Grażyna Bacewicz

Personality - Teacher

In 1957, after the death of Artur Malawski Grażyna Bacewicz was asked to teach composition at the Kraków State School of Music. She rejected the offer. A similar request came to her again from Kraków in 1963, when Stanisław Wiechowicz passed away. This request, too, was rejected. She explained her decision in an interview which she gave to Polish Radio’s International Service in 1964:

I twice worked as a teacher [in 1934/1935 and in 1945/1946 she taught harmony, counterpoint and solfège as well as violin at the Łódź Conservatory – ed.]. Both periods were very brief, but long enough to make some observations concerning the learners and myself. When it comes to myself, I have to say that passing my knowledge to others gave me a lot of satisfaction. Unfortunately, it was precisely this satisfaction that constituted a threat. It was a threat to my main goal in life, that is composing. I was simply afraid that my pedagogical work would be too absorbing. My observation concerning the learners was as follows. I realised very quickly that the best stimulus to work was provided not by criticism but praise. So I would first praise my pupils, stressed the good points in what they did and only when they were full of inner joy and self-confidence did I point out their mistakes and shortcomings. They were so eager to correct them. I often think that my and many of my colleagues’ duty is to pass to others what we know. I think I’ll be doing this one day, but I’m putting the moment off for now.

The moment came in 1966, when Grażyna agreed to become Head of Composition at the State School of Music in Warsaw. She also taught there instrumentation and score reading. Requested by the Ministry of Culture and Art, she provided her opinion on the new curriculum for Faculty I (Composition, Theory and Conducting). She carried out a detailed analysis of the timetable, suggesting various corrections. She challenged some programme principles, e.g. the principle of a unitary course of study, i.e. beginning “specialisation” in composition and conducting only in year two. She suggested, probably remembering her own experiences, that from year two to four students should play in an orchestra. In 1967 she was made full professor.

She was interested in the fate of her students. In 1967 she recommended a piece of her trainee, Dubravko Detoni, to Andrzej Markowski. When after several months she gave her approval to an orchestral piece by another student of hers, Jan Oleszkowicz, she recommended his score to Jerzy Gert in Kraków, paying for the writing out of the voices out of her own pocket. She was demanding but caring – at the end of her first year at the school she organised a dinner party for her students at her own home. She also discovered Marta Ptaszyńska’s talent for composition.

It is also worth remembering that almost throughout her entire life – while not being a teacher formally – she wrote pedagogical pieces, which were to be not boring exercises but fully-fledged compositions, only slightly easier technically that “adult” works.