her family escape to Lublin. After the war she is a professor of music in Lodz. In addition, Bacewicz is a writer, creating in manuscript a novel, short stories and a dramatic sketch. 

The Quartet for 4 Violins was originally written in 1949 as a teaching piece, using Polish folk themes in a neoclassical way. The Allegretto-Allegro giocoso begins in a slow, elegiac manner before bursting into a joyful theme, which alternates with a lyrical one, enhanced by effective trills and, later, pizzicato. The Andante features a meditative theme, artfully enhanced by pizzicato and shimmering trills before returning to the initial soulful idea and dying away into nothingness. The final Molto Allegro begins with a slashing figure, followed by romping eighth notes and eventually a lyrical section; these elements recur throughout the piece. As in the other movements, Bacewicz employs pizzicato effectively as well the building of chords through the four instruments. The movement ends with triumphal exclamation.  

In the late 1940s and 1950s Polish composers are impacted by the imposition of “socialist   realism,” limiting their freedom to apply musical trends being used elsewhere. However, the focus on nationalism did result in the collecting of folk music, which provides a new source of  inspiration. Bacewicz is able to adapt, pushing herself in style and form, while gaining ideas from Polish folk music.  As Poland’s most acclaimed woman composer of the 20th century, she leaves us a broad array of compositions: symphonies, concertos, songs, ballets, piano pieces, chamber music, and solos,

Program Note Sources

This project sponsored in part by the Racine Community Foundation.