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Composed: 1943

Length: 6 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum), and strings

About this Piece

Despite being prolific, with several concertos, symphonies, chamber works and piano pieces to her credit, Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz has received little attention in the United States until recently. She began her musical education in her native Lódź, enrolling in the local conservatory in 1919. At age 15, she began her studies in composition, violin, and piano at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1932, she received a grant to move to Paris and study composition with the famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Her violin career flourished along with her reputation as a composer; she studied with Carl Fleisch in Paris and toured Europe as a soloist. In total, she wrote seven violin concertos, usually playing the solo part herself at their premieres.

After settling back in Warsaw, she served as the concertmaster of the Polish Radio Orchestra before the outbreak of World War II. Throughout the war, she continued to give concerts in secret and for the Main Relief Council. Bacewicz wrote her Overture in 1943, during the German occupation of Poland; she fled Warsaw during an uprising the following year. The Overture would not be performed until after Poland’s liberation from the Nazis, receiving its premiere in 1945 during the Krakow Festival of Contemporary Music.

With a rumble of timpani and raw strokes of open strings, the Overture begins with a blazing Allegro. The strings take off in running figures punctuated by brass blasts and woodwind interjections. Even when the orchestra suddenly drops off in dynamic, the strings rouse the rest of the ensemble in a rapid crescendo. After a few energetic chords, the woodwinds sustain and usher in the contemplative Andante section. Here, the winds take the lead with intertwining solo lines. Lush strings and noble horns fill out the sound, creating a respite from the frenetic opening. This tranquility is fleeting, as the violins reclaim the urgent tempo of the opening Allegro. Brass fanfares lend a triumphal spirit to the rush to the decisive final chords. With its clear form consisting of short, contrasting segments, the Overture packs the power of a larger symphonic work into a compact six minutes.

Notes by Linda Shaver-Gleason