Wersja polska | Polish version

    The Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition

    The Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition is one of the oldest events of its type in the world, and enjoys great prestige and universal renown. In the seventy years of its existence, the competition has evolved and transformed itself, altered and improved its form, and created its own extensive tradition. The initiator of the Frederick Chopin Piano Competition was Prof. Jerzy Zurawlew (1887-1980), an outstanding Polish pianist, teacher and composer.

    Prof. Jerzy Żurawlew

    The first Chopin Competition took place on 23-30 January 1927 in the concert hall of the Warsaw Philharmonic. The next Competitions in 1932 and 1937 were also held there, at a five year interval, in accordance with the rules of the organisers. The 1942 Competition was not held owing to the Second World War, and the Competition could not be continued until several years after the war. The first postwar and the fourth International Frederick Chopin Competition took place in 1949, in the "Roma" concert hall, which is still standing in Nowogrodzka Str., the temporary home of the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Opera. The Competition became the culmination of the Chopin Year, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the death of this great composer. The next Competition was organised six years later, in 1955. This change to the traditional five year-cycle was caused by the reconstruction of the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, which was promoted soon afterwards to the rank of a national institution. From 1955 onwards, the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition has been held in the National Philharmonic Hall every five years without a break.

    The Warsaw National

    The prewar Competitions and those from 1955, 1960, and 1965 took place in the winter, close to 22 February, the date accepted as the birthday of Frederick Chopin. The considerable incidence of sickness which occurred during this period, both among the jury members and the participants, led to a change in the date, and the Competition was transferred to October, the month of the composer`s death.

    Organization of the first three pre-war Competitions was financed from the means of the Warsaw Music Society /a social organization/ which then housed the Frederick Chopin Higher School of Music, the Competitions organizers, as well as from the resources of private persons, usually the members of that Society. The 4th Competition in 1949 was organized by the Chopin Year Executive Committee. The money for organization of that Competition came from the funds earmarked for the Chopin Year celebrations. Those funds were provided by the Council of Ministers upon a motion of the Minister of Culture and Arts in agreement with the Minister of Treasury. The 5th Competition held in 1955 was organized by the Executive Committee of the 5th International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition appointed by the Minister of Culture and Arts. Since 1960 THE FREDERICK CHOPIN SOCIETY /a social organization/ has become the organizer of the Competition and since then it has been running the Competition's standing Secretariat, co-operating with various national and foreign organizations, preparing the documentation of the event and keeping all the materials connected with its existence. The organizing of the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competitions constitutes one of the most important forms of the Society's statutory activities /paragraph VI, item 8 of the Society's Statutes/.The necessary funds for the 6th Competition were provided by the Chopin Year Committee which has earmarked the same from the means once received by this Committee from the State reserves and designated for the Chopin Year celebrations. The costs of the subsequent editions of the Competition were covered by the Ministry of Culture and Arts which granted permanent subsidies to the Frederick Chopin Society to this effect. This situation has changed since 1995. The 13th edition of the Competition was held basing partly upon the Ministry's subsidy with 20% of the costs covered trough money provided by sponsors. Organization of the 14th Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition was fully financed from the funds provided by the patron, a private person, as well as by sponsors and also came from the Society's own financial means.

    Since 1957, the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition has belonged to the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva, and is one of its co-founders.

    After modest beginnings in 1927, when the Competition was attended by 26 pianists from eight countries, the event expanded and attracted an increasingly large number of participants. A record was reached during the tenth Competition in 1980, with 149 young pianists from 36 countries (69 European and 80 non-European). An almost equally large number took part in the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth Competitions.

    During the Competition auditions, the young pianists play in alphabetical order, beginning with an initial letter selected at random. As a rule, the age of the participants varies from 18 to 29, although it has differed during particular events owing to changes in the criteria for entry. Taking into account all past Competitions, the youngest participant has been 16 years old, and the oldest 32.

