The idea for creating the Competition came from the teacher and pianist Jerzy Żurawlew. Working with young people, he observed their keenness for rivalry and for displaying their talents, so he considered that a pianistic tournament would be the best way of encouraging them to play Chopin. At that time, implementing such an idea was by no means straightforward, and for years the Warsaw Competition was the only event of its kind in the world.
In the first edition of the Competition, held in the winter of 1927, only twenty-six pianists from eight countries took part. Those arriving from outside Warsaw stayed and practised in the private homes of families who had agreed to put them up. The jury – bar one – comprised solely Polish artists. The podium was taken by Russians (including the winner, Lev Oborin) and Poles.
Already for the 2nd edition of the Competition in 1932, as many as 200 candidates applied. After three promising editions (the third one in 1937), the organization of the Competition was impossible for over a decade due to the break-out of the II World War – the tradition was undertaken again only in 1949. From that moment, the Competition was held in the regular 5-year cycle. In the 1940s and 1950s, the competitions were gradually reaching the international level. The impressive jury consisted partly of the laureates from the previous editions – such as Lev Oborin, Yakov Zak or Imre Ungár – as well as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, Witold Lutosławski.
The 1960s and 1970s brought a true heyday for the Chopin Competition, confirmed by the names of its great winners – Maurizio Pollini or Martha Argerich. 1970 appeared to be especially important for American and Japanese pianism, thanks to Garrick Ohlsson and Mitsuko Uchida, the winner of the II Prize. 5 years later, the hosts were triumphing – Krystian Zimermann was the first Polish winner after twenty years.
Over the years, the interest in the Competition and its prestige overwhelmed any other artistic events connected with Chopin. More and more young pianists from all continents took part in the Competition.
In 1980, at the 10th Competition, the Vietnamese player Dang Thai Son was the winner. Among all performers, Ivo Pogorelić from Jugoslavia aroused extraordinarily strong emotions.
The 21st century set the Competition new challenges, in a changing social, cultural and media situation with which not just the organizers, but also the laureates have to cope. However, they all are dealing better and better with the new circumstances. Yundi Li, the winner from 2000, is a media superstar; the leading lights of the 2005, 2010 and 2015 competitions are much sought after: the winner of the XV Competition, Rafał Blechacz, and the laureates of the XVI edition, Yulianna Avdeeva, Daniil Trifonov and Ingolf Wunder, as well as the winner of the XVII Competition Seong-Jin Cho. The YouTube recordings and Facebook accounts of all these pianists have hundreds of millions of views.