Grażyna Bacewicz

Life - Childhood and youth

Grażyna Bacewicz’s and her siblings’ musical education began at home. But as early as in 1919 Grażyna enrolled in a private school, Janina Pryssewicz Humanistic Gymnasium in ul. Sienkiewicza. The following year she began to attend a “music school regarded as the best in Łódź, the Helena Kijeńska Music School.” [Magdalena Grajter, “Antoni Dobkiewicz. Przyczynek do portretu pianisty-pedagoga”, in Grażyna Bacewicz. konteksty życia i twórczości, ed. Marta Szoka, Łódź, 2016, p. 65.]. After learning the piano for a year with Helena Kijeńska, she qualified for a higher-level course. At the same time she attended violin lessons conducted by Feliks Wiesenberg and Feliks Dzierżanowski.

In the autumn of 1921 a new teacher joined the school’s staff. He was Kazimierz Sikorski, “dragged out of Lviv” – as he recalls – where he studied musicology with Professor Adolf Chybiński. He was entrusted with the teaching of theoretical subjects: principles of music, solfège, harmony, counterpoint, musical forms and history of music, which he raised to a high level. He taught the entire Bacewicz family, for both Grażyna’s brothers, Kiejstut and Witold, and her sister Wanda attended the Helena Kijeńska School.

Professor Sikorski remembered Grażyna from those days as a child with incredible musical talent, excellent sense of hearing and memory, and very diligent. On 28 May 1922 the teachers and pupils celebrated the tenth anniversary of the directorship of Helena Kijeńska, who, having taken charge of the school, had made it flourish. The Archives of the Łódź Academy of Music, a natural successor to the school, contain a commemorative diploma featuring the signatures of the Bacewicz siblings, among others.

The year 1922 was also marked by a change in the status of the school, which was renamed Municipal Conservatory. Its staff included Antoni Dobkiewicz, a pianist and teacher, private pupil of Teodor Leszetycki and graduate of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, who later married Helena Kijeńska. Grażyna continued her piano studies with him. Her talent and industriousness suggested she would become an outstanding virtuoso. The only uncertainty was which instrument she would choose – violin or piano – as both interested her in an equal measure. She also became passionate about something else quite early. Already when she was thirteen, perhaps influenced by her lessons with Professor Sikorski, she realised that composing would be her goal in life. This is how she recalled her choices years later:

At that time I attended harmony and counterpoint classes at the Conservatory; composition wasn’t obligatory for me, if I may say so. Thus any attempts were spontaneous and voluntary. I couldn’t and didn’t want to resist them. These first attempts made me realise already at that time that my main goal in life would be writing music.

Grażyna Bacewicz for the Polish Radio’s International Service, 1964, quoted after Ruch Muzyczny, 1989, no. 3, p. 7.

Kazimierz Sikorski, who in 1925 left for Paris, was succeeded at the Conservatory by Kazimierz Wiłkomirski, an eminent cellist and expert teacher. This is how he recalled that period and one of his students:

I did my best for my students to benefit as much as possible – and to some extent I succeeded. In any case, Grażyna Bacewicz, who attended my musical form lessons as a teenager, when she was a famous composer years later had fond memories of these studies, claiming that she benefited greatly from them.  I also taught her counterpoint, introducing her to the secrets of the fugue and explaining in detail the rules of constructing a real and a tonal answer. I remember that the written work of this extraordinary (and by no means “easy”) student contained numerous departures from the strict rules I had taught her, rules against which the future composer would constantly rebel. ‘Does it have to be like that? Why? Why can’t it be done differently?’ I would usually reply that this was about the unshakable logic of the musical thought, which was the principal characteristic of the fugue as such. But Grażyna wasn’t easily convinced.

Kazimierz Wiłkomirski, Wspomnienia, Kraków 1971, p. 292.

The results of the talented student’s struggle with the theoretical code presented to her in good faith by the experienced musician could be observed in the scores of works like 2 Preludes and Fugues and 3 Fugues for piano from 1927, 2 Double Fuguesfor string quartet, Double Fugue for mixed choir a cappella from 1928 as well as the 1927 Song for violin and piano, which also exists in a version for voice and piano to a text by the composer. Worthy of note among the earlier pieces are the Theme with Variationsand 4 Preludes for piano as well as March, an amusing stylisation of the Polish national anthem.