    Winning one of the prizes awarded at the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition marks the beginning of a great artistic career and opens a path to the most famous concert halls. The Polish Chopin Competition heralded fame for such well kown pianists as: Lev Oborin, Stanislaw Szpinalski, Aleksander Uninski, Jakov Zak, Witold Malcuzynski, Jan Ekier, Halina Czerny-Stefanska, Bella Davidovich, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, Adam Harasiewicz, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Fu Ts`Ong, Lidia Grychtolowna, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson, Piotr Paleczny, Eugene Indjic, Krystian Zimerman, Dang Thai Son, Stanislav Bunin, Kevin Kenner, and Alexei Sultanov.

    The jury evaluates the interpretations of the participants on the basis of rules previously laid down by the Chairman of the Jury.

    During the first Chopin Competition, the jury was composed exclusively of representatives of the Polish music world. Organisers of successive events have invited the most outstanding musicians and pianists, both Polish and foreign to be members of the jury. It is worth recalling some of the already legendary names and unquestioned authorities in their speciality: Henryk Melcer, Jerzy Zurawlew, Magda Tagliaferro, Marguerite Long, Wilhelm Backhaus, Stefan Ashkenase, Witold Lutoslawski, Nadia Boulanger, Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli. Some members of the jury are also winners of earlier Competitions, such as: Jan Ekier, Lev Oborin, Witold Malcuzynski, Halina Czerny Stefanska and Martha Argerich.

    Chairmen of the jury have been eminent Polish musicians, pianists and experts in Chopin performance, who have made a great contribution to Polish culture. In 1927, the Chairmanship was undertaken by Witold Maliszewski, composer, director of the Warsaw Music Society and the Frederick Chopin Higher School of Music in Warsaw, and in two consecutive Competitions, by Adam Wieniawski, composer, conductor, director of the Warsaw Music Society and chairman of the Society of Polish Composers. In 1949, 1955, 1960 and 1965, Zbigniew Drzewiecki, pianist, teacher and rector of music higher schools in Krakow and Warsaw was the Chairman. The juries of the eighth and ninth Competitions were headed by Kazimierz Sikorski, composer, teacher, music theoretician and rector of the State Higher School of Music in Warsaw, and that of the tenth in 1980 by Kazimierz Kord, conductor, director and artistic director of the National Philharmonic. The work of the jury in 1985, 1990, and 1995 was directed by Jan Ekier, pianist, teacher, composer, head of the Pianoforte Chair at the Warsaw Music Academy and editor-in-chief of the National Edition of the Collected Works of Frederick Chopin. In the year 2000 the Jury was chaired by Professor Andrzej Jasinski /pianist and pedagogue, for many years head of the Piano Department at the Academy of Music in Katowice/.

    The Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition is a multi-stage event which, owing to the constantly growing number of candidates, lasts on the average over ten days. The first event took only eight days, but the fourth and fifth almost a month. Pre-war Competitions were composed of two stages, the fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth of three stages, the seventh, ninth and consecutive ones of four stages, with the last stage as the Competition finale. The auditions are public, and only in the 1949 competition the jury was separated from the participants by a screen, and did not see the pianists or know their names, only the third stage was public.

    The Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition is one of the single composer piano competitions in the world and is always devoted to the performance of music by this one composer. It is important to note that this feature makes it possible not only to follow the interpretations, judge the technique of the participants, and obtain information about the current level of piano performance in general and Chopin interpretation in particular, but also provides an opportunity to observe the changing attitude towards the Chopin oeuvre and particular music forms.

    The Competition programmes included the majority of the music genres created by Chopin, both from his youthful period and from his maturity. Only a few genres are not played at all; others are included or excluded from consecutive Competition programmes or transferred to various Competition stages. In the first Competition, the candidates performed two nocturnes chosen from among those listed in the rules, two etudes, two preludes, the Polonaise in F sharp minor, op. 44, one selected ballade, and two from among the proposed mazurkas. In the second stage, they were expected to play the first and second movement or the second and third movement of a concerto of their choosing. During the second Competition the repertoire also included such works as the Polonaise in A flat major, op. 53, a scherzo, the Fantasy in F minor op. 49, as well as sonatas. The next Competition differed slightly from its predecessor. The list of works mentioned in the rules now included the Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major, op. 61. In 1949, the programme contained the Barcarole in F sharp major op. 60, and in 1955 the Berceuse in D flat major op. 57 or the Tarantelle in A flat major op. 43. In the third stage, all movements of one of the concertos became obligatory. The rules Committee of the eighth Competition introduced into the group of polonaises the Andante Spianato and the Grande Polonaise in E flat major op. 22, in a solo version. Participants of the ninth Competition, performed for the first time one of the two impromptus: in F sharp major op. 36 or in G flat major op. 51. The rules of the twelfth Competition introduced new genres: Rondo, op. 1, 5 and 16 and works for piano and orchestra: Variations in B flat major op. 2, Fantasy in A major op. 13 and Rondo à la Krakowiak op. 14. Together with one of the concertos, these orchestral compositions comprised the finale of the programme.

