Grażyna Bacewicz

Works in detail

Piano Concerto

The Piano Concerto was written in 1949 for the Fryderyk Chopin Competition organised by the Polish Composers’ Union to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish genius’ death. However, it is no use looking for any references to Chopin in Grażyna Bacewicz’s work. Although respecting the great Romantic, the composer did not feel any affinity with his music. The only link between Bacewicz’s Piano Concerto and the Chopin anniversary is folklorism, present in many forms and woven into a texture straight from late Romanticism. A frequent use of the full orchestral line-up, powerful climaxes, striking, virtuoso part of the piano – all seem to be an answer to challenges posed to artists at the time. That such a thesis is justified can be seen in the jury’s decision formulated as follows:

The results of the Competition reflect the opinion of the jury, whose members have decided to award prizes to those pieces the ideological premises of which – including appropriate use of Polish folk elements, emotional depth, simplification of means of expression, experimental-formal moments being pushed to the background – were resolved best.

The first prize was not awarded; Grażyna Bacewicz received the second prize for her Concerto.

Its first movement (Allegro moderato), in the form of a sonata allegro, is based on two themes, the first of which, as Anna Nowak [“Polski koncert fortepianowy 1945–1995”, Kraków 1996] suggests, is a paraphrase of the traditional song “Pije Kuba”. The second, lyrical theme, also derived from a folk song, appears in a slightly changed form in the final rondo as one of its episodes. The tectonics of the piece draws on large symphonic forms, with full use of the solo instrument in building up tension, encompassing broad sound spaces thanks to numerous passages or chord runs. There is no solo cadenza in any of the movements.

A similar spirit can be found in the second movement (Andante), the main theme of which is a stylisation of the folk song “Oj chmielu, chmielu” presented in variations in successive fragments. The true power of this music is revealed only in the final rondo (Molto allegro), in which a “spinning” oberek theme breaks through the barrier of stylisation, evoking a mood of almost primeval expression, full of abandon. The barbaristic dynamism of this movement does not stop for a moment, even in slightly calmer episodes. The oberek theme presented in the piano appears a little bit later in the orchestra counterpointed by unevenly spaced, dense piano chords (played secco), which may bring to mind some fragments of Béla Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion.

Despite the entire ideological background of the Concerto, the qualities of the piece, especially its finale, are beyond any doubt. This was well put by Tadeusz Marek in a review published in Kurier Codzienny on 10 November 1949. Leaving aside the association between the work and a fragment of Reymont’s The Peasants, the reviewer wrote,

I have to admit that the setting of such a seemingly simple folk dance is truly masterful and I cannot remember any of our composers doing it better before Bacewicz.

The Piano Concerto was premiered on 4 November 1949. The performance featured Stanisław Szpinalski accompanied by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Panufnik.