Just in: Warsaw to stage Chopin competition on period instruments

This may sound like political correctness taken a pedal too far.

The Chopin Competition is held every five years. The last was in 2015.

Now, for political reasons (see below), an extra competition has been announced for next year – with a twist.

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute owns a number of instruments that Chopin once played – mostly Erards and Pleyels, with a solitary English Broadwood. It will put them to use for the first time as competition instrument in 2018 in an event arranged to celebrate the centenary of Poland’s independence.

A one-off? No, they want to make this competition a regular occurrence.

Details here.

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  • The powers that be need to stop this misguided trainwreck before it acquires a life of its own, let alone before it rolls out. I don’t think anyone in the world gives a fig to hear HIP Chopin. Well, maybe two or three librarians.

    • Speak for yourself. Many of us would give multiple figs to hear it. These are the very instruments Chopin used to compose the works we claim to love. Anyone uninterested has about 17 bajillion YouTube performances they can watch instead. Caveat emptor…

    • I would put it in the category of cultural politics – The “Friedryk Chopin Institute” knows much better than you what you should hear and how you should hear it:

      “By approaching the original performance apparatus ……. we have been able to restore……. the distinguishing features of that music which are lost in performance on modern instruments”.

      Sounds more like another desperate attempt to administer a transfusion to the still-twitching cadaver of the piano competition genre.

  • GREAT IDEA!! Finally hear the right sound! And cultivate sensitivities AND sensibilities in pianists who can appreciate what period pianos provide! Go for it! good luck!
    Thomas Marshall, Music Dept., College of William and Mary (USA)

  • Without being able to see the ‘political reasons’ and, therefore, judging it merely as a news item, I’m not at all sure that this development needs to be regarded with negativity, nor that it should only be of interest to ‘two or three librarians’. There is plenty of room for an interest in the HIP of Chopin, just as there is for everything else, and it might prove very interesting indeed. Though I’ve not played the instruments concerned, I have, as an amateur pianist, played a number of rather old instruments, and I’ve found the experience to be richly appealing in many respects.

      • You mean the ones Chopin actually played and composed on? He seemed to be fine with them. Competitions are such a sham anyway, with the most interesting players passed up by the most technically perfect because they’re the only ones all the judges can agree upon. I don’t see the harm in this addition, especially if it can bring some scholarship back to these athletic events.

        • I agree with you re competitions. I’m not so sure on the issue of Chopin’s pianos. The snag I see in this is that his playing earned him the sobriquet “the sylph of the piano”, his playing very delicate, even ephemeral in sound. Following upon that, he did simply accept the pianos of his day — unlike Beethoven — but then he also regarded the piano as more appropriate for private performances, salons, rather than concert halls. He was content with the piano as it was (although with about 180 manufacturers in Paris and constant innovations) because it suited, in a sense justified, his style of playing. And thus, pianists of today performing Chopin in concert halls, pianists used to Steinways or Faziolis or Bosendorfers, would hardly reproduce what audiences heard when Chopin played.

  • I was worried that this would take place of the regular competition – upon reading more, I’m very interested to see that it is in a separate division from the international competition we all know. It’s bound to sound very interesting, and I’m curious to see musicians’ stylistic adaptations and concessions on these older pianos

  • I didn’t use to give a shirt about Chopin because I knew he was a bad man after watching a DVD titled “The Strange Case of Delphina Potocka”.

    But now that there are these HIP pianists who are willing to bring fresh air to this repertoire, I am more than happy to give them a chance. Alexander Melnikov and Andreas Staier gave us some fantastic examples of how wonderful it could be when Schumann undergoes a HIP makeover. Moreover, a relatively new Lieder album by Werner Güra & Christoph Berner, titled “Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden” with Lieder collections by Brahms as well as Robert & Clara Schumann, was also performed on Erard piano. At least for me it is a very convincing interpretation of highest artistic finesse.

  • I do not understand how it can be justified to allege that this is being done “for political reasons”. This is a fitting celebration of the centenary of the restoration of the Polish Republic. There is a difference between politics and love of one’s country.

  • Who is going to want to enter this competition? Where are you supposed to get practice time on Chopin-era instruments?

  • It is one thing to play on the original instruments. However it is a useless exercise and not historically informed unless the 19th century stylistic devices are used; such as dislocation, arpeggiation, tempo rubato, and proper interpretation of hairpin crescendo markings. Without an evidence based approach, it will devolve into just another modern competition of blind adherence to the notation and bland boring “urtext performances”.

  • I am amazed at some of the kneejerk criticisms against historically informed performances. To my contemporary ears, some of them sound very convincing and appealing. This is also true with performances of Chopin on period instruments. The Fryderyk Chopin Society in Warsaw has published a number of recordings of Chopin music on period instruments. Some of the pianists in this series are past Chopin competition winners. Check this out:

    Emmanuel Ax has recorded the two concertos, with the OAE under Charles Mackerras.

  • Your silliness forgot the joy of life. stop putting labels on everything, you are missing the point! It is such a privilege to hear these pianos being played. Now get out from your box of stereotypes and prepare yourself for the journey into the past.

  • Having attended two of the regular Chopin competitions, I am much interested in attending the 2018 one on period instruments. As I do not know Polish, I need to find an organized tour group (British or American) with whom to travel. I hope to receive news that such groups will be formed. Thank you for any information.

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