Published : 2023-04-27

Pogorelich at the Chopin: Towards a sociology of competition scandals

Lisa McCormick


Controversies are a regular feature on the international classical music competition circuit, and some of these explode into scandals that are remembered long afterward. This essay draws from the sociology of scandal to identify the conditions that predispose classical music competitions to moral disruption and to examine the cultural process through which a scandal attains legendary status. The case considered in depth is the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition and the controversy surrounding Ivo Pogorelich’s elimination from the 10th Competition in 1980. Through an analysis of media coverage in Polish and English, I show how the scandal was discursively constructed through two interpretive frameworks: the collective memory of previous controversies at the Chopin Competition, and a generational divide. I also trace the legacy of the scandal over the decades that followed. Following Durkheim, I argue that controversies at classical music competitions should not be taken as an indication of their decline. Rather, scandals – especially legendary ones – can have positive effects for competition organisations and the wider social world of classical music, as long as they do not become chronic.


scandal, controversy, competition, aesthetic evaluation, social norms, morality, collective memory, Poland, music, musicians




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Citation rules

McCormick, L. (2023). Pogorelich at the Chopin: Towards a sociology of competition scandals. Chopin Review, (1), 52–77.

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