Although “composition wasn’t obligatory” for her, some results of the young Conservatory student’s “voluntary” work were presented by her in public during concerts of Professor Dobkiewicz’s piano class. During a concert at the Łódź Philharmonic Hall on 7 June 1925 Grażyna played her Theme with Variations, and on 26 February 1928, also at the Łódź Philharmonic Hall, she played 2 Preludes and Fuguesfrom 1927. Her repertoire obviously was not limited to just her own pieces. During the same concert Grażyna played Mikołaj Medtner’s Sonata in D minoras well as March(probably the popular transcription of the Marchfrom Sergei Prokofiev’s opera Love for Three Oranges). The Łódź press took note of the performances by the Conservatory students, writing that “Grażyna Bacewicz clearly leans towards the latest trends in music” and “Miss Bacewicz revealed a great temperament of a virtuoso”.

Grażyna also played a different repertoire; at the annual student concert in 1927, which took place at the Łódź Philharmonic Hall as usual, the young artist performed Mendelssohn’s Piano Concertoin G minor. It seems thus that Grażyna’s and her siblings’ childhood and youth were filled primarily with learning. Was there also time for activities appropriate for their ages? An answer to this question was given by Kiejstut Bacewicz, persuaded by Krzysztof Droba to reminisce about his brother Witold. Here is what he said:

Witold’s childhood and school years, like those of the rest of us, were extremely busy: throughout all these years we had to bear the burden of double education – general and musical – first at home and later at school and the conservatory. Periods of carefree rest came during the summer holidays, which until the outbreak of the First World War we used to spent with our parents in the Lithuanian countryside at my father’s relatives’, gradually acquiring – naturally, it could be said – the Lithuanian language. During the holidays we also regularly visited the landed estates of our mother’s close relatives, when in turn we were immersed in the traditional atmosphere of Polish gentry manors.

Kiejstut Bacewicz, “Mój brat Witold”, Ruch Muzyczny, 1986, no. 16, p. 17.

In 1928 Grażyna Bacewicz passed her final exams at the Janina Pryssewiczówna Secondary School for girls. As the examination report demonstrates, she got no excellent grades in any of the subjects – she was mostly graded satisfactory and good. In the same year she completed her education at the Conservatory. Further steps in the education process were obvious, especially given the fact that Kazimierz Sikorski had returned to Poland and since 1927 had been Head of Composition at the Warsaw Conservatory.

However, there was a painful dimensions to these plans. Vincas Bacevičius, a devoted teacher in Łódź schools and exemplary educator of his own children – never hid his patriotic feelings, even equating his own desires with the views of Lithuanian nationalists at the time. That is why when as a result of the complex political transformations and change in the power balance after the First World War there emerged an independent Lithuanian state, he decided to return to his homeland. He made the decision in 1923, that is at a time of the highest friction between Poland and Lithuania, a time of distrust fuelled by the unfinished conflict over Vilnius, a time of a fight between two nationalisms and complete opposition of the interests of Poles – either dreaming about resurrecting the Union or about a federation, or accepting only an “ethnographic Lithuania” – and Lithuanians many of whom wanted to bury the entire common past and rebuild Lithuania strong in its own sense of nationhood and resistant to attempts at incorporation. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that an attempt by a Lithuanian who had been living in Poland for years to leave the country came up against some resistance of Polish state officials. This is how his son Kiejstut described it:

When in 1923 the Polish authorities made it difficult for my father to move to Lithuania, not wanting to grant him the relevant permit (and even resorting to blackmail: promise to issue a permit to leave without being able to return [on the basis of Wanda Bacewicz’s unpublished memoirs, in the author’s possession]), he chose a radical step: he crossed the border with Lithuania illegally, deciding to remain in his homeland forever and take active part in the creative efforts of his nation.

Kiejstut Bacewicz, “Mój brat Witold”, Ruch Muzyczny, 1986, no. 16, p. 18.

After settling in Kaunas, Vincas Bacevičius began to work as a teacher. He intended to bring his family to Lithuania, but despite frequent visits, it proved impossible to recreate the Bacewicz’s Łódź home in Kaunas.