Grażyna Bacewicz was educated as a violinist (studies in Warsaw with Józef Jarzębski, in Paris - with André Touret and Karl Flesch) and performed as a concert virtuoso till the mid-1950s, winning much success in Poland, France, Spain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Romania and Hungary. She wrote much for the violin and for other bowed instruments, and pieces for these instruments constitute the core of her enormous output as a composer: two sonatas for solo violin, five sonatas for violin and piano, and many others. Her volin miniatures, e.g. The Polish Caprice and Oberek are now played by young violinists throughout the world. She wrote as many as seven violin concertos, which is a unique achievement for a contemporary artist. She also composed a Concerto for viola and orchestra and two cello concertos. But the real wealth of her violin art is revealed in her chamber music, which includes, among others, seven string quartets, two piano quartets (naturally, with strings), a Quartet for four violins and another one for four cellos. As a talented violinist, she knew how to write spectacular but plausible music for such ensembles, and as a talented composer she wrote attractively. These qualities contributed to the popularity of her music among both musicians and the audiences. Among the most popular works, there are also string quartets, particularly No. 4.
The work was a 1951 commission of Polish Composers’ Union for the Concours International pour Quatuor à Cordes in Liège. It was first performed during that competition, on 21st September 1951, by Quatuor Municipal de Liège, winning the 1st prize. In that period, it was almost a political event and the press hailed the success of the composer from Poland. In Poland, the work was premiered in Cracow on 3rd October, at the Polish Music Publishers inauguration concert. A year later, the composer received State Award, 2nd Class for this piece. The musical society in Poland acclaimed its value by including it in the programme of the 1st “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music, where it was played by the French Quatuor Parrenin.
String Quartet No. 4 is a tripartite work in the neo-Classical style, with distinct references to Polish folk music (though some musicologists claim that the second theme of Movement One - Allegro molto - is indebted to Spanish music!) Be it as it may, the work with its two themes resembles in structure the classical sonata form. Movement Two - Andante - is (also classically) slow, tuneful and folksy. Movement Three - Allegro giocoso - brings an expressive contrast: it is a lively rondo with an oberek for a refrain.
The press in Belgium wrote after the competition: “The Quartet uses a more classical language than the other quartets played during this audition. Its melody is fuller and - so to speak - more orientated towards tradition. After the elegiac introduction, there come fancy themes fusing at once with other musical developments, which creates the effect of a “faster breathing”. The slow movement reaches a standard inaccessible to the remaining works: this quiet meditation, a logically constructed fugato, betray an extraordinary psyche and a truly musical temperament. It is again Beethoven that comes to mind, this time the one from his last quartets, especially in the Rondo, in which a Polish folk dance is interspersed with episodes reflective in character.” (Marcel Lamaire, „Le Monde du travail” 3.10.1951)