    In the history of the Competitions, sponsors funding the prizes included various private persons, state institutions and social organisations: the President of the Polish Republic, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Warsaw Music Society, the Polish-Japanese Society in Tokyo, and many others. Since 1955, funds for this purpose have been provided by the Ministry of Culture and Arts. The distribution of prizes is decided by a rules commission, which determines their level and number. From the very beginning of the existence of the Competition, permanent prizes have also been given by Polish Radio, for the best performance of the mazurkas; from 1960 a prize has been awarded by the Frederick Chopin Society in Warsaw, for the best interpretation of a polonaise and from 1980 by the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, for the best performed concerto. The participants who gained the highest number of points in the third stage were granted awards, while the participants of the second stage not admitted to the third stage were awarded the diplomas of participation.

    Apart from the prizes set out in the rules, and awarded by the Competition jury, there are also the traditional so-called additional prizes. Financial and material awards are funded and presented by private persons, institutions and societies to those competitors who gained entry to the second stage of the Competition.

    The Chopin Competitions are accompanied by many other events: special concerts, opera or ballet performances, meetings and discussion panels, as well as exhibitions. For decades now, such exhibitions have been fully associated with the main event. The tradition of holding displays was initiated in 1932, during the second Competition, when the newly built National Museum showed documents and mementos connected with the person and works of Frederick Chopin. The 30 different exhibitions held in the history of postwar Competitions has included up to the present day: the Chopin display in the National Museum held during the fourth Competition in 1949; an exhibition of Chopin posters and recordings starting with the oldest made by I. J. Paderewski and S. Rachmaninoff to long playing records made by W. Malcuzynski in the sixth Competition in 1960 (kept by the National Museum, the Frederick Chopin Society of Warsaw, the Institute of Musicology Warsaw University and the National Library); an exhibition featuring the National Edition of the Collected Works of Frederick Chopin, in the seventh Competition, 1965, an exhibition called "Frederick Chopin Yesterday and Today" in the eighth Competition, 1970, "Portraits of Frederick Chopin" in the ninth Competition, 1975, "Chopin`s Ouevre is Close to Our Heart" in the tenth Competition, 1980, "Chopin Collections" in the eleventh Competition, 1985, "The Romantic Journey of Frederick Chopin and George Sand to Majorca" in the twelfth Competition, 1990, "Chopin and Liszt" in the thirteenth Competition, 1995, "Chopin Fame Resounding Far and Wide" in the fourteenth Competition, 2000. These events were organised from 1965 to 2000 by the Museum of the Frederick Chopin Society and presented in the Ostrogski Castle, the home of the Frederick Chopin Society.

    From 1975, permanent events accompanying the International Chopin Competitions have included a commemoration of the anniversary of the great composer's death. The date of October the 17th has been included into the Competition calendar as a day of reverence to Chopin. On this occasion, the Mozart Requiem is performed in the Holy Cross church in Krakowskie Przedmiescie Str. in Warsaw, where the heart of the Polish composer is buried in an urn. The same work was played at Chopin's funeral which was held in the church of St. Madeleine in Paris in October 1849.

    Barbara Niewiarowska


    The Classification System and Lists of Competition Laureates in 1927 - 2000

      The rules of the Chopin Competition provide for a certain number of main prizes and a Polish Radio special prize for the best performance of the mazurkas. In 1960, a special prize for the best interpretation of a polonaise, awarded by the Frederick Chopin Society in Warsaw, was introduced permanently into the Competition, while in 1980, the National Philharmonic in Warsaw funded a special prize for the best performance of a concerto. Interpretations of works which are granted special prizes are classified separately, outside the general list of prizes.