Concert Notes

Grażyna Bacewicz’s Partita for Orchestra

Notes by TŌN violinist Emerie Mon

Grażyna Bacewicz wore many hats over the course of her very accomplished life, which included the roles of concert violinist, conservatory professor, prominent juror for competitions, and composer of over 200 works. Throughout her lifetime, she showed an unrelenting desire to expand her horizons and maintain a vast range of interests, such as philosophy and literature. 

Her open-mindedness for innovation played a large role in her compositions and position as a composer. She helped pave the way for the next wave of Polish composers with a mixture of neo-classicism and modernism, despite the cultural stagnation that occurred as Poland sought to embrace nationalism as a response to the devastating loss of stability and identity post-war. As stated eloquently by her friend and fellow Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, “It does not appear proper to me to judge her works only in the light of the compositional styles and rapidly changing artistic currents of her lifetime. Like so many other composers of larger compositional forms, she was to a great degree independent of the atmosphere surrounding her. Rather, it was her music that helped to create that atmosphere . . . .”

The Partita was written in 1955 after a long stint in the hospital due to a car accident, which also coincided with the timeframe in which Bacewicz decided to retire as a concert violinist in favor of composing. It consists of four short movements lasting three to four minutes each, which blend together seamlessly despite having vastly differing characters. In the first movement, Preludium, the work opens with a half-step, low-register, repeating motif that immediately sets a serious, almost menacing tone. Bacewicz continues to employ small motifs that are then expanded upon throughout the work. The second movement, Toccata, uses rhythm and just enough skewed meter to create a dance, one where it increasingly feels like you’ll spin out of control. Intermezzo, the third movement, immediately transports you into a dream-like soundscape with the flute, clarinet, and oboe passing a plaintive melody between themselves over a ghostly string section, accompanied by the glockenspiel and harp acting as eerie church bells. The piece finishes on an unapologetically triumphant note with the last movement, Rondo, which calls to mind heavy inspiration from folk elements with its rhythmic confidence and whirlwind ending.