Please allow me that, apart from my regrettable ignorance of the Hungarian language, I remain Magyar in my heart and soul from birth to the grave. As a consequence, I earnestly wish to further the progress of Hungarian music.

Liszt to Antal Augusz

Farewell to Péter Eötvös

26 March 2024

"He joined us driven by dedication and exceptional attention, keen to share the knowledge he acquired through his remarkable international career," says Gyula Fekete, Vice-President of Research and International Affairs, Head of the Composition Department in his praise of Péter Eötvös, the world-famous composer-conductor who died at the age of 80.

Péter Eötvös, recipient of the Order of Saint Stephen, two-time Kossuth Prize-winning composer, conductor, and music educator, a prominent figure in Hungarian and international contemporary music, passed away at the age of 80 after a long illness borne with patience, announced the family.

He was born in Székelyudvarhely on January 2, 1944, and enrolled in the Liszt Academy as a child prodigy in 1958. It was Kodály's idea to experiment with the boy of exceptional talent, who was raised under the wings of Pál Kardos in Miskolc, and whom György Ligeti had already noticed two years earlier. He commenced his studies with János Viski, and after his sudden death in 1961, Ferenc Szabó took over the education of the young man who was already active outside the Liszt Academy. Eötvös was the musical director of the Vígszínház (Comedy Theater) between 1962 and 1964, composing dozens of scores for plays and films.

He graduated in 1965, and in 1966, with the support of Szabó, he won a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst - DAAD), which allowed him to continue his studies in Cologne. From 1967, he worked abroad, initially as a répétiteur at the Cologne Opera, a member of the Stockhausen Ensemble between 1968 and 1976, and from 1971 as the electronic music producer for Cologne Radio. Between 1979 and 1991, he was the music director of the Paris-based Ensemble InterContemporain founded by Pierre Boulez, and in the 1990s, the guest conductor for the London BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra. From 1992, he taught in Karlsruhe, between 1998 and 2003 in Cologne, and he also had a short stint at the Liszt Academy.

He conducted Europe's major orchestras, including the Berlin, London, and Vienna Philharmonic, as well as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and he regularly took the stage as a conductor for the most renowned radio orchestras. He was invited as a guest conductor by the most prestigious opera houses.

In 1991, he founded the International Eötvös Institute Foundation in Hungary, and upon his return home in 2004, he established the Peter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation, both of which support the career of young composers and conductors with scholarships and advanced training courses. He taught masterclasses worldwide. He was a renowned and respected composer and Europe's finest orchestras and opera houses commissioned new works from him, which won several international awards.

He was the president of the jury at Liszt Academy's Bartók World Competition in 2020, organized for composers.

Below are words of farewell from Gyula Fekete, Vice-President of Research and International Affairs, Head of the Composition Department:

"There will be no more snow"

(Péter Eötvös - László Krasznahorkai: Valuska)

Péter Eötvös had a passionate love for music, for composing and performing it. A year ago, he conducted the orchestra of the Liszt Academy, with the program featuring works by Ligeti, Debussy, and his own piece, Dialog mit Mozart. It was an unforgettable experience, a professional performance that met even the most discerning standards. We were proud of our students! Péter came to the Liszt Academy with great affection – just as he had on every previous occasion, regularly. In the Eötvös Music Foundation that he envisioned and established, he aimed to further the education and professional orientation of young musicians. Students of composition and conducting at the Liszt Academy had numerous opportunities to participate in his courses.

He joined us driven by dedication and exceptional attention whenever we called upon him, because he was keen to share all the knowledge he had acquired throughout his extraordinary international career. He awakened in our students a demand for professionalism, good taste, and the highest level of musical performance. Our students rose to the occasion at last year's concert, much to Péter's satisfaction. After the highly successful concert, amidst the congratulations, we discussed that although his calendar was already overflowing with international celebrations for his 80th birthday, he would gladly return to the Liszt Academy's orchestra when he had a chance, as our students eagerly await his return due to his good humor, humanity, wisdom, and vast experience...

This orchestral concert can no longer take place. A few weeks ago, we celebrated his 80th birthday, and he was greeted with his own chamber music performed by our professors and students. The works of Péter Eötvös, especially his operas of international appeal, open up new vistas for the young generation of composers. His influence is omnipresent, and his oeuvre is one of the greatest chapters in the chronicle of Hungarian music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Péter Eötvös in February 2023, conducting the Liszt Academy Orchestra
(Photo: János Posztós / Liszt Academy)