History

Lucie Swiatek, a piano teacher with a passion for Chopin, founded the Chopin Society UK in 1971. Her aims were to hold regular recitals in interesting venues, each concert containing some of Chopin’s music; to encourage young pianists; to present talks by Chopin specialists; to take an interest in Chopin’s heritage in Britain, and to bring together Chopin lovers and piano enthusiasts generally in an agreeable social and musical atmosphere, giving them the chance to hear and meet some of the finest Chopin interpreters of the day.

Leading Chopin interpreters who have performed for the Chopin Society, include: Malcolm Binns, Idil Biret, Nikolai Demidenko, Barry Douglas, Peter Frankl, Angela Hewitt, Leslie Howard, Peter Katin, Louis Kentner, Piers Lane, Hamish Milne, Cristina Ortiz, Howard Shelley, Valerie Tryon, Mitsuko Uchida, Tamas Vasary, and David Wilde.
Natalia Karp, Captain Broadwood (of the piano firm) and Arthur Hedley at 99 Eaton Place
Natalia Karp, Capt Broadwood and Arthur Hedley at 99 Eaton Place

The Chopin Society was not the first organisation of its kind in London. After the Second World War, Chopin scholar Arthur Hedley set up a Chopin Circle which held concerts in private houses and in a hotel at 99 Eaton Place, where Chopin himself had given a concert in 1848.

The Chopin Circle in London came to an end with the death of Hedley in the 1960s. Many of its members later joined the Chopin Society or played for it, such as Natalia Karp, the distinguished Polish pianist who used to give concerts with Hedley and played for the Society many times, as well as Daisy Drinkwater (the violinst Daisy Kennedy, previously Mrs Benno Moiseiwitsch), and Captain Evelyn Broadwood, both of whom were on the Chopin Society Committee.

The Society’s first President was Maurice Jacobson, the last Chairman of Curwen’s Music Publishers in Maiden Lane and a well-known adjudicator at Festivals. He was followed in 1976 by the great Hungarian pianist Louis Kentner, who played for the Society almost every year until his death in 1987.

The eminent astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell became President in 1989 and in 1999 he became Patron of the Society and Rose Cholmondeley became President. She had been one of Louis Kentner’s pupils and was Chairman of the Society for many years.

Recital at the Sikorski Museum
A Chopin Society recital at the Sikorski Museum, London

Venues

In the early days concerts were held in private houses and churches, although the main venue was More House in Cromwell Road SW7. Then in 1974 the Society moved to the Polish Institute & Sikorski Museum nearby in Princes Gate, where it was to remain for 33 years. Mrs Drinkwater lent one of the Russian virtuoso Benno Moiseiwitsch’s Steinway pianos for the concerts. Concerts were also held at Leighton House, and 99 Eaton Place, where Chopin performed in 1848.

Lucie Swiatek organised a campaign in 1972 to try and prevent 99 Eaton Place from being turned into flats. She even enlisted the support of Artur Rubinstein, but the campaign failed. She did, however, manage to stop the large first-floor lateral drawing room in which Chopin played being divided in two.

The Chopin Society membership has grown steadily over the past few years, so after 33 years it became necessary to leave the Polish Institute and find a larger space. Concerts have since been held very successfully in churches and embassies in Central London (see venues). Since 2011 Westminster Cathedral Hall has become the Society's permanent venue.



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