Music that doesn't suck, No. 18: Grażyna Bacewicz
Doctoral performance majors at Indiana University are required to complete extensive studies in two minor fields. NERD ALERT: I chose musicology and music theory. My musicology mentor—and dissertation research director, for that matter—was a brilliant, no-nonsense, but nevertheless beloved taskmaster named Halina Goldberg. She is a noted Chopin and all-around Polish music scholar; and, for those of you familiar with A. Peter Brown’s epic Symphonic Repertoire book series, his faculty colleague and eventual successor as IU’s resident Romantic and symphonic literature guru.
She and I hit it off almost immediately, bonded by our mutual obsession with all things orchestral/symphonic, and our shared sense of responsibility to “lost” composers and their music. Grażyna Bacewicz is one of those composers.
Bacewicz was a renowned Polish composer and violinist, active in the first half of the 20th century; and only the second female Polish musician to gain widespread notoriety, the first being the 19th century composer-pianist Maria Szymanowska. A child prodigy, Bacewicz was an exceptional violinist (she was principal violinist of the Polish Radio Orchestra from 1936-38), and it shows up frequently in her idiomatic, virtuosic writing for the instrument. She completed seven violin concertos and five sonatas, amongst a bevy of other solo/chamber pieces, as well as a large number of purely orchestral works. Her Concerto for String Orchestra, in particular, is enjoying a resurgence on concert programs. (It was actually the first work of hers I ever heard.) This week, though, we are covering what is, to my knowledge, her first orchestral work: the 1943, simply-titled, “Overture for Orchestra.”
I believe the Overture to be a perfect introduction to her compositional style, exhibiting her mastery of orchestral “color.” Like last week’s music by Anna Clyne, Bacewicz’s writing strikes an ideal balance between modernity and accessibility…even though the Overture is nearly 80 years old :)
The performance is a recent one by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Łukasz Borowicz: https://youtu.be/oSC5-19aATE