In the early summer of 2017, young pianists will converge on the mdw for the 15th time to prove their Beethoven expertise before an international jury and the Viennese public: the mdw’s International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna is just around the corner. And the registration period ends soon, on 15 October 2016!

Goldener Saal Musikverein Wien
The final is to take place in the Golden Hall of Musikverein Vienna in 2017 too ©Nancy Horowitz

Dealing with Beethoven’s oeuvre is one of the most challenging things young musicians have to face as they mature musically: “When studying Beethoven’s piano works, one runs into difficulties, questions, and problems, and dealing with these is not just part of becoming a pianist, but also part of a musician’s overall development as an artist and even as a human being.” (Edwin Fischer)

2017 will once again offer a special experience when the 36 best pianists from an international audition round appear in Vienna from 28 May to 8 June to introduce themselves as performers with their interpretations of Beethoven’s piano works. For interested members of the public in Beethoven’s chosen home city, this means the opportunity to observe a young, international elite’s conceptions and interpretations of the composer’s piano works in concentrated form—for this unique competition’s extensive repertoire consists exclusively of music by Beethoven from all his creative periods.

Maria Mazo
Maria Mazo, winner of the International Beethoven Piano Competition 2013 ©Nancy Horowitz

The international audition round of this competition, which takes place only once every four years and enjoys unique worldwide renown, will be making stops in New York City, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Bonn, and Vienna during January and February of 2017. Of those who compete in this round, up to 36 outstanding talents will be invited to participate in the subsequent three rounds in Vienna: the first of these will be held at the mdw’s Joseph Haydn-Saal, after which the focus will shift to the Brahms-Saal at the Vienna Musikverein for the second round. Thereafter, the three finalists will play the third and final round with orchestra in this round’s traditional venue—the Musikverein’s Golden Hall. 2017 will see them accompanied by the ORF’s Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alejo Perez.

The musician who prevails in this ultimate test before an international jury and the Viennese public will be awarded a Bösendorfer Model 200 concert grand as well as EUR 10,000 in prize money.


Jan Jiracek von Arnim, artistic director of the International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna and a professor at the mdw’s Department of Piano, speaks with mdw Magazine.

Jan Jiracek von Arnim
Jan Jiracek von Arnim ©private

What status does the International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna enjoy compared to other international competitions??

It’s Austria’s oldest international music competition. And telling, among other things, is the high number of entries from all corners of the Earth: this competition—which, by the way, is the only one focused exclusively on Beethoven’s piano oeuvre—enjoys the highest international esteem. And the mdw can be proud that it provides a platform for this competition, which is unique the world over, so that every four years, young talents can come to Vienna and compare themselves with the best of the best. And what other competition takes place in such a setting? It’s in the City of Music itself, with the final-round competitors onstage in what might be the world’s most famous concert hall, the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. It is truly unique. Not to mention that, to my knowledge, there exists no other piano competition where you can win a grand piano. And for that, we owe special thanks to our partner Bösendorfer for so many years of fantastically generous support.

What significance do piano competitions generally have for the careers of young pianists, and how, in this respect, can one categorise a competition that concentrates exclusively on works by Beethoven?

In this day and age, young musicians need more than ever to be heard and to draw attention to their abilities. A competition can be an important source of help, here—and not just for the young talents who ultimately win. After all, preparing for such a competition is the opportunity to polish works down to the last detail, works that are thereafter part of your “flesh and blood”. And what’s more, intensive study of compositions from all phases of Beethoven’s creative life paves the way for interpretational maturity—this journey is its own reward!

You’ll be overseeing the competition for the second time. Do you have any particularly special memories of the competition’s previous edition in 2013?

Well, the days are filled with Beethoven’s music from dawn till dark—and for those who are “just” there to listen, that’s a challenge and a blessing at the same time: you get to more or less “bathe” in Beethoven’s music. And comparing the players’ interpretations is just fascinating.

What makes next year’s competition something that’s not to be missed?

It’s a great opportunity for the general public—and also, of course, for our own students—to experience a young generation of international musical talents giving Beethoven’s piano oeuvre everything they’ve got. During this approximately ten-day period, we’ll experience the most divergent interpretational approaches, and we’ll also be hearing some works several times—which will enable comparisons that are all the more direct. In my experience, the ultimate effect is that, as listeners, we end up feeling closer to Beethoven. Over the competition’s three rounds, we experience a composer who spent his entire life in search of new ways forward, never “standing still” in his creative work. And in stark contrast to an individual concert or even a concert series, one is entirely unable to escape the intensity of Beethoven’s music during these Beethoven-saturated days. All this came up again and again in the audience feedback from the 2013 competition. And the stringent international auditions ensure that the musicians playing in Vienna truly are outstanding. So it will definitely be worth hearing!

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