Peter Eotvos, Hungarian Modernist Composer and Conductor, Dies at 80

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Peter Eotvos, a towering Hungarian composer and conductor who linked modernist traditions in Twentieth-century European music and whose multifaceted work was singularly evocative, died on Sunday at his house in Budapest. He was 80.

His spouse, the librettist Maria Eotvosne Mezei, introduced his dying.

Mr. Eotvos (pronounced OAT-voesh) was a tireless advocate of up to date music and composed in nearly each conceivable style. On the daybreak of the twenty first century, he discovered widespread acclaim as an opera composer. His closing work in that style, “Valuska,” premiered on the Hungarian State Opera in December 2023. Based mostly on the novel “The Melancholy of Resistance,” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, it was his first opera written to a Hungarian libretto. (Others are in various languages, together with German, French and English.)

Like his German opera-composing up to date Aribert Reimann, who additionally died this month, Mr. Eotvos was drawn to literary works each fashionable and basic. He tailored novels and performs by Anton Chekhov, Jean Genet, Gabriel García Márquez, Tony Kushner and Jon Fosse, the Norwegian creator who was awarded final yr’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

“His music could also be rigorous, however his mild, soft-spoken spirit offers his work its inimitable character and pathos,” the American opera director Yuval Sharon, who directed a 2016 manufacturing of Mr. Eotvos’s 1998 opera, “Tri Sestri,” in Vienna, mentioned in a press release. Calling the work, which relies on Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters,” “unquestionably one of many nice operas of our time,” Mr. Sharon mentioned that it was solely whereas working with Mr. Eotvos that he “realized how a lot of his emotional life is invested within the work.”

For the in any other case reserved Mr. Eotvos, music was his automobile to precise that inside life. “In on a regular basis life I’m not a dramatic particular person in any respect,” he mentioned in a 2020 documentary about him. “Maybe this veiled dramatic trait can solely come to the floor if it has a job to do.”

Within the interview, he described how the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s flight into outer area in 1961 — the primary for a human and “the primary main occasion of my life” — impressed him to write down the piano work “Kosmos” when he was 17. He would revisit the work at varied levels in his life, together with within the 2017 live performance piece “Multiversum.”

“It put my entire life on a cosmic trajectory,” he mentioned.

Lengthy earlier than he discovered renown as a composer in his personal proper, Mr. Eotvos was pivotal to the event of late-Twentieth-century music. As a key participant within the musical avant-garde, he championed and helped transmit the musical doctrines of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, figures who dominated postwar European music.

All through his profession, Mr. Eotvos educated and supported younger composers and conductors, together with by way of the Worldwide Eotvos Institute, which he based in 1991, and the Peter Eotvos Up to date Music Basis, based in 2004. He taught on the Karlsruhe College of Music and the Musikhochschule Koln (now the Cologne College of Music), each in Germany. Having spent a lot of his life overseas, he returned to Hungary in 2004, the yr the nation joined the European Union.

“We’ve misplaced one of many biggest innovators of the Japanese European musical custom,” the Hungarian movie and theater director Kornel Mundruczo, who staged the premiere of Mr. Eotvos’s 2021 opera, “Sleepless,” mentioned in a press release after the dying.

“Peter’s music at all times spoke for itself with out inhibitions,” he added. “His work — whether or not orchestral, opera or movie music — was a method of communication for him.”

Peter Laszlo Eotvos was born on Jan. 2, 1944, within the Northern Transylvanian municipality of Szekelyudvarhely, Hungary, which is now Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania. His father, Laszlo Eotvos, was a lawyer. His mom, Ilona Szucs, was a pianist and music trainer.

As a baby rising up within the industrial metropolis of Miskolc, Mr. Eotvos realized to play varied devices and started composing on the age of 5. At 14, he enrolled on the Academy of Music (immediately the Franz Liszt Academy of Music) in Budapest and studied with the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. After graduating, he was music director of the Comedy Theater of Budapest and started scoring for movies, which he continued to do for a lot of his profession.

In 1965, he studied on the Cologne Musikhochschule on a grant from the German Educational Change Service. He joined the Stockhausen Ensemble in 1968 and remained a member for a lot of the subsequent decade. In 1971, he additionally turned a music technician on the Digital Music Studio of WDR (West German Radio) in Cologne. Round that point, he and his second spouse, the Taiwanese pianist Chen Pi-hsien, joined the Oeldorf Group, an avant-garde collective. Named for the village exterior Cologne the place it was primarily based, the group specialised in dwell digital music and was energetic all through the Seventies.

In 1978, Mr. Eotvos performed the inaugural live performance of IRCAM, the influential institute based by Mr. Boulez in Paris. In 1981, he led the world premiere of Mr. Stockhausen’s “Donnerstag aus Licht,” the primary opera in that German composer’s seven-part cycle, at La Scala in Milan.

Engagements like these helped broaden Mr. Eotvos’s profession as a conductor; he was significantly wanted for up to date music. He held positions with quite a few orchestras, together with the Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain (1978-1991), the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1985-1988), the Budapest Pageant Orchestra (1992-1995) and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra (1998-2001).

His survivors embody two stepsons from his third marriage, to Mrs. Mezei, Peter and Daniel Timar; a daughter from his marriage to Pi-hsien Chen, Ann-yi Bingol; and two grandchildren. A son, Gyorgy, from his first marriage, to the actress Piroska Molnar, died in 1994.

Mr. Eotvos used avant-garde methods in his music, however efforts to pigeonhole him at all times failed. He utilized serial-music ideas and integrated digital parts into his compositions, particularly early in his profession, however his music was additionally laced with lyricism and humor. Within the documentary, he acknowledged that he was completely different from a lot of his contemporaries “who’re primarily considering in music, whereas I’m not.”

“I’m considering in conditions,” he mentioned, for which I discover the soundworld.”

And whereas Hungary’s musical traditions influenced his musical language — he was amongst his nation’s musical modernists, a continuum that included Bela Bartok, Gyorgy Ligeti and Kodaly — his stylistic, thematic and even linguistic vary made him a completely cosmopolitan composer.

When “Tri Sestri,” with a Russian libretto, premiered in 1998 in Lyon, France, it instantly established Mr. Eotvos as a number one voice in up to date opera. Within the quarter-century since, “Tri Sestri” has been carried out all through Europe and Russia, and even in Buenos Aires (although not in america), making it one of the crucial ceaselessly produced up to date operas.

Mr. Eotvos’s solely main opera to make it to america is “Angels in America,” primarily based on Mr. Kushner’s two-part, Pulitzer-Prize-winning play. It has an English libretto by Mrs. Mezei that helps distill Mr. Kushner’s seven hours of drama into 130 minutes of music. After the work’s American premiere, in Boston, in 2006, it was carried out in Fort Price, Los Angeles and New York.

Reviewing a 2017 efficiency in New York for The New York Instances, Zachary Woolfe described the rating as having a “troubled, trippy texture that may be instantly charged with anxiousness or grandeur with out ever feeling clotted.”

In a 2004 Instances article in regards to the work’s world premiere, in Paris, Mr. Eotvos mentioned, “I would like my operas to have a person fashion and sonority.” He added, “I want to alter fully every time, to write down maybe just a few operas, however that they need to be all completely different.”

The musical language he employed was unmistakably up to date but in addition surprisingly direct and accessible, given fashionable opera’s fame for problem. In a Instances interview about “Senza Sangue” (2015), Mr. Eotvos defined his compositional method for that work, a one-act opera conceived as a response to Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Fortress.”

“On this opera there aren’t any avant-garde endeavors in any way,” he mentioned, including, “I’d like my work to be performable in 50 years, too.”

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