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The Kosciuszko Foundation Wieniawski Violin Competition was established to provide young musicians with an opportunity to further their creative development, inspire their artistic endeavors, and to encourage them to learn more about Poland’s distinctive musical heritage by studying the repertoire of Polish composers.

The Competition honors Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), Poland’s legendary violinist and composer, one of the greatest violinists of the Romantic era whom contemporary critics compared to Niccolò Paganini. Wieniawski entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 8 and gave his first public concert in Paris as a teenager. Named solo violinist to the Russian Tsar in 1860, he taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1862-1969 and the Brussels Conservatory from 1874-1877. His many international appearances included an American tour with pianist Anton Rubinstein in 1872.


The Wieniawski Competition was established by the Kosciuszko Foundation in 1969. Initially, it was held every other year, later at irregular intervals. The 2020 edition marks the 140th anniversary of death of Henryk Wieniawski.


Henryk Wieniawski (1835 – 1880)


Often compared to Paganini, Wieniawski was one of the greatest violinists of the Romantic era. As a performer, he dazzled audiences with his stupendous technique, expressive phrasing, and rich tone. As a composer, he succeeded in blending brilliant virtuosity with true Romantic inspiration. Like his compatriot Chopin, Wieniawski wrote music which celebrated the spirit of Poland, with his popular Polonaise in D major serving as a sterling example. Wieniawski's talent as a composer came to the fore in his extraordinary Violin Concerto No. 2, regarded as one of the great works of the Romantic violin repertoire.

Born in Poland while the country was under foreign rule, Wieniawski was a member of a family which produced several remarkable musicians. Recognized as a prodigy, Wieniawski auditioned for the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine. In 1846, he received first prize in violin. Two years later, Wieniawski embarked on a career as a concert violinist, performing first in Paris and then in St. Petersburg. After achieving great success in St. Petersburg, Wieniawski returned to Paris to study composition.

Between 1851 and 1853, Wieniawski lived in Russia, giving concerts with his younger brother Joseph. In many ways the typical Romantic virtuoso, Wieniawski was also developing into a serious composer. The works published by the time he was 18 included the Polonaise in D major and the Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor. A work in which musical inspiration may have been, as critics later maintained, subordinated to the virtuoso's need to demonstrate his sheer technical prowess, the Violin Concerto No. 1 nevertheless hugely impressed European audiences, launching Wieniawski's international career as a violinist-composer.

Wieniawski's career entered a new phase in 1860, when he moved to St. Petersburg. Wieniawski immediately became one of the country's principal musical figures. First violinist to the Tsar and professor of violin at the newly-founded Conservatory, he also led the Russian Musical Society's orchestra and string quartet. He exerted a tremendous influence on the Russian violin tradition; his unusual bowing style, with a stiff wrist and raised elbow, later became a trademark of Russian violinists, who, despite the seeming discomfort of the technique, kept rising to the pinnacle of violin performance. Wieniawski also matured as a composer. The Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in Russia in 1862, supports the violin with an orchestral part which, going beyond mere accompaniment, fully participates in the composition's thematic development. Also, anticipating cyclical compositional forms, Wieniawski reiterates the soulful second theme of the first movement in the final movement.

Wieniawski's Russian period ended in 1872, when he resumed his career as an international virtuoso. Following a grueling, two-year North American tour, Wieniawski returned to Europe to succeed Vieuxtemps as professor at the Brussels Conservatory. He kept that post until 1877 while maintaining his busy concert schedule. In 1878, although weakened by a serious heart condition, Wieniawski played in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. In Berlin, on November 11, 1878, Wieniawski collapsed while performing his second violin concerto; in Moscow, on December 17, he was unable to complete his performance of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" sonata.


Undaunted, Wieniawski started a Russian tour in 1879, but was taken to the hospital in Odessa. On February 14, 1880, Wieniawski was brought to the house of Tchaikovsky's patroness Nadezhda von Meck. The dying Wieniawski was also in a desperate financial situation, and friends had to raise money for a life insurance payment in order to secure the future of his family. Two months after Wieniawski's death, his youngest daughter, Irene, was born.

Biography by Zoran Minderovic


Founded in 1925, the Kosciuszko Foundation promotes closer ties between Poland and the United States through educational, scientific and cultural exchanges. It awards up to $1 million annually in fellowships and grants to graduate students, scholars, scientists, professionals, and artists, and promotes Polish culture in America. The Foundation has awarded scholarships and provided a forum to Poles who have changed history. 

The Kosciuszko Foundation:  The American Center of Polish Culture 

15 E 65th Street

New York, NY 10065

(212) 734-2130

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