Born for and through the violin, the Ysaÿe Competition bequeathed its tradition to the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Inaugurated by the violin in 1951, the Competition celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1976 (which was also the centenary of the birth of Queen Elisabeth) by changing the usual competition sequence in favour of the instrument. And the 50th anniversary in 2001 would also be celebrated with the violin. Nonetheless, it was the piano that, starting in 1952, became the other spearhead of the Competition and perhaps even - although with only a slight edge - the most popular. Although attempts to arouse popular interest in the composition competition, as we will see, were not successful, the considerable national and international success of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in the violin and piano categories soon led people to wonder: why not broaden the concept and create new categories, in particular for the cello?
|Gérard Mortier with Grace Bumbry (voice 2011)|
The answer to these questions was provided by an unhoped-for revival of singing in Belgium (which owed much to the success of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie/Koninklijke Muntschouwburg in the 1980s under the management of Gerard Mortier
). Thanks to personalities such as Mortier himself, José Van Dam
, and Jules Bastin
, and with the active involvement of the Competition’s President, Count Jean-Pierre de Launoit (himself a keen opera buff), a singing competition was set up on an experimental basis in 1988, between the piano competition and the violin competition.
Since the public and critical reception was on the whole enthusiastic, the new competition was repeated. Its success and its quality have grown steadily since then. Following the traditionally demanding nature of the Competition’s rules, the application of which has been the subject of passionate debate (are there really singers who can excel at once in a lied by Wolf, an atonal set piece, a bravura scene by Donizetti, and a Handel aria?), the singing competition worked very hard to find its bearings and its emergence as one of the great competitions in this domain, with a proud record to point to, is today beyond doubt.