Cultural events commemorating the two stays of Ludwig van Beethoven in the summer residence of Count Lichnowskys (in 1803 and 1811) started to be organized in Hradec nad Moravicí at the beginning of the 1950s. The beginning of the real music festival with well-thought dramaturgy could be set back to 1960. “Beethoven’s Days” were held as part of “Hradec Summer” to celebrate the 190th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Thanks to Bohuslav Valušek, who was then the head of Regional Educational Center based in the castle, the exhibition called “Beethoven in our town” was open, and several concerts were organized too. It was the conference of musicologists held in August 1960 that had a vital significance for future development of the event. Two-day discussions led to the decision to make a board of specialists, which would study Beethoven’s relationship to Czech regions and Slovakia. Apart from musicological issues, the participants discussed the possibility to organize an annual festival, which would be connected with a competition for musicians-beginners. The board met again in December and they proposed a five-year cycle with the rotation of the specializations: composition, piano, violin, violoncello, and chamber music.
A year later the festival, already named “Beethoven’s Hradec”, had a truly representative form *. The planned competition with the specialization for the composition was also held. However, it was not very successful, so the organizers would never put this specialization back on the programme **. The festival became substantially popular the following year. The opening symphonic concert was conducted by Franz Konwitschny, who was born in nearby Fulnek, and who was the conductor of state Opera in Berlin. During the festival, on 12 May 1962, the results of the first year of the competition for piano students were announced. The beginnings of the competition are connected with the members of Beethoven’s Association and more others who became its members later, namely Miroslav Malura, Karel Boženek, Ivan Měrka, Ján Pragant, František Rauch, Ivo Stolařík, Jaroslav Vanický and Jan Vratislavský. The competition “Beethoven’s Hradec Award” has only a tenuous link to its current form. The first selective rounds were held at the particular music academies. It was only the final, which was organized by Silesian Culture centre founded in the castle on 1 October 1960 in cooperation with Beethoven’s Association in Czechoslovakia and Music Academy in Ostrava. The results were announced and followed by the concert of the winners in the Renaissance Room of the White Castle on 2 December 1962.
In 1963 the festival was opened by a symphonic concert conducted by Zdeněk Košler, the winner of young conductors’ competition in New York. The competition “Beethoven’s Hradec Award” was held in the specialization for the piano. The competition became so popular that that the castle room was too small for the audience, so in the following years the concerts were held in “Velká Dvorana” (Large Hall) of the Red Castle. Students from Poland and Hungary took part in that year’s festival as its guests. The following year there was a competition of violinists, and the year after pianists again, followed by violoncello players the following year; and in 1967 piano trios and string quartets. Th ese specializations rotated almost regularly in the following years, too. The competition was then only for the students of music academies; the number of competition rounds as well as the date of the competition was not determined yet. In the first decade Beethoven’s Association, which was based in the Hradec Castle, also organized musicological conferences, the result of which was annual yearbook “Československá beethoveniána” (Czechoslovak Beethoven Event).
Significant changes into the competition terms and conditions were made in 1970. The system of two or three categories based on the year of studies at music academies was replaced with the system of three categories based on the age of the competitors; the third category was set for young musicians under 30 years of age (in the competition of string quartets the total under 100 years of age was important). Th anks to this change students from other types of schools, between folk schools of art and music academies, could apply for the competition; students from Poland were invited too. The festival dramaturgy was also generous as, thanks to the world cultural anniversary of 200 years since L. van Beethoven’s birth announced by UNESCO, Hradec Castle and the city of Opava became the centre of national celebration of Beethoven’s anniversary and the place of the international musicological congress. The celebratory opening symphonic concert and the piano recital by Ivan Moravec were broadcast live from Hradec by Czechoslovak radio. On this occasion Beethoven’s Association released a record, and the castle opened a permanent exhibition called “Beethoven and Czech regions”. There were other events too: a three-day course was led by Paul Badura Skoda, an Austrian pianist; Roberto Benzi from France conducted Beethoven’s “9th symphony” in the theatre in Opava, and “Misa Solemnis” was performed in the Church of Holy Spirit in Opava on 10 October.
