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Personalities / All personalities / Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth
Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth
Picture CMIREB/IMKEB©R. KayaertClose
°1876 - †1965
In October 1900, Elisabeth, duchess of Bavaria, married Prince Albert I, who became King of the Belgians on 23 December 1909. It was the first time a Belgian King had married for love rather than out of diplomatic considerations. Although they had very different personalities, Albert and Elisabeth had the same interests and complemented each other perfectly. They had three children: heir apparent Prince Leopold (1901-1983), Prince Charles (1903-1983) and Princess Marie-José (1906-2001).

King Albert was a keen traveler. The King was also a mountaineer, a passion that would ultimately cost him his life. On 17 February 1934, after his daily duties, the King went for a quick climb in the Ardennes, but fell to his death from the rocks at Marche-les-Dames. Albert’s widow, Queen Elisabeth, was to outlive her husband by 31 years. A year after the King’s death, a fatal accident claimed the life of her daughter-in-law, Queen Astrid. This course of events left Elisabeth in a state of depression, but it was not too long before she recovered her strong personality of old. Indeed, she was a great support to her son Leopold and his three children who had lost their mother at such an early age.

Queen Elisabeth would go down in history as the artistically minded and strong-willed Queen who had contact with all sections of the population. Despite her German origins, she resolutely sided with her new Belgian countrymen and women during the First World War. Behind the Yser she supported initiatives to help wounded soldiers, one of which was the creation of L’Océan, an extremely modem hospital for the time. Here she paid numerous visits to soldiers and continued to devote herself to the disabled veterans’ cause even after the war. Never before had a royal couple enjoyed such great popularity in Belgium.

Elisabeth was an intellectual and extremely enthusiastic Queen. In the context of her interest in Egyptology and her contacts with the Egyptologist Jean Capart, she travelled to Egypt, where she was present at the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen. In 1925 she travelled to India, after which she became engrossed in yoga. Legendary scientists Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer and the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals were among her close circle of friends. Later she would be labeled the "Red Queen" because she refused to be lectured to by the political establishment. During the Cold War she travelled to countries such as the Soviet Union and China. Conventions and protocol were anathema to her.

Queen Elisabeth was an excellent painter and sculptor and a gifted violinist. Indeed, she was not afraid to play alongside the very greatest musicians of her time. Already in 1900 she met Eugène Ysaÿe, the Belgian violin virtuoso who was just reaching the pinnacle of an exceptional career. In 1912 he was appointed Royal Music Director. Together they would establish an international competition for violin. What Ysaÿe had in mind was a competition for young virtuosos, with extremely broad-ranging programmes, including contemporary music.

Queen Elisabeth could not set up such a competition overnight. Ysaÿe died in 1931, shortly after the establishment of the Queen Elisabeth Music Foundation. Subsequently, the economic crisis and the accidental death of King Albert, followed by that of his daughter-in-law Queen Astrid, temporarily put into abeyance any large-scale artistic projects. It was only in 1937 that the first Ysaÿe Competition took place. An international jury of exceptionally high standing eagerly accepted the invitation. The prestige of Ysaÿe’s name, coupled with that of the Belgian, brought the elite of the violin world to Brussels.

Before war broke out, thanks to the support of an enlightened and generous patron, Baron Paul de Launoit, Queen Elisabeth inaugurated a boldly conceived musical institution, based on the Soviet model and intended to make a noticeable improvement in the training conditions of young Belgian artists: this was the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel.

After the 1938 piano edition, circumstances led to its suspension for the time being. Times were uncomfortable and unpredictable for the Belgian royal family shortly after the Second World War : two of Queen Elisabeth’s children - Léopold III and Marie-José, an ephemeral Queen of Italy - lost their thrones. A third, Charles, held the Regency of Belgium for five years, but, though he was a princely artist, this period was unavoidably marked by one overriding priority: the economic and social reconstruction of the country.

In the spring of 1950 it was decided to relaunch the Ysaÿe Competition. Marcel Cuvelier, director of the Brussels Philharmonic Society, persuaded Queen Elisabeth to lend her name to the competition. The first qualifiers took place in the spring of 1951, in accordance with the principles directly inherited from the Ysaÿe Competition. From now on, the prestigious buildings of the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel would host the finalists for the period of seclusion.
History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 1/9
History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 2/9
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History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 5/9
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History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 7/9
History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 8/9
History of the Queen Elisabeth Competition – 9/9
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