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Overture by Grażyna Bacewicz

Grażyna Bacewicz

Born: 1909
Died: 1969
Nationality: Polish

* Grażyna Bacewicz was a Polish composer and violinist.
* She wrote music during the second world war at a time when being a female composer was very unusual.
* She was one of the first Polish female composers to achieve international recognition.

Grażyna Bacewicz was a Polish composer, writing music at a time when being a female composer was very unusual. According to another female Polish composer, Bacewicz was the first woman accepted as an equal by her male peers and she paved the way for other women to become composers: “In Poland, Grażyna opened the way for women composers. . . It was difficult for her, but with her great talent she won, she became famous. . . . Afterwards, we had an open path.”

Grażyna came from a bi-national family and, with a Lithuanian father and a Polish mother. Grażyna’s first music teacher was her father and she started learning violin, piano and theory when she was five years old. Grażyna gave her first concert at age of seven and she composed her first piece, Preludes for Piano, at the age of thirteen. She went on to study composition, violin and piano at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music. In the early 1930s Bacewicz studied composition in Paris with another pioneering female musician, Nadia Boulanger, who taught many other great 20th century composers, including Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland.

Here she is performing in 1952:

The overture that we are listening to was written in 1943, in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during the Second World War. The work contains a musical message of hope, with the Morse code for ‘V’, symbolising victory, (dot dot dot dash) beaten out on the timpani during the piece.
Bacewicz was writing her music in secret at this time and had to wait until the war was over to hear her piece performed. It
 was played for the first time at the end of the war in Krakow at a festival of contemporary Polish music and helped to establish her reputation in Poland and beyond.

Find out more and watch a performance:


Further Listening:

More music by Grażyna Bacewicz


Other music written during World War 2:

Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man
Written by request of Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Copland’s 1942 fanfare was a response to the US entry into the Second World War.
The ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ was partly inspired by a famous speech made earlier that year by the Vice President of the USA, Henry A. Wallace, who announced the dawning of the ‘Century of the Common Man’. Short, rhythmic, loud and exciting – it’s everything a military fanfare should be.

Shostakovich – ‘Leningrad’ Symphony No. 7
Hitler’s attack on Russia in 1941 inspired one of Shostakovich’s greatest works, his ‘Leningrad’ Symphony No. 7. The composer dedicated his work to the city of Leningrad in 1941, and the Leningrad premiere of the piece took place while the city was still under siege by Nazi forces.
The ‘Leningrad’ Symphony became popular in the Soviet Union as a symbol of resistance to Nazi occupation, as well as a musical memory of the estimated 27 million Soviet citizens who died in World War II. The piece is often played at the Leningrad Cemetery, where 600,000 victims of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad are buried.

Duke Ellington – Black, Brown and Beige
In January 23, 1943
while the United States and its allies were at war, the renowned 43-year-old African-American bandleader Duke Ellington was making his debut at New York City‘s Carnegie Hall, one of the most esteemed concert halls in the world. For Ellington it was a dramatic opportunity to present a work that had been a long time forming, a panoramic musical history of the African-American experience that he called Black, Brown And Beige.

More songs and music from World War 2:

See if you can spot one of our Drake pupils in this recording of the World War Two song, When the Lights Go On Again: