August 29, 1913 Kraków - August 15, 2014
Winner of eighth prize in the Third International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1937). Born into a family of musicians – his father was a composer of dance and stage music and his sister a pianist and teacher – he first took private piano lessons with Olga Stolfowa, one of the best teachers in Kraków. Later, under the same teacher, he trained at the Władysław Żeleński School of Music, also attending composition lessons with Bernardino Rizzi. From 1932 to 1934, he studied musicology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He pursued higher musical education at the Warsaw Conservatory on two fronts: piano with Zbigniew Drzewiecki and composition with Kazimierz Sikorski (1934–1939).
During the war, he was taught organ by Bronisław Rutkowski (1940–1941).
He first performed in public as a boy, including playing four-handed with his sister, Halina. In 1937, he won a prize in the Chopin Competition and embarked on his first concert tour of Poland, performing in concerts organised by ORMUZ, a body set up to promote music in the provinces.
During the German occupation, he played in clandestine concerts and took part in secret patriotic events – for which the Germans had imposed the severest sanctions, including the firing squad.
After the war, Jan Ekier resumed his musical career, working in several different fields: as a virtuoso pianist, a teacher (professor of piano, initially at the Music College in Sopot and then in Warsaw), a composer, an editor of piano literature and a researcher into the legacy of Fryderyk Chopin.
As a pianist, he performed in all the philharmonic halls in Poland and undertook several tours of European countries, South America and Japan. Several times, he traveled abroad as a soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He was renowned for his splendid interpretations of Chopin’s piano concertos and solo works, Karol Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante for piano and orchestra, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto in C major and concertos by Bach. His playing was characterized by impeccable technique, logical musical narration, a sense of formal development, excellent pedal, purposeful articulation and expression that resulted from the content of the work.
As a teacher, by the time he took retirement in 2000, Jan Ekier had trained dozens of excellent Polish and foreign piano students at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, and legions of musicians had benefited from his extensive knowledge on masterclass courses given by him in Annecy, Hamburg, Bonn, Cologne, Darmstadt, Mannheim, Tokyo and elsewhere. He was a juror of ten successive editions of the Chopin Competition (1949, 1955, 1960, 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995; 2005, 2010 - honorable chairman) and of international competitions in Budapest (1956), Leipzig (1964), Paris (1967), Terni (1971, 1973), Prague (1973), Bolzano (1975, 1977), Geneva (1975, 1986), Seregano (1977), Monza (1980), Munich (1977), Tel Aviv (1980), Tokyo (1983), Vienna (1985), Hamburg (1987) and Fort Worth (1989).
Jan Ekier’s compositional output encompasses orchestral works (a ‘highland suite’ and a piano concerto), ballet music (The Scarecrow, The Tempo of the Day), chamber works (Variations and Fugue for string quartet), piano pieces (incl. Toccata, Colourful Melodies, preludes, mazurkas and carols), vocal works (incl. songs of the underground struggle, ‘Song of the Storm Platoon’) and film music; that oeuvre was largely inspired by Polish folklore.
Jan Ekier prepared critical-performance editions of works by Bach (Inventions, French Suites, English Suites, Italian Concerto, Chromatic Fantasy) and a dozen or so editions of piano works by Polish and foreign composers.
From 1959, Jan Ekier was editor-in-chief of the Polish National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin, the aim of which was to publish Chopin’s musical texts cleansed of historical editorial accretions, based solely on the brilliant composer’s autographs.
Ekier was also awarded an honorary doctorate of the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music, proposed by the academy’s senate, in 1995.
- Stanisław Dybowski