Chopin: Strictly Polish? - Part 2
small, Chopin: Strictly Polish? - Part 2, en_fo_krystian_zimerman_chopin_express__w330_4289470.jpg
After three consecutive defeats in the Chopin Competition (1927, 1932 and 1937) the Polish pianistic establishment came to an appropriate conclusion
In spite of the setbacks endured during the war (a great number of brilliant musicians were killed, concert halls and libraries lay in ruins, many of Chopin's own manuscripts and other priceless mementos were lost forever) the desire to prove to the world that Poland's Chopinism was still thriving was a good reason to resort to unconventional means. The Polish contingent was determined to take pains to prepare itself for the Competition.
In June 1948, a nationwide preliminary competition was set up to recruit Polish candidates for the next edition of the Chopin Competition in the autumn of the coming year. Pianists were singled out and taken under the wing of the most illustrious piano professors and even received subsidies from the Ministry of Culture and Art. Every three months, the team had to audition in front of the Ministry's Pedagogical Commission. The reward for these lengthy efforts was a summer course in the Lagów lake district, where candidates and their professors worked to polish the Competition programme.
And the fruits of their labours were apparent: the winner of the first prize in the Fourth International Chopin Piano Competition was Halina Czerny-Stefańska (1922-2001), second prize went to Barbara Hesse-Bukowska (b. 1930), third prize to Waldemar Maciszewski (1927-1956), fifth was Władysław Kędra (1918-1968), sixth Ryszard Bakst (1926-1999), eighth Zbigniew Szymonowicz (1922-1999), eleventh Regina Smendzianka (b1924) and twelfth, Tadeusz Żmudziński (1924-1992). Out of the 12 official prizes, Polish pianists took home eight! The great victory of the Polish Chopin School compensated, in some measure, for all previous failures - this is who the public perceived to matter, and how the papers chronicled the news. "The question raises itself," wrote Adam Rieger in the Poradnik Muzyczny (Musical Guide) periodical,
"What style of expression has been established as the ideal for the contemporary Polish piano school? Let us attempt to describe it... It's characterised by the pursuit of a noble simplicity... a return to a 'pure' Chopin, unadulterated by the 'improvements' of a number of publishers and virtuosos of the 19th century. But not only pure, but 'full'. We know how many idiosyncracies Chopin embodied... A heartfelt lyricism, dramatic nerve, full-bodied technique entirely subordinate to musical expression, a romantic, emotional load, captured within the classical straits of formal discipline - all of this (and much more) comes together to compose the full, true Chopin".
The full and true Chopin, as Rieger puts it, was who the aforementioned artists presented to the world for over half a century. Pianists outside the country made reference to the canon of performance worked out by the Poles in their performances of Chopin.
It's worth mentioning Halina Czerny-Stefańska, who inspired hundreds of imitators. In Poland, these very pianists made the deepest impression on future generations, on such musicians as Piotr Paleczny, Janusz Olejniczak, Krystian Zimerman, Wojciech Świtała, Ewa Pobłocka and Rafał Blechacz.
The 1955 Competition also proved a success for the Polish School. Adam Harasiewicz, a pupil of Professor Drzewicki, triumphed with a flourish, defeating Vladimir Ashkenazy and Bernard Ringeissen (incidentally, the latter two were the audience favourites). The Polish School can also attribute part of its success to China's Fou Ts'ong, another of Drzewicki's pupils.
Subsequent competitions, alas, did not yield such spectacular results. At the 1960 edition, not one Pole received an award, apart from a single honorary mention. Five years later, Marta Sosińska (another of Drzewiecki's pupils) received the third prize, while Elżbieta Głąbówna won sixth. At the Competition in 1970, Poles were on top once again, when Piotr Paleczny, a pupil of Jan Ekier, the 1937 winner) won third prize. Sixth prize went to Janusz Olejniczak (who studied under Drzewiecki as well as Ryszard Bakst, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska and Witold Małcużyński – all winners of previous competitions). Gradually, the age of great pianists and teachers was beginning to wane. There was no one to fill their place – the war had dealt a harsh blow to the continuity of Poland's pianistic evolution.The 1975 Competition marked yet another triumph for Poland with the victory of Krystian Zimerman, a student of Andrzej Jasiński, who in turn was taught by Magda Tagliaferro. The 18-year-old pianist won not only the first prize, but also the Chopin Society Polonaise Award and the Polish Radio Mazurka Award. After the Jury's verdict, the audience, for the first time in the Competition's history, sang Happy Birthday to the winner! Jerzy Waldorff wrote:
"The talent... of that boy dominated and shone above the gifts of other participants. His playing was impetuous and youthfully joyous; it took me by storm so, while listening, I didn't want to look for mistakes in his fascinating performance. I was enraptured and only thought that... it must be like the young Rubinstein, when he was conquering the world with his art."
In 1980 Ewa Pobłocka was among the laureates (fourth prize and Polish Radio Mazurka Award). In the next edition, Krzysztof Jabłoński won third prize and, five years later, Wojciech Świtała took the Chopin Society Polonaise Award. In 1995 Magdalena Lisak won sixth prize.
The last Polish triumph at the Competition was in 2005, when Rafał Blechacz conquered the Jury and audience not only with his perfect technique, but also with the humility of his approach to Chopin's music. He received both the First Prize and many special awards: the Polonaise and Mazurka Prizes, the Warsaw Philharmonic Concerto Award and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute's Sonata Award.
But who will win this year?
Author: Stanisław Dybowski
This article comes from the "Chopin Express", gazette published for the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Gramophone magazine.
View the audition recitals online at chopin2010.pl/en/competitions/xvith-chopins-competition.html
Other articles of interest in Chopin Express No. 13:
"Reading Between the Notes" - A Review of Day 12 by John Allison