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History / Compulsory works and composition competitions
Compulsory works and composition competitions
The Queen Elisabeth Competition made it a point of honour, from its foundation, to be involved in the world of contemporary music and the compulsory unpublished concerto in the final was a great step in this direction. However, in the post-war atmosphere of renewed optimism this was regarded as insufficient. Whereas before the war the Queen Elisabeth Music Foundation had planned an expansion of the Ysaÿe Competition to include orchestral conducting (an idea still-born because of the imminence of war), the new Competition management, from 1950, envisaged a major composition competition. Hopes were high, in 1953, for the first edition. Yet a prestigious jury (Nadia Boulanger, Malipiero, Frank Martin, Martinù, Panufnik, Absil, Poot, and others), performances of the scores by an excellent orchestra, and the unconditional support of Queen Elisabeth, were all of no avail: the competition failed to find an audience. Despite a succession of changes, the following editions (1957, 1961, 1965, and 1969) confirmed the insurmountable difficulties of organising a public composition competition. Further modifications, followed by total abandonment, led, however, to the adoption in 1991 of a formula that was undoubtedly far removed from the original idea but was clearly more realistic. The Composition Competition is now held to choose the compulsory concerto for the violin and piano competitions. Open to candidates from all over the world, it has been quite successful in this format, with the winning composer’s work assured of extensive international exposure.

For a while the set concertos were reserved for Belgian composers - with one notable exception. From 1951 to 1956 a national competition was held, but from 1959 to 1989 (except for 1987, when the restriction to Belgian composers applied once more), the works were commissioned. These twenty or so Belgian concertos have been much talked about: too modern, not modern enough, too difficult, not difficult enough, and so on. What has not been said about those concertos! They aimed, most of them with undeniable qualities, to be both a faithful reflection of the composer’s style and a vehicle for showing off the talents of very varied performers. Listening to them again today, at a time when aesthetic dictates are clearly less forceful, one feels keen to release most of them from their purgatory. A significant selection was included in the releases to mark the 50th anniversary of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2001; this made it possible to evaluate them and to realise that they were often better than had been reputed. Belgian composers, it should be pointed out, have continued to be commissioned to write compulsory works for the semi-finals.
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