Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) is at last gaining the recognition she deserves as one of the great composers of the mid-twentieth century, her towering Second Sonata rightly applauded as one of the significant piano masterpieces of the last century.
Among the composer’s many smaller-scale piano works the Suita dziecięca or Children’s Suite is a delightful highlight, its eight charming miniatures for the late-intermediate pianist a fascinating progression from the educational piano music of Bartók, Kabalevsky and Prokofiev (whose popular Musiques d’enfants appeared just one year after Bacewicz’s Suite).
Poland’s major publishing house Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, PWM Edition, have recently delivered a delightful new edition of the work, edited by Monika Dziurawiec and with a gorgeous cover design by Joanna Rusinek.
Over the coming months I am going to be publishing a major series looking at an impressive swathe of lovely publications from PWM Edition: Music from Chopin’s Land.
In the meantime it’s a pleasure to look at this new publication and delve into the imaginative pianism of Bacewicz, not least because this important work surely deserves a place within the core pedagogic repertoire that every piano teacher should try to be aware of…
The Children’s Suite
Composed in 1933 when Bacewicz was 24 years old, the Suita dziecięca is an early work (she went on to compose 4 symphonies, 12 concertos including 7 for violin, choral works, incidental music, and a large body of instrumental and chamber music…)
The eight short movements form a unified whole which could be performed together in the style of the baroque suite, or individually.
The neo-classical reference extends to the inclusion of several dance movements, although it’s fair to say that culturally and musically the work very much belongs to its own age:
The pieces are written without key signatures, their angular and at times jocular melodies not conforming to tonal cliché, their harmonies often dissonant, but always resolving in familiar tonal territory.
In terms of accessibility, I suspect today’s children might find the pieces less immediately appealing than Prokofiev’s Musique d’enfants, but perhaps more memorable and attractive than the music in the third and fourth books of Bartók’s uncompromising Mikrokosmos.
Here’s the March, one of the easiest and perhaps the most immediately catchy tune from the Suite, performed by Ewa Kupiec:
For contrast and to show the wonderful range, here’s the beautifully lyrical Lullaby:
Teachers will realise straight away that there are technical challenges and pedagogic “wins” galore embedded here; for example, controlling the inner voicing while navigating the necessary stretches and legato fingering in the RH of the Lullaby is not at all easy!
As for the rhythmic chord playing, syncopation and seemingly moving bar lines in the closing Scherzino… well, listen for yourself:
I know that I would have loved playing these pieces as a young student, but equally recognise that some children today might find such 1930’s modernism challenging, strange territory indeed. Ideally, the Children’s Suite would suit the musical adventurer, the curious child who has already attained a good level of technical competence and relishes the challenge of expanding their musical vocabulary and emerging artistry.
The PWM Edition
As the original and (to my knowledge) only publishers of this music, it can be taken as read that the Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne edition is as authoritative editorially as it is lovingly presented.
Joanna Rusinek designs and illustrates a lot of the PWM Edition covers, and I’ve become a real fan of her work. The cover of the book is in thick card with a matt finish, while the 16-page interior is printed on ivory-tinted paper. The content is simple: a contents page, the scores, closing credits.
The notation is beautifully engraved, well-spaced and clearly presented. Helpful fingering suggestions appear throughout, as do pedalling marks. As was typical of the time in which she wrote, Bacewicz gives plentiful articulation detail, all clearly reproduced here.
A short introduction would have been a welcome bonus, but the book is a high quality publication, attractively presented and durably produced. It’s one of those books which seems to me impossible not to love as soon as picking it up, and is representative of PWM’s attention to detail and ethos of excellence.
Let me conclude by returning to my opening gambit that this music deserves a place within the core pedagogic repertoire…
Does it really?
Had circumstances aligned themselves differently I have no doubt that Bacewicz would long have been recognised as one of the leading composers of her generation. As it is, her most important work dates from a period in which her country was somewhat cut off from the West, inhibiting the dissemination of her music and the international acclaim that was surely her due.
This is finally changing, her music becoming a fixture of recording studios and concert hall alike, and especially her violin concertos and chamber works. We are finally blessed with several good recordings of the Second Piano Sonata, too (check out this one by Krystian Zimerman: it’s stunning!).
Though an early work, the Children’s Suite shows a consummate craftsmanship that would undoubtedly have made Nadia Boulanger (for a time, Bacewicz’s teacher in Paris) proud. Musically varied, full of sparkling originality and mastery of the miniature form, these are indeed wonderful pieces!
The Suite will admittedly not appeal to every student, but for some it will absolutely be the right challenge at the right time, and I hope that having listened to the excerpts posted above you are already convinced by the music’s self-evident high quality.
And now, here’s a surprise: the publication is presently available for the very modest price of just £3.95…
So what are you waiting for? Go and treat yourself to a copy of this truly delightful work!
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