Obituary: Legendary Composer Péter Eötvös Dies at 80

By Francisco Salazar

On March 24, Péter Eötvös died at the age of 80.

The Hungarian State Opera announced the news via social media and said, “Péter Szent István Order of Eötvös, who has endured a long-term illness, died at the age of 80, was a two-time Kossuth Prize-winning composer, conductor, music educator, outstanding figure of Hungarian and international contemporary music.

The statement added, “In addition to the Hungarian presentations of the Three Sisters (2000) and About Love and Other Demons (2017), the Hungarian State Opera House performed in a concert-like performance in 2018, under the author’s direction, the Bluebeard double play Senza Sangue, and in December 2023 held the premiere of his Valuska, the only Hungarian-language opera.”

Born on Jan 2, 1944, in Székelyudvarhely, Hungary, Eötvös went to performances from an early age and went on to learn the piano, and wrote plays and small pieces.

At the age of 11, he won a composition contest and obtained recognition in the Hungarian artistic world. Ligeti recommended him to Kodály at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.

Eötvös was accepted with honors at the Academy and he studied composition with János Viski.

He had a breakout moment in 1958 when he accompanied film projections with improvisations on piano and Hammond organ and led to opportunities to write scores for theatre and cinema. he went on to compose several pieces of utility music.

He also went on to compose numerous operas including “Valuska,”  “Sleepless,” “Senza sangue,” “Der goldene Drache,” “Lady Sarashina,” “Love and Other Demons,” “Angels in America,” “Le Balcon,” “As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams,” “Three Sisters,” “Radames,” and “Harakiri.”

Throughout his career, he studied in Germany and studied composition with Bernd Alois Zimmermann, as well as conducting.

Eötvös was appointed musical director of the Ensemble InterContemporain and held the position until 1991 and he performed at the Proms in 1980, and was regularly invited by the BBC Orchestra between 1985 and 1988. He was also the principal guest conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra from 2003 to 2007.

Most of the composer’s works were published by Schott Music in Mainz and distributed by Presto Music and Outhere Music.

Among the awards he won throughout his career include the Prize Bartok-Pasztory, Kossuth Prize, Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, and the Grand Prix artistique (composition musicale) de la Fondation Simone et Cino Del Duca. He was recently named the 2024 Kossuth Grand Prize.