Jan Ekier was a pianist, educator, composer and Chopinologist. Born on the 29th of August 1913 in Kraków. Died on the 15th August 2014 in Warsaw.
Jan Ekier was born into a musical family: his father was a composer of dance and theatrical music, his sister was a pianist and educator. He started learning to play piano with private lessons from Olga Stolfowa, who was one of the most respected teachers in Kraków in those days. He continued his piano education at the Władysław Żeleński School of Music and additionally attended composition lectures given by Father Bernardino Rizzi.
Between 1932 and 1934, Ekier studied musicology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków under the supervision of Zdzisław Jachimecki. Between 1934 and 1939, he continued his education at the Warsaw Conservatory, where he took piano lessons from Zbigniew Drzewiecki and composition lessons from Kazimierz Sikorski. Bronisław Rutkowski taught him to play the organ between 1940 and 1941. In 1937, Ekier placed 8th at the 3rd Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. Since that time, he has toured and given concerts in many countries in Europe, South America and Japan.
He started performing in early childhood, often playing piano four-hands with his sister, Halina Ekier. In 1937 he became a laureate of the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition and he toured Poland for the first time. The decision of to take part was made very spontaneously.
It was during an audition at the Academy in 1936 – said Jan Ekier in an interview with Polish Radio – I recall walking the Warsaw Music Academy’s corridor with Professor Drzewicki and Lefeld who asked the professor: ‘Zbynio [a friendly diminutive of Drzewiecki first name – Zbigniew], shall we invite Jan [Ekier] to the Chopin Competition?’ Drzewiecki stopped and asked me: ‘Janek, do you want to take part in it?’ I agreed eagerly even though it was December and the competition was in March. With a youthful verve I started choosing the most demanding compositions (…) Eventually I was given the ‘Audience Award’, which I allotted for the commissioning of a nice frock coat.
During the German Occupation he performed during clandestine concerts and took part in the conspiracy’s patriotic events – which were strictly forbidden under threat of execution.
After World War II, he performed at every Polish philharmonic hall and toured Europe, South America and Japan. He was invited several times to join the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra as a soloist during their international tours. Among his specialities were: both of Chopin’s piano concertos, No. 4, Symphonie Concertante by Karol Szymanowski, Concerto No. 3 in C Major by Prokofiev and Bach’s concertos. His main and most characteristic qualities are his irreproachable technique, musical narrative logic, sense of the development of form, fine pedalling, considered articulation and expression which was always parallel with the piece’s content.
Among Jan Ekier's various musical engagements, the most important one is his role as an educator. Ekier studied piano, composition and musicology. For many years, he was considered the highest authority in piano education in Poland.
He began his career as an educator at the Władysław Żeleński Music School in Kraków in 1933, where he taught solfeggio. After the war, he devoted himself to educating pianists. Between 1946 and 1947, Ekier taught at the Public Music High School in Lublin and between 1947 and 1948 at the Music Academy in Sopot where he was also the rector. In 1953, Ekier was appointed professor at the University of Music in Warsaw. He held the chair of the First Piano Department at this university between 1964 and 1972, and 1974 and 2000. He sat on the jury of many international piano competitions organized in various countries, including the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw (1985, 1990, 1995 as chairman, 2000 and 2005 as an honorary member).
Among his students are such Chopin Piano Competition laureates as Piotr Paleczny. Apart from teaching in various music schools in Poland, Ekier taught master courses for pianists in Europe, America, Japan and China.
Jan Ekier's editorial experiences are related to his teaching career. Ekier joined the editorial staff of Biblioteka Pedagogiczna / Pedagogical Library which published the most popular works in piano literature from around the world for educational purposes. In 1959, he was appointed the editor-in-chief of the monumental National Edition of Fryderyk Chopin's Complete Works which is the most authoritative edition of the great composer's oeuvre.
We owe a lot to Chopin. His music helped us through the most difficult of times and during the eras of hope it was the perfect ambassador of Polish culture. We it owe him to present his works in the way he would like it to be presented – said Jan Ekier 55 years ago in his speech encouraging progress to start on the aforementioned work.
When we were starting works on ‘The National Edition’, Jerzy Waldorff joked that it would take us 450 years – said Ekier in an interview – Fortunately we made it much quicker. And we wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for new technologies. Thanks to the Internet we are able to view a perfect reproduction of the first edition on the other side of the world.
Ekier has been honoured with many prizes and distinctions including the State Award, first rank, for preparing the Polish team for the 4th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition (1950) and the 1st Rank Award of the Minister of Culture and Art (1964 and 1974). Ekier was presented the Gold Cross of Merit (1952), the Officer Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the 10th Anniversary of Regaining Freedom Medal (1955) and the 2nd Rank Labour Banner Order (1960). In 1995, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Music in Warsaw. In 2004, Ekier received the Special Award of the Minster of Culture of the Republic of Poland presented for the first time for "distinguished contributions to the preservation and promotion of Fryderyk Chopin's heritage, in particular the monumental publication of The National Edition of Fryderyk Chopin's Complete Works which restored the output of this great Polish composer to European culture in a form that is closest to its original".
In 2013 professor Ekier was awarded several times. He received a statue of Koryfeusz of Polish Music and a Golden Fryderyk for lifetime achievements. On the day of his 100th anniversary he was awarded The Order of the White Eagle by the President of the Republic of Poland – Bronisław Komorowski.
In 2013, the 100th birthday of Professor Jan Ekier was celebrated. On the day, a ‘Chopin marathon’ took place at the Museum of Fryderyk Chopin. During an almost 6-hour-long concert several artist performed mazurkas, polonaises, waltzes, songs and nocturnes by Fryderyk Chopin. Among the performers were many of Ekier's ex-students.
In August 2013, the first biography of Jan Ekier was published. It was written by Aneta Teichman. The author made numerous interviews with the professor and his students. Her work is full of annexes with lists of his recordings, live performances, compositions, articles, scientific works, video materials and radio programmes in which Jan Ekier took part.
Jan Ekier died on the night of 14th/15th of August 2014 in a hospital in Warsaw. One of his sons, Jakub recalled that it happened on the day of the 70th anniversary of the concert he gave at the Warsaw Technical University for soldiers fighting in the Warsaw Uprising.
Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Musical Information Centre, Polish Composers Association, PAP, March 2002; updated: September 2008, March 2014 (WO), August 2014 (AM)
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