• BBC R3: Bacewicz is COTW (25-29.05)

n1877p01At last!  In two weeks’ time, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69) will be BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.  Five programmes, each lasting an hour, will be broadcast 25-29 May, at 12 noon and again at 18.30.  Donald Macleod presents, as usual, and I’ll be chipping in with a few comments towards the end of each programme.  I’ve not been involved in the selection of the repertoire.


I’ve just been looking back at coverage of Polish composers on COTW.  Sadly, the BBC webpages (once you’ve learned how to navigate them) are reliable only for the past ten years.  Before that, specific years and dates then become very patchy and there is nothing concrete before 2001 except an alphabetical list of names since the series’ inception in 1943.

Chopin has been well represented over the years, but what of 20th-century Polish composers?  Is it not strange that neither Górecki nor Penderecki has been featured?  (I was asked to contribute to a Górecki week last year, but when I was unavailable for recording the proposal was postponed and I’ve heard nothing since; I hope it will resurface soon.)  If COTW can cover Henze (2005), Ligeti (2009) and Schnittke (2010), why not their near-contemporaries in Poland?  Panufnik was featured in his centenary year (2014), but Lutosławski was passed by in his (2013).  Szymanowski, on the other hand, has been almost over-exposed.  Here is my list, extracted from the COTW webpages (the 2006 slot may be a repeat):

• 2014: Andrzej Panufnik
• 2011: Karol Szymanowski
• 2010: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2008: Fryderyk Chopin
• 2006: Karol Szymanowski
• 2004: Karol Szymanowski

Before Donald Macleod became the voice of COTW, other presenters participated, including myself.  In the 1990s I presented a few weeks and Roxana Panufnik presented one on her father:

• 1998: Karol Szymanowski
• 1993: Andrzej Panufnik (as part of R3’s Polska! festival)
• 1993: Polish Romantics (“) – Karłowicz, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Paderewski, Wieniawski, Zarębski
• 1993: Witold Lutosławski

It seems to me that there is an unanswerable case for Górecki, Penderecki and Lutosławski to be included in future plans for COTW.  They are more than equal to quite a few composers who have been featured in the series over the past ten years.  There are other Polish names too, who might be grouped together if there was insufficient recorded material for them to be treated singly: Kazimierz Serocki, Tadeusz Baird, Wojciech Kilar and Zygmunt Krauze come to mind, or even composers of younger generations.  And there is now much more available on 19th-century Polish music, not to mention the Polish Renaissance and Baroque.  But back, for now, to Bacewicz.


Part of the challenge for a representative coverage of Bacewicz’s music is the lack of recordings of certain periods, although there was a surge of CDs around the centenary of her birth.  This is particularly obvious of the mid-1960s, where works such as Musica sinfonica (1965), Contradizione (1965), In una parte (1967) and the Viola Concerto (1968) have never been issued on CD.  There is, for example, only one recording of the key work Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958).  That was made for the Chandos label in 2009, her centenary year.  Once again, when it comes to the recording of Polish music, it is a British company that has taken the lead.  Given the available recorded repertoire, the choice made by COTW presents a good, more-or-less chronological sample of Bacewicz’s music.  I hope it will garner new enthusiasts for her music, especially among performers and promoters.  Here’s the day-by-day list of works that have been selected (movement details tbc):

Monday 25 May
• Sonatina for piano, first movement (1933)
• Violin Sonata no.3 (1948)
Children’s Suite for piano, movements 1-5 (1933)
• Sinfonietta for strings (1936)
• Violin Concerto no.1 (1937)

Tuesday 26 May
• Three Songs (1938)
Three Grotesques for piano (1935)
• Violin Sonata no.1 ‘Sonata da camera’ (1945)
• Violin Concerto no.2, movements 2 and 3 (1945)
• Overture (1943)

Wednesday 27 May
• String Quartet no.3 (1947)
• Violin Sonata no.4 (1949)
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)

Thursday 28 May
• String Quartet no.4, first movement (1951)
• Partita for violin and piano (1955)
• Ten Concert Studies for piano, nos 1-3 (1956)
Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958)

Friday 29 May
Pensieri notturni for orchestra (1961)
• Piano Quintet no.2, movements 1 and 2 (1965)
• Violin Concerto no.7 (1965)
• Divertimento for strings (1965)

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