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

Peter Eotvos, a towering Hungarian composer and conductor who linked modernist traditions in 20th-century European music and whose multifaceted work was singularly evocative, died on Sunday at his home in Budapest. He was 80.

His wife, the librettist Maria Eotvosne Mezei, announced his death.

Mr. Eotvos (pronounced OAT-voesh) was a tireless advocate of contemporary music and composed in almost every conceivable genre. At the dawn of the 21st century, he found widespread acclaim as an opera composer. His final work in that genre, “Valuska,” premiered at the Hungarian State Opera in December 2023. Based on the novel “The Melancholy of Resistance,” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, it was his first opera written to a Hungarian libretto. (Others are in a number of languages, including German, French and English.)

Like his German opera-composing contemporary Aribert Reimann, who also died this month, Mr. Eotvos was drawn to literary works both modern and classic. He adapted novels and plays by Anton Chekhov, Jean Genet, Gabriel García Márquez, Tony Kushner and Jon Fosse, the Norwegian author who was awarded last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

“His music may be rigorous, but his gentle, soft-spoken spirit gives his work its inimitable character and pathos,” the American opera director Yuval Sharon, who directed a 2016 production of Mr. Eotvos’s 1998 opera, “Tri Sestri,” in Vienna, said in a statement. Calling the work, which is based on Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters,” “unquestionably one of the great operas of our time,” Mr. Sharon said that it was only while working with Mr. Eotvos that he “realized how much of his emotional life is invested in the work.”

For the otherwise reserved Mr. Eotvos, music was his vehicle to express that inner life. “In everyday life I’m not a dramatic person at all,” he said in a 2020 documentary about him. “Perhaps this veiled dramatic trait can only come to the surface if it has a job to do.”

In the interview, he described how the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s flight into outer space in 1961 — the first for a human and “the first major event of my life” — inspired him to write the piano work “Kosmos” when he was 17. He would revisit the work at various stages in his life, including in the 2017 concert piece “Multiversum.”

Related Articles

Back to top button