February 5, 1909 Łódź - January 17, 1969 Warszawa
Polish violinist and composer. Having first learnt to play the piano and violin with her father, Vincas Bacevičius (Wincenty Bacewicz), Bacewicz continued her musical education in 1919 at Helena Kijenska-Dobkiewiczowa's Musical Conservatory in Lódź. There, she studied piano, violin, and music theory. Her family moved to Warsaw in 1923, and in 1924 she enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatory to study composition under Kazimierz Sikorski, violin under Józef Jarzębski and piano under Józef Turczyński. Meanwhile she enrolled in a philosophy course at Warsaw University, but gave it up after a year and a half. She also stopped playing the piano, and eventually graduated from the Conservatory in 1932 with diplomas in violin and composition. Thanks to the generosity of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, she received a grant that same year to study composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. She studied there under Nadia Boulanger from 1932 to 1933, as well as through private violin lessons with Henri Touret. She would return to Paris later in 1934 to study under the Hungarian violinist Carl Flesch.
Bacewicz’s first solo success came in 1935, with her first mention at the 1st Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Warsaw. From 1936 to 1938 she played first violin at the Warsaw Polish Radio Orchestra led by Grzegorz Fitelberg, where she developed her knowledge of instrumentation. Bacewicz played a number of concerts before World War II, for which she visited Lithuania, France, Spain and other countries, often appearing with her brother, the reputed pianist Kiejstut.
During the Nazi occupation she played clandestine concerts, as well as playing for the Main Relief Council.
After the war she continued to play concerts up until 1953, giving recitals in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Romania, Hungary and France. Meanwhile, in 1945, she joined the National Conservatory (now the Academy of Music) in Lódź as a lecturer of music theory and a violin teacher. Throughout the 1950’s she devoted herself almost exclusively to composing and teaching. From 1966 till her death she worked at the National Higher School of Music (now the Chopin University of Music) in Warsaw, where she led a composition class and was made professor in 1967. She also often sat on the juries of violin and composition competitions throughout Europe, including in Liège, Paris, Moscow, Naples, Budapest, Poznań and Warsaw. She also served as vice-chair of the Polish Composers' Union from 1955 to 1957, and again from 1960 to 1969.
In the 1960’s Bacewicz took up writing in addition to her music, completing several novels and short stories. None was published except for a volume of short stories entitled 'Znak szczególny' / 'The Distinguishing Mark', which was published by 'Czytelnik' in 1970 (2nd edition in 1974).
Bacewicz's extremely rich body of work was recognized and honoured a number of times. She was awarded 1st prize at the 1933 'Aide aux femmes de professions libres' Association Competition in Paris for 'Quintet for Wind Instruments' (1932), 2nd prize for 'Trio for oboe, violin and cello' (1935) and a mention for 'Sinfonietta' for string orchestra (1929) at the 1936 Polish Music Publishing Society composing competition, 2nd prize (no 1st prize was awarded) for 'Piano Concerto' (1949) at the 1949 Polish Composers' Union Fryderyk Chopin Composition Competition in Warsaw, 1st prize for 'String Quarter No. 4' (1951) at the 1951 International Composition Competition in Liège and 2nd prize for 'String Quartet No. 5' at the same event in 1956. She also won 3rd prize (the highest prize awarded for an orchestral work) for 'Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion' (1958) at the 1960 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, and the Belgian Government Award and Gold Medal for 'Violin Concerto No. 7' (1965) at the 1965 International Composing Competition in Brussels.
In addition, Bacewicz received a number of awards for lifetime achievement. These include: the 1949 City of Warsaw Music Award for achievement as a composer, virtuoso, organizer and teacher; the National Award (3rd degree) in 1950 for 'Concerto for String Orchestra' (1948); 1st prize for all her contributions to festivals, and in particular for her 'Violin Sonata No. 4' (1949) at the 1951 Polish Music Festival; the National Award (2nd degree) in 1952 for 'Violin Concerto No. 4' (1951), 'String Quartet No. 4' and 'Violin Sonata No. 4'; the Minister of Culture and Art Award in 1955 for 'Symphony No. 4' (1953), 'Violin Concerto No. 3' (1948) and 'String Quartet No. 3' (1947); the 1960 Polish Composers' Union Award for outstanding compositional achievement; and the Ministry of Culture and Art Award (2nd degree) in 1962 for 'Pensieri Notturni' for chamber orchestra (1961). Her distinctions includ the Order of Labour Standard of the 2nd degree (1949) and of the 1st degree (1959), the Cavalier Cross of the Order of Restitution of Poland (1953), the Medal of the 10th Anniversary of the People's Republic of Poland (1955) and the Commodore Cross of the Order of Restitution of Poland (1955).
Bacewicz was one of the few female composers in Poland, or, for that matter, in the world. It is a field in which women have always been heavily under-represented. Some other examples of female composers include the Benedictine sister Hildegard of Bingen in the Middle Ages and Francesca Caccini, the daughter of Giulio Caccini, who composed the first Baroque operas. Incidentally Francesca, who was less famous than her father, has a special significance in Poland since she devoted her opera, 'La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina', to the Polish prince and future king Władysław IV Wasa. Another important figure in the history of Polish music is Maria Szymanowska, an accomplished pianist and piano composer who rose to fame in the early 19th century. Germaine Tailleferre, who co-founded the group Les Six along with a number of French composers (most more famous than she), also occupies a special place in the history of 20th century music. France produced another noted female composer, Nadia Boulanger, who was known chiefly as an outstanding composition teacher. It was from her that Bacewicz learned the technique she would skilfully use to compose her various pieces, most of which were neoclassical in style.
As a trained and practicing violinist, Bacewicz always had a special interest in violin and string music; she composed seven violin concertos, one viola and two cello concertos, seven string quartets, five violin and piano sonatas and two sonatas for solo violin. To this day at least some of these compositions, along with a few of Bacewicz’s chamber and symphonic pieces, still rival the work of her male colleagues in the concert hall.