Grażyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Grażyna Bacewicz was Born in Łódź, Poland in 1909, Bacewicz was introduced to music at a young age by her father. She furthered her musical studies by enrolling at the Warsaw Conservatory, where she majored in piano, violin and composition. Afterwards she travelled to Paris, where she furthered her compositional studies with Nadia Boulanger. Bacewicz’s output was prolific for her time, with her composing four symphonies, seven violin concertos (plus concertos for cello, piano and viola), seven string quartets, chamber music, vocal music, piano music and two ballets. Her skills were utilised by a range of different ensembles and musicians.
Bacewicz’s style of composing is often referred to as neoclassical, although she was often vocal about how she did not want to be put in a ‘genre box.’ Bacewicz was able to explore serialism and other avant-garde techniques after the Polish political landscape began to change after 1956. Unlike her contemporaries, Bacewicz did not veer far from her pre-war style of composing after 1956. What is most surprising is that her works are only really being found and celebrated in the modern day in other countries.
Composed in 1948 and premiered by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra is often referred to as her opus magnum. The concert earned Bacewicz the State Award of the 3rd Degree in 1950, with the piece going on to please audiences around the world. The work is a fantastic example of Polish neoclassicism – something that Bacewicz was at the heart of.
The opening movement, classic in style and genre, takes inspiration from some of the greats gone by. Focusing on rhythms that move together, the opening theme of the movement sees the strings unify for a powerful melody. Throughout the movement you can hear Bacewicz’s process in terms of structure and harmony. From crunchy dissonant passages to more lyrical counter-themes, this movement encapsulates a lot of styles into one.
The lyrical second movement features fragments of melody that are pinned together by voices from across the ensemble. The diverse atmospheres that are created by using this technique is nothing short of astounding, with the delicate harmonics soaring above the orchestra. As the ensemble grow into a climatic section, the music flourishes, with Bacewicz’s clever orchestrations paying dividends.
The energetic finale is rondo-like in its structure, with folk music laying at the heart of the melodies. The bouncy themes are bombastic in places with the strings rushing between lines to keep up with the fast tempo. Unifying the strings across certain themes adds a boldness to the music, with the folk themes coming out into the forefront. After a reprise of the melody, the concerto comes to a rousing finish.
Ⓒ Alex Burns