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Tradition / Chopin Institutions / Events / International Competition



The International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw

The International Fryderyk Chopin 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 Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition was Prof. Jerzy Zurawlew (1887-1980), an outstanding Polish pianist, teacher and composer. 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 post-war and the fourth International Fryderyk 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. Since 1955 the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition has been held in the National Philharmonic Hall every five years without a break.
The pre-war Competitions and those in 1955, 1960 and 1965 took place in the winter, close to 22 February, the date accepted as the birthday of Fryderyk 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. From then on the Competition was to be held in October, the month of the composer's death.

The organisation of the first three pre-war Competitions was entrusted to the Warsaw Music Society which formed the Fryderyk Chopin Higher School of Music. The fourth and fifth Competitions were held as part of the Chopin Year celebrations in 1949 and 1955 and were organised by Executive Committees appointed by the Minister of Culture and Art.
In the years 1960-2005 the Competition organiser was THE FRYDERYK CHOPIN SOCIETY /a social organisation/, which ran the Competition's standing Secretariat, co-operated with various national and foreign organisations, documented the event and kept all materials relevant to it. The consecutive editions of the Competition will be organised and held
by THE NATIONAL FRYDERYK CHOPIN INSTITUTE which is operating in its present form
after a merger with the Chopin Society.

Since 1957 the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition has been a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva, and is one of its co-founders.

From humble beginnings in 1927, with 26 pianists from 8 countries participating in the Competition, the event developed over the years, attracting a growing number of participants. The record number of participants was reported during the 15th Competition in 2005 when 350 applications were received and 257 pianists entered for the Competition.

During 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 individual events owing to changes in the criteria for entry. Taking into account all past Competitions, the youngest participant was 16 and the oldest 32 years of age.

Winning one of the prizes awarded at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition marks the beginning of a great artistic career and paves the way to the most renowned concert halls. The Polish Chopin Competition heralded fame for such well kwon 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 the 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 Chairmanship was entrusted to Witold Maliszewski, composer, director of the Warsaw Music Society and the Fryderyk Chopin Higher School of Music in Warsaw, and in two consecutive Competitions, to 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 Works
of Fryderyk Chopin. In the years 2000-2005 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 International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition is a multi-stage event which, owing to the constantly growing number of candidates, on average lasts more than ten days. The first event took only eight days, but the fourth and fifth almost a month. The 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 final. The Rules of the 15th Competition introduced substantial changes. For the first time a preliminary round obligatory for all candidates was held prior to the Competition (late September 2005). Due to the large number of applicants (350) the preliminary auditions were held simultaneously at two venues - the Music Academy and the Palace of Culture and Science. The main Competition consisted of two stages and a final. The auditions are open to the public with the exception of the 1949 Competition when 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 open to the general public.

The International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition is one of the single composer piano competitions in the world and is always devoted to the performance of music by this 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 in his juvenile period and when he was a mature composer. 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 Commission 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 9th 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 13th 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 second stage of the 14th Competition a waltz was obligatory (among other pieces), while the Fantasy and the Krakowiak Rondo were not required in the final. In the first stage of the 15th Competition participants were offered a choice. In addition to the obligatory pieces lasting about 20 minutes, each pianist could choose other compositions from a list to make up a 40-45 minute recital. Most pianists chose three groups of preludes (each including 6), from no. 7 to no. 24, Prelude in C sharp minor op.45, Rondos, Scherzos, the Bolero, the Tarantela, Impromptus, rarely performed waltzes, etudes and other pieces. In the second stage, in addition to mazurkas and a sonata (required in the third stage of previous competitions), contestants had to play one of the great polonaises. As before, a concerto finished the auditions in the final. A commission set up under the Rules was responsible for classifying the prizes and honorary mentions and for determining their number and the amounts of prize money. In the first four Competitions the prizes were funded by public persons, state institutions and social organisations: the Polish President, the Foreign Ministry, the Warsaw Music Society, the Polish-Japanese Society of Tokyo, and many others. From 1955 to 2000 prize money was provided by the Ministry of Culture and Art, which in 2000 was called the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The 15th Competition marked a return to the pre-war tradition. Government offices, state institutions and social organisations were asked to fund awards and honorary mentions. The request elicited a positive response from the President of the Republic of Poland, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture, the Foreign Minister, the Minister for National Education and Sport, the Governor of the Mazovia Province, the President of the Capital City of Warsaw, the Rector of the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy, the Speaker of the Mazovia Province Parliament, the Secretary General of the International Fryderyk Chopin Foundation, the President of the Board of Polish Television and the President of the Union of Performing Artists' Association STOART. 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; since 1960 a prize has been awarded by the Fryderyk Chopin Society in Warsaw, for the best interpretation of a polonaise and since 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 who failed to qualify for the third stage were awarded diplomas of participation.

Apart from the prizes specified in the Rules, and awarded by the Competition Jury, there are also the traditional so-called additional prizes. Prizes in the form of money and objects are provided by private persons, national and foreign institutions and associations.

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 Fryderyk Chopin. In the history of the post-war Competitions 30 different exhibitions have been held, including the Chopin display in the National Museum held during the 4th 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 6th Competition in 1960 (kept by the National Museum, the Fryderyk Chopin Society of Warsaw, the Institute of Musicology Warsaw University and the National Library); an exhibition featuring the National Edition of the Works of Frederick Chopin, in the 7th Competition, 1965, an exhibition called "Fryderyk Chopin Yesterday and Today" in the 8th Competition, 1970, "Portraits of Fryderyk Chopin" in the 9th Competition, 1975, "Chopin`s Ouevre is Close to Our Heart" in the 10th Competition, 1980, "Chopin Collections" in the 11th Competition, 1985, "The Romantic Journey of Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand to Majorca" in the 12th Competition, 1990, "Chopin and Liszt" in the 13th Competition, 1995, "Chopin Fame Resounding Far and Wide" in the 14th Competition, "Fryderyk Chopin and the Brothers Kolberg the Artists and their Epoch" in the 15th Competition. These events were organised from 1965 to 2005 by the Museum of the Fryderyk Chopin Society and presented in Ostrogski Castle, the seat of the Fryderyk Chopin Society.

Since 1975 permanent events accompanying the International Chopin Competitions have included a commemoration of the anniversary of the great composer's death. October 17th has been included in the Competition calendar as a day of paying tribute to Chopin. On this occasion Mozart's 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
English translation: Magda Mierowska


The 16th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition


The International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition archive (I - XV)

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