Stanisław Dybowski surveys the make-up of the Chopin Competition Jury in the years following World War II, attempting to define the sort of character required to fufill this great duty...
Chopin Competition Jury deliberations in 1949. Photo: press materialsStanisław Dybowski surveys the make-up of the Chopin Competition Jury in the years following World War II, attempting to define the sort of character required to fufill this great duty
The first Chopin Competition
after the war took place in 1949. It lasted an entire month - from September 15 to October 15, crowning the ceremonies surrounding the 100th Anniversary of Chopin's death. After year of Nazi occupation in Poland, under which there was a ban instated on performing Chopin's music under penalty of death, there was an explosion of sentiment towards the composers works. Everything related to Chopin
(or Szopen as his name was often spelled to emphasise his "Polishness") was of particular significance. And so it followed that the competition named for the composer aroused a degree of interest that it had never managed to attain in the past.
"Warsaw", wrote a journalist from the Kurier Codzienny (Daily Courier), "has 'chopinified' itself with a passion, enthusiasm and passion of its very own. (...) The unattractive, terribly arranged "Roma" hall where auditions took place was filled to bursting. When one looked down at the hall from above, (...) the rows commingled, there were two people to a seat, sometimes even a third on the armrest, and every centimeter of free space from the door to the stage was filled with people, standing in a hot crowd, immobile, transfixed by the sounds coming from the black box upon the stage".
The jurors of this edition played a special role, almost a holy function. They listened to the auditions from a lodge on the upper level, hidden behind a screen. It was a rule that the performers would play anonymously, identified only by a number and the members of the jury were barred from any contact with the young pianists and as a result they were rather isolated from the outside world. The role of a trusted agent was instated and the brilliant pianist Jerzy Lefeld was chosen to fill it - a Professor of the Warsaw Conservatory. He was a liaison between the jurors and the competitors, he knew the point scale and carried out calculations. Zbigniew Drzewiecki was named jury chairman and Artur Hedley the deputy chairman. Hedley was a Chopinologist from Great Britain, who possessed a brilliant command of Polish. That year brought on a novel aspect of the jury selection process, namely those countries whose candidates were participating in the competition had the right to delegate there own members.
Among the 29 jurors of that time were acclaimed pianists who boasted glittering names. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they were the stars of concerts for the public. Among the performers were Paweł Sieriebriakow, Jan Ekier, Lelia Gousseau, Lajos Hernady, Lazare Levy, Marguerite Long, Frantisek Maxian, Lew Oborin, Magda Tagliaferro and Stanisław Szpinalski. As a side note, it's worth mentioning that Lili Kraus did not accept her invitation to join the jury because of prior commitments.
The jury make-up of subsequent Chopin Competitions in Warsaw was established according to a firm set of criteria. Because for the first time a competitor from China, educated nonetheless in Poland, was among those in the running, a representative from his country was invited to join the jury. Yet over the years, the role of specific nations in the organisation of the Chopin Competition lost its significance. The burden of the organisation and substance of the competition was taken on by the Fryderyk Chopin Society in Warsaw. The Society established guidelines for both participants and jurors, in addition rounding out the jury. to Government institutions, in particular the Ministry of Culture, was responsible solely for funding the Competition and setting the amount of the monetary awards, along with accepting decisions and so on...
Proposals for jury members came from conservatories, certain professors, members of the Fryderk Chopin Society and various Polish diplomatic outposts - by way of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Association board had to approve the final make-up of the jury before the Minister of Culture would sign off. Then the administrative works began, aimed at formally inviting each particular candidate. In most cases, invitations were accepted. In 1975, Claudio Aurrau refused his based on the principle that he never participated in competitions and twenty years later, Światosław Richter also refused. First-prize winners of the Chopin Competition Maurizio Pollini and Krystian Zimerman never took up the offer either.
The history of the Chopin Competition demonstrates that the jury should in fact be made up of practicing musicians, that is, concert pianists and pedagogues who are familiar with Chopin's oeuvre and the historical context of his music - individuals who are also characterised by great fortitude and righteousness of character. Music critics, chopinologists and composers don't cut it. It turned out that for one well-known critic, it proved difficult to come up with his own judgment scale, while the chopinologist couldn't manage working out the point system for a work performed a dozen times in a row, and the composer was unsure if the performance was entirely in line with the composer's score. Conjectures regarding the invitation of impresarios and directors of major musical events to the jury - which never came to pass in Warsaw - are nonsense because this would diminish the professional level of the jury. The competition has no need for this sort of marketing strategy.
Let us sum it all up with the following: the most frequently returning member of the Chopin Competition jury of Polish descent is Jan Ekier (ten times) and Bernard Ringeissen from abroad (six times) - both winners of prior editions. Jerzy Żuralew sat on jury seven times, Magda Tagliaferro and Frantisek Rauch five times apiece. All in all, a total of 199 people have enjoyed the honour to be part of the jury of the International Chopin Piano Competition.
Author: Stanisław Dybowski, October 2010
The article comes from the Chopin Express gazette published for the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition
by Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Gramophone.
View the audition recitals online at chopin2010.pl/en/competitions/xvith-chopins-competition.html
Other articles of interest in Chopin Express No. 07:"The Pianists are the Most Important" - Interview with Steinway's Gerrit Glaner