Grażyna Bacewicz – Overture

Grażyna Bacewicz

  • Born: 1909
  • Died: 1969
  • Nationality: Polish

Why is she a Trailblazer?

In 1943 it was very unusual for women to be composers.

Trailblazer Grażyna Bacewicz not only broke new ground as a female composer in Poland, she continued to write music while war threatened to destroy her country.

Grażyna Bacewicz
Naomi Wilkinson explores Morse code motifs in Grażyna Bacewicz’s triumphant Overture, teaching us how her hope for victory got her through a time of fear and terror during WWII.

Fast Facts

  • Grażyna Bacewicz learnt the violin and the piano as a child – and, throughout her life, she enjoyed composing music for both instruments, including piano sonatas and seven violin concertos.

  • 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 Copland (both also featured in Ten Pieces).

  • Despite nursing a wounded sister and looking after her own family, Bacewicz kept composing and premiering her new music at private concerts in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during the Second World War.

  • Bacewicz’s Overture 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.

Watch the orchestral performance of Bacewicz’s piece Overture by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roderick Cox.

Overture

It’s hard to believe Grażyna Bacewicz’s Overture was written in 1943 in the depths of world war.

The sense of struggle and combat is never far away – with the snare drum striking up and the brass playing fanfares – but Bacewicz’s optimistic music seems full of courage and strength.

The work itself 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.

That sense of victory drives the music forward, like a pounding heartbeat. Composed in a time of darkness, this is music blazing with light.

Resources

KS2 Lesson Plans
KS2 Powerpoint Slides
Downloadable mp3
Multi-ability instrumental arrangements

Where next?

  • Why not listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5? Bacewicz’s ‘victory’ timpani motif was itself inspired by the famous four-note opening of this piece. The similarity of Beethoven’s motif to the rhythm of the letter v (symbolising victory) in Morse code meant it was often played on the timpani in BBC wartime broadcasts to inspire the Allies.
  • You could also explore Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 and hear the story of another composer working at a time of great danger.
  • Get creative and upload your responses using the Ten Pieces Uploader!
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