The festival was later negatively influenced by the fire in the Red Castle in January 1972, which devastated the hall called “Velká Dvorana”. In the following years the festival was held in a substitute place and it was not until 1976 when it could return to glamorously reconstructed hall of “Velká Dvorana” in the Red Castle. On the Ministry of Culture’s incentive the festival was extended by the competition for the harpsichord and viola in 1975. The interpretative competitions thus enriched Czech musical life. However, the existing three-year competition cycle was extended into a four-year cycle, which did not suit teachers at music academies. Th erefore both projects were connected in 1983 – harpsichord and viola as the Ministry interpretation competition and “Beethovanian” piano competition. The last interpretation competition of the Ministry of Culture was for solo singers and was held in October 1988 as a celebration of the 110th anniversary of Ema Destinova’s birth.
While there have always been a substantial number of piano competitions, until recently the Hradec competition has been an almost unique occasion for students of stringed instruments (mainly viola players) to compare each other. The aim of the organizers has been to give students opportunity to try challenging conditions of international competitions, e.g. Prague Spring. That was the reason why the scenario of the “Beethoven’s Hradec Award” national competition had almost the same number of rounds, categories, and specializations until the 1990s. The first competition round was always anonymous (in front of the jury hidden behind a curtain) and included the performance of compulsory compositions composed by L. van Beethoven in all specializations and categories. From 1973 the final round of the third category of the piano and violin competition climaxed with the final Beethoven’s concert accompanied by Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra Ostrava. The organizers have also always supported the performance of contemporary Czech and Slovak composers ***.
The change of political system gradually influenced also the musical life in Hradec nad Moravicí Castle. During the 29th competition in June 1990 Beethoven’s Association restarted its activities, and Rudolf Pečman, Ivan Měrka and Miroslav Malura became its leaders (when Miroslav Malura suddenly died in 2000, Beethoven’s Association ceased its activities). A newly assembled preparatory committee began to prepare the competition terms and conditions. The committee consisted of the members of the Concert Artists’ Association and teachers from Ostrava University – the pianist Rudolf Bernatík, violoncello player Jan Hališka, violinist Vítězslav Kuzník and viola player Pavel Vítek. In 1992 the substantial change was made into the number of categories: for that year and the following ones there were only two age categories (under 19 and 30 years of age) as the third one, originally for university students, was regularly poorly attended. There were also no boundaries for the participation of students from further countries. That was the reason why the organizers changed the name of the competition and started to use “Beethoven’s Hradec” as the official name, which was briefer and more English language friendly than its old Czech name. In 1994 the role of the jury secretary was taken over by Petr Hanousek, who organized the competition until 2014.
Another turning point in the development of the festival was brought about by the reform of the state administration with district offices being replaced by regional authorities. Th e existing promoter of the competition – the Administration of Hradec nad Moravicí and Raduň Castles – was implemented into the National Heritage Institute in 2002 and thus it could not organize culture events. Th erefore the organizers of the festival had to secure new financial background. Th ey asked Moravian and Silesian Region for help, and the new organizer, which was “Talent – Association for art and Education” from Ostrava, was promised to get a specific grant from the regional budget. This step ensured partial replacement of the expenses previously financed in total by District Offi ce in Opava. Moravian and Silesian Region started to subsidize “Beethoven’s Hradec” as one of the most prestigious cultural events in Silesia. The competition would not be possible to exist, however, without other supporters and sponsors. The festival has been subsidized regularly by the Ministry of Culture Czech Republic and irregularly also by several music boundations such as Czech Music Fund, Leoš Janáček Foundation or Bohuslav Martinů Foundation. The role of supporters has been taken over by various regional institutions such as “Matice slezská”, the town of Hradec nad Moravicí, Statutory City of Opava, which added one of the festival concert into its series of concert subscription.
