Peter Eötvös obituary


The Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, who has died aged 80, is now finest identified for the 12 operas that he wrote over the past 25 years of his life. Earlier than that, he performed a number one function as a conductor specialising within the promotion of European musical modernism.

Premiered in Lyon in 1998, the work that launched Eötvös’s profession as a profitable opera composer was Three Sisters. The libretto, written with Claus H Henneberg, reworks Anton Chekhov’s play right into a sequence of three “sequences”, every providing a model of occasions from the perspective of a single character; no fewer than 4 roles are taken by countertenors.

From then onwards, he regularly added new stage works to an already rising variety of live performance works in an intensive output notable for its radiant lyricism and sensible orchestration. By extending the modernist origins of an method rooted within the music and concepts of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen with assistance from deeply thought-about investigations of different music of cultures past Europe, Eötvös regularly discovered his personal voice.

Three Sisters, the opera by Peter Eötvös

Stockhausen had already drawn on Japanese musical and theatrical traditions, and Eötvös’s earliest opera, Harakiri – primarily based on the ritual suicide of Yukio Mishima – was composed way back to 1973, whereas each composers had been working collectively in Osaka. Subsequently, nevertheless, Eötvös’s type – variously influenced by Chinese language in addition to Japanese traditions, by Indian, African and Basque musics, by jazz and, not least, by Béla Bartók and the folks repertoires of his native Transylvania – developed a lot of its individuality from interrogations of these cultures that went far past any mere cultural tourism.

His instrumental compositions, in addition to his operas, typically spring from such sources: the large-scale orchestral work Atlantis (1995), for instance, attracts on Transylvanian dances that act as a logo of a misplaced tradition related, for the composer, with renewed hope. In later years he acquired many commissions from the world’s main orchestras: in 2016, for example, for Oratorium Balbulum, to a textual content by Péter Esterházy, for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, premiered on the Salzburg pageant. Ruminating on a wide range of topical political points, from the 9/11 terrorist assaults to relationships between nations, this work is typical of Eötvös’s social and political issues.

However his operas already appear prone to signify probably the most enduring and surprisingly diverse dimension of his output. Adapting novels and performs by writers each basic and fashionable – together with Jon Fosse, Jean Genet, Tony Kushner and Gabriel García Márquez – these works reveal each Eötvös’s large literary ambitions and his willingness to discover a wide range of totally different dramatic approaches, comedian in addition to tragic. He was assisted in devising a few of these opera libretti by Maria Eötvösne Mezei, his third spouse.

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Peter Eötvös’s opera Le Balcon, with the singers Maria Riccarda Wessling, left, Jacques Schwarz, proper, and Magdalena Anna Hofmann, in Bordeaux, 2009. {Photograph}: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Photographs

Le Balcon – its libretto, by Françoise Morvan, André Markovitz and the composer, derived from Genet’s now basic story of energy struggles inside a revolutionary setting – was first seen at Aix-en-Provence in 2002. Mezei’s libretto for Angels in America (2004) boils all the way down to lower than three hours the unique seven hours of Kushner’s play about HIV/Aids.

A number of of his operas have been seen within the UK. When his Márquez-based Love and Different Demons was produced at Glyndebourne in 2008, Eötvös grew to become the primary non-British composer to have a stage work premiered there. Described by the composer as “a bel canto opera”, it explored illicit love, superstition, race and demonic energy, with a libretto by Kornél Hamvai. The music underpins the drama with an innate understanding of how orchestral forces can improve the general impact; although indulging in some beautiful sounds, the composer shows the uncommon knack of figuring out when much less can generally be extra highly effective than extra.

Eötvös’s remaining opera, Valuska – additionally his first with a libretto in Hungarian, by Mezei and Kinga Keszthelyi – was drawn from the novel The Melancholy of Resistance, by László Krasznahorkai: a tragi-comic, surreal story centring on a newspaper supply man and the arrival in his small city of a circus with, as its star attraction, the world’s largest taxidermied whale. Valuska was premiered in Budapest final December.

Valuska, Peter Eötvös’s remaining opera

Eötvös was, like his older compatriots György Ligeti and György Kurtág, a local of multi-ethnic Transylvania – then in Hungary however subsequently transferred to Romania; his birthplace was Székelyudvarhely. The turbulent remaining months of the second world struggle brought about his household, together with his mom, Ilona Szucs, to flee westwards. She was a pianist, and his father, Laszlo Eötvös, was a lawyer. Peter’s early childhood was spent in Miskolc, a northern Hungarian city the place he first met Ligeti. The latter was already changing into established as a composer and instructor by the late Nineteen Forties, and the 2 remained in touch.

Eötvös studied piano and composition on the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest from 1958 onwards; after recommendation from Zoltán Kodály, János Viski grew to become his composition instructor. He quickly gaining a repute for improvising to accompany silent movies and composing scores for each cinema and theatre.

In 1966, on the age of twenty-two, he moved to Cologne on a scholarship to work with Stockhausen. He additionally studied composition with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and commenced to conduct. Once I first went to the Darmstadt Summer season Faculty, in 1974, I recall Eötvös not solely as considered one of Stockhausen’s closest acolytes but in addition as a member of a not too long ago fashioned group of younger Cologne-based musicians calling themselves the Oeldorf Group and specialising in dwell efficiency involving electronics.

From 1978, after Boulez requested him to conduct the opening live performance of IRCAM, his Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, in Paris, Eötvös discovered fame as a conductor specialising in all the most recent compositional developments that helped to drive the worldwide modernist agenda of the time. He rapidly assumed the place of musical director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, IRCAM’s flagship chamber orchestra.

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Peter Eötvös’s opera Sleepless Music, premiered on the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 2021. {Photograph}: Dpa Image Alliance/Alamy

He carried out the world premieres of Stockhausen’s operas Donnerstag aus Licht (1981) and Montag aus Licht (1988). Within the UK, he carried out the Covent Backyard performances of Donnerstag in 1985 and was principal visitor conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from that 12 months till 1988. He labored with the London Sinfonietta and likewise carried out Leos Janáček’s The Makropulos Case at Glyndebourne in 2001.

It was solely after relinquishing his duties with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, in 1991, that Eötvös actually got here to the fore as a composer. Together with his new standing on the European scene, and the political occasions of 1989 onwards, got here new duties.

He taught conducting and up to date chamber music in each Karlsruhe and Cologne in Germany. Having already based the Worldwide Eötvös Institute for younger conductors and composers in Budapest in 1991, he went on to ascertain the Peter Eötvös Up to date Music Basis in 2004. It was at this second, when Hungary joined the European Union, that Eötvös and his spouse Maria – who had each beforehand lived in Cologne, Paris after which Hilversum within the Netherlands – lastly moved again to Budapest.

A son from Eötvös’s first marriage, to the actor Piroska Molnár in 1968, predeceased him. In 1976 he married the Taiwanese-German pianist Pi-hsien Chen, with whom he had a daughter, Ann-yi. They divorced and he subsequently married Maria Mezei in 1995. He’s survived by her, Ann-yi and by two stepsons from that marriage, Peter and Daniel.


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