Dame Fanny Waterman: ‘We salute her remarkable achievement’

Colleagues will be saddened to hear of the death of Dame Fanny Waterman, founder and President Emeritus of Leeds International Piano Competition, on 20 December.

Dame Fanny co-founded ‘The Leeds’ in 1961 – now widely recognised as one of the most important classical music competitions in the world – and remained its Chair and Artistic Director until her retirement in 2015 aged 95.

The University has supported the competition since its inception, including hosting rounds in the Great Hall and providing accommodation and practice facilities to competitors.

In 2018, Dame Fanny gave her archive to the University Library’s Special Collections for future generations of researchers to study. The piano competition’s archive is also now in Special Collections.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds said: “We were very sad to hear of the death of Dame Fanny Waterman, a long-standing friend and honorary graduate of the University.  

“The reputation and reach of the Leeds International Piano Competition are testament to her vision, drive and single-minded pursuit of excellence, and we salute her remarkable achievement.

“Her wonderful archive is a fitting legacy that will inspire people for years to come.”

The archive includes correspondence and unique manuscripts from composer Benjamin Britten, photograph albums and visitor books, as well as minutes from the very first meeting of The Leeds' committee and recordings of performances. It offers fascinating insights into the development of the cultural life of Leeds over a period of half a century.

Adam Gatehouse, Artistic Director of Leeds International Piano Competition, said: “Dame Fanny was a force of nature, a one-off, a unique figure in our cultural firmament who infused everyone with whom she came into contact with a passion and enthusiasm and sheer love of music, particularly piano music, that was totally impossible to resist. 

“From nothing she created the world’s most prestigious piano competition and chose to do so not in London but in Leeds, at the time a dark, industrial but incredibly lively city in the North of England. From small beginnings it swiftly grew as word spread that here was a competition where music and the musicians came first. 

“The lives she has touched, both through the competition, but also through her teaching and piano books, are too numerous to mention. She was quite simply irreplaceable, and to have had the chance to work with her and eventually succeed her as Artistic Director of the Leeds has been one of the greatest privileges and joys of my life.”

Dame Fanny became an honorary graduate of the University in 1992, when she was made a Doctor of Music.

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