Music competitions are organized to help young musicians to enter their professional artistic career; on the other hand, successful laureates become their icons. Krystian Zimerman, a Polish pianist, became one of such icons in 1973. There is the whole panoply of Czech and Slovak concert artists and teachers who started their career in Hradec. Let us mention that among laureates there are violinists Ivan Ženatý, Hana Kotková, Jiří Vodička, Martina Bačova, viola players Ladislav Kyselák, Jan Pěruška, Alexander Besa, Jitka Hosprová, violoncello players Miroslav Petráš, Michaela Fukačová, Daniel Veis, Jiří Bárta, pianists Jiří Skovajsa, Ivan Klánský, Jan Jiraský and Eliška Novotná. Many of them still attend the Hradec competition as musicians, jurors, accompanists, or teachers of the new music generation. The fact that the foreign laureates of “Beethoven’s Hradec” have had more success later confi rms that the jury’s verdicts could have considerable significance, mainly if they are in the focus of the media too.
In 2008, for the reason of growing quality of the participants, the organizer stopped dividing them into age categories, the repertoire was united in three rounds for all instruments without any compulsory compositions, and financial awards for the winners were substantially raised. The preparatory committee stopped determining the competition terms and conditions as the repertoire could be determined by the juries’ chairpeople, who became to be in charge with proposing their colleagues in a five-member jury team, too. As the competition for quartets and trios ceased to be organized, the four specializations could rotate in pairs every other year – the piano and violin, and viola and violoncello. For financial reasons only a piano competition was organized in 2011 and it was the same reason that led the organizers to stop using the model of two specializations. “Talent Association” ceased to exist and so the organization of the 52nd festival was in 2014 taken over by “Matice slezská”. This interest and cultural organization, whose history goes back to 1877 and whose mission is to maintain and develop historic, cultural, artistic and national traditions of Silesia, took over the organization of the competition for future years. There has been a change in the post of jury secretary – Petr Hanousek was after two decades replaced by Jakub Hypš, a pianist and laureate of “Beethoven’s Hradec” in 2003.
In 2018 was founded the Beethoven's Hradec association which becomes the main organizer. Its reprezentative had become Jakub Hypš. In 2020 joins in Basic School of Arts Opava with a reprezentative Lukáš Poledna, who becomes also a new head of Beethoven's Hradec association and the head of festival.
Over half of a century the original competition for Czech music academies students has successfully developed into a prestigious music event bringing over to the Czech Republic truly worldwide music level and much-needed overview of the contemporary aesthetic ideal. Among other Czech traditional competitions, “Beethoven’s Hradec” retains its high reputation, thanks to representative international juries as well as growing number of participating students from most European countries and three other continents. A significant role is also played by unique music tradition of the place, valuable castle equipment, part of which are keyboard instruments once used by Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt, as well as picturesque countryside in its surroundings, and thus significant genius loci.
*The selection of Beethoven’s sonatas was performed by the pianist Rudolf Bernatík, a laureate of Čajkovsky competition in Moscow; among foreign guests there were the pianist Lev Oborin and conductor Paul Dörrie, who performed Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th symphonies with Ostrava Symphonic Orchestra (currently Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra Ostrava).
Young composers started to attend the castle again in the recent years thanks to national competition of composers for students of elementary schools of art. The competition has been under the Ministry of Education and Workshop for the Youngest Composers since 1996.
The authors of the compulsory compositions were Jindřich Feld, Juraj Hatrík, Jiří Matys, Jaromír Podešva, Ivan Večtomov, Evžen Zámečník and others. Th e jury awarded a special bonus of the music fund for the best performances of these compulsory compositions. Milan Báchorek, Ilja Hurník, Luboš Sluka and Ilja Zeljenka composed their works for the competition itself.