The work was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Art. It is a concert version of the incidental music to a production of Sophocles's Oedipus the King directed by Ludwik René at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw (1961). Dedicated to René, Etude was premiered six months after the theatrical presentation. It is scored for a 28-member vocal ensemble (seven each sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses), percussion (six performers) as well as celesta and piano (one performer). The work consists of 12 sections. Its progression is clearly in three stages, with an exposition of the material, its development, and a reprise.
In Baird's creative output, Etude is the first unequivocally sonoristic composition. It is based on twelve-tone material as well as unspecified pitches obtained not only on percussion instruments, but mostly from unconventional treatment of the voices and instruments. The vocal part is textless; instead, the singers hiss, articulate various phonems, use parlando and Sprechgesang, and clap. The instruments, too, sound unconventional, thanks to the use of a rich array of drumsticks (percussion instruments) and nontraditional use of the piano (sections II, X, XII). The title of the composition clearly indicates its nature: it is a sonoristic etude (exercise) in which each of the three performer groups is equal. Etude is one of the lesser-known compositions by Baird, probably because of its theatrical origins. As Tadeusz Kaczyński wrote: "The Etude cannot be treated on a par with the main concert works of the author of the Four Essays, also because its expressive type betrays all too clearly the 'foreign origins' of the piece." (T. Kaczyński, "Etiuda Tadeusza Bairda" [Tadeusz Baird's Etude], Ruch Muzyczny 1961 no. 24: 22).