Grażyna Bacewicz

Works in detail

Concerto for Large Symphony Orchestra

In his analysis of the last stage of Grażyna Bacewicz’s oeuvre, Tadeusz A. Zieliński [Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Spotkania z muzyką współczesną, Kraków 1974], appreciating the novelty of the ephemeral Pensieri notturni of 1961, concluded:

Bacewicz’s element is still something else, however: large, solid, ‘Bartókian’ forms, aggressive dynamism in the development of musical action, virtuosity and panache, and at the same time precision and artistry in planning out the structure of a multi-part piece.

This attitude is expressed in her Concerto for Large Symphony Orchestra composed in 1962. Despite a return to the four-movement symphonic form, the work has little in common with the monumentalism of the old symphonies. The texture is more dispersed, woven out of short motifs, chords, sound forms (for example, short glissandos), individual notes making up ametric sequences. These small figures are combined into narrative series with directed tension and growing expression released in successive culminations. Repeatability – although not literal – of some forms, for example, dialogues of the strings and wind instruments with short piano chords in groups of two or three, like in the first movement (Allegro), reminiscences of interval scales in the strings, short viola cantilena woven into ostinato rhythms of other instruments in the second movement (from Meno mosso) of the first movement, subordination of the final part of this movement to the structuring action of rhythm with a slightly jazzy tone, individualisation of the various instruments or their groups sanctioning the title of the piece – these are examples of the composer’s personal contribution to the development of the sonoristic language.

The second movement (Largo) has an ABA1 form. Long-held, quiet chords, and piano and celesta ostinato are followed by a dialogue of two flutes and two clarinets based on rotationally changed short figures. This is accompanied by the glockenspiel, vibraphone, celesta and harp, finally the strings and bassoon introducing a degree of anxiety (più vivo, allargando). Thus begins the middle fragment with a dense texture (divided strings, chorale motifs of the wind instruments, piano ostinato). The calm of the initial fragment returns in a moment with a brief reminder, by a solo flute, of the characteristic motif from the beginning of the movement.

The third movement (Vivo) begins with a dialogue of two harps and divisi of the first and second violins playing rhythmic figures composed of small motifs repeated alternately or with rotationally changed components. The polyrhythmic diversity of these figures creates a sound field resembling aleatory procedures, but here everything is strictly notated, while the speed of changes and type of micropolyphony blur the distinctiveness of intervals in favour of pure sound, as was rightly pointed out by Steffen Wittig [“Aspekte der Klangfarbe in den Werken der letzen Schaffensperiode Grażyna Bacewiczs (1960–1969)”, Łódź 1996]. The texture is not as “pointillistically” dispersed as in the first movement; the main role is played by the strings, although the role of the other groups, for example wind instruments, which sometimes act as the first narrator, as well as the percussion is considerable.

In the fourth movement (Allegro non troppo) the composer returns to the idea of concertante role of the various instruments or their groups, although usually in the form of fleeting motifs or sequences of arrhythmically repeated notes. The exception is a long bongos solo towards the end of the work supported by unevenly places chords of other instruments, and crowned with a slapstick stroke and strong chord of the entire orchestra. The solo given to the bongos – already active before that moment – constitutes a coda of sorts. It is preceded by a sonoristic drama in an arch form. The lively, at times turbulent outer parts, with their characteristic fast tremolo passages in the strings, are contrasted (two bars after no. 13) with a brief fragment of languidly flowing motifs played in octaves by the strings with additional colour provided by second intervals of the woodwind. After an intervention by the brass, harps and timpani the fragment ends with a fading flute note against a background created by the bongos, joining the action even before their final solo. It is a brief episode in the kaleidoscopically changing narrative of the final Allegro.

The premiere of Bacewicz’s Concerto for Large Symphony Orchestra took place on 17 September 1962 at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Witold Rowicki.