György Kurtág

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György Kurtág in 2014. Picture by Lenke Szilágyi

György Kurtág (1926) is a Hungarian composer, pianist and music teacher, regarded as one of the most important composers in Hungarian music life after the Second World War. He was born at Lugos, a town annexed by Romania in 1926.

He began his piano studies at the age of five, under Magda Kardos (who was a former pupil of Bela Bartók) and studied composition teacher under Max Eisikovits. He later became a student of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest from 1945 to 1955, attending courses by Pál Kadosa (piano), Sándor Veress and Ferenc Farkas (composition) and the famous Leó Weiner (chamber music). He graduated from piano and chamber music studies in 1951, and from composition studies in 1955, also receiving the Erkel Prize in the same year.

In 1957–1958, Kurtág went to Paris to learn from Marianne Stein, while simultaneously attending lessons by Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. From 1960 to 1968 he was a tutor of the National Philharmonic in Budapest. Soon Kurtág became a piano (and later, chamber music) professor at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. In 1971, he was in West Berlin for a year, thanks to a scholarship by the Art Project of DAAD. He was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1973, and honored by the French State in 1985. He later left the Academy of Music, but still taught some courses until 1993.

Kurtág also became a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and the Academy of Arts in Berlin in 1987. He was in Vienna for a year, where he composed music and led master courses at the Konzerthaus. He would again receive the Kossuth Prize in 1996 for his oeuvre. In 1999 he was invited to France, where he remained for two years, by the French Ensemble Interontemporain, the Conservatoire (Paris), the Cité de la Musique and the Festival d’ Automne á Paris. He was awarded the John Cage Prize in New York in 2000, and named an honored member of the American Academy of Art and Literature. He moved to the neighborhood of Bordeaux with his wife, the pianist and piano teacher Márta Kurtág in 2002. He was honoured with a 5-day festival by the Budapest Music Center in his 80th birthday (Kurtág 80) in February 2006. The Hungarian State awarded him the civil section of the Great Cross of the Order of the Hungarian Republic.

Thanks mainly to his chamber works (for example ’String Quartet, Op. 1.’ – 1959; ’Eight Duos, Op. 4.’ – 1961; ’Transcriptions from Machaut to J. S. Bach’ – 1976, 1985, etc.). György Kurtág is recognized as one of the most important modern Hungarian composers. His art originates from Bartók’s music, but he was also strongly influenced by the impressionistic sound of Anton Webern. Kurtág is known for his concentrated works with compact types of equipment and forms. György Kurtág was the first in Hungary to break up with the music practices of the 1950s, and began creating a new oeuvre when he was already a successful composer. Out of his peers in Hungarian composition, he was the only one who regularly visited the performances of the New Music Studio. He documented his impressions of those experiences in a little homage entitled ’Games.’ Thankful for his support, the members of the Studio paid tribute to him with the concert ’Hommage à Kurtág’ as a present on his 50th birthday. Kurtág always liked working with literary materials, creating compositions inspired by famous poets and writers: for example, ’Four Songs to Poems by János Pilinszky, Op. 11.’ (1975), ’Attila József Fragments, Op. 20.’ (1982), ’Eight Choruses to Poems by Dezső Tandori, Op. 23.’ (1982), ’Kafka-Fragments, Op. 24.’ (1987). His Russian song-cycles, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, the ’Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova, Op. 17.’ (1980) were staged in 1981, and it brought the composer international fame. He was awarded music prize of the Foundation of Monaco Duke Pierre for his ’Grabstein für Stephan, Op. 15c’ (1979) and ’Op. 27 No. 2 (Double Concerto)’ (1990) in 1993. In the summer of 2017, he finished his first opera (’Fin de partie / Endgame’) after almost 10 years of writing. The premiere of the opera – which was composed of the Samuel Beckett drama of the same name – was in the Scala (Milan) on November 15th 2018.


  • 1987 - Flowers, Chants, Hymn, Plays and Games for Cimbalom
  • 1990 - Musikprotokoll '90
  • 1991 - Carter, Elliott: Quintet; Donatoni, Franco: Blow; Kurtág, György: Quintetto; Ligeti, György: Zehn Stücke Stradivarius
  • 1993 - Kurtág György: Dalciklusok [Kurtág, György: Song Cycles]
  • 1994 - Kurtág György - Portraitkonzert - Salzburg, 1993. augusztus 10. [Kurtág, György - Portraitkonzert - Salzburg, 10. 8. 1993.]
  • 1994 - Ligeti / Kurtág / Orbán / Szerványszky
  • 1995 - Kurtág - Robert Schumann: Hommage á R.Sch.
  • 1995 - Kurtág György művei [Works by György Kurtág]
  • 1995 - Kafka-töredékek, Op. 24 [Kurtág, György: Kafka-Fragments, Op. 24]
  • 1996 - Grabstein Für Stephan; Stele; Stockhausen: Gruppen
  • 1996 - Musik für Streichinstrumente
  • 1997 - Játékok [Kurtág, György: Games]
  • 1998 - Hommage á R. Sch. Op.15d; Florentz Jean-Louis: L'Ange du Tamaris, Op. 12; Ligeti György: Trio for horn, violin & piano ["Hommage à Brahms"]; Pesson Gerard: Récréations françaises: bagatelles
  • 1998 - Művek szoprán hangra [Kurtág, György: Works for Soprano]
  • 1998 - Mentsük meg a Zeneakadémiát! [Let's Save the Liszt Academy!]
  • 1999 - Ganz, Bruno: Wenn Wasser wäre
  • 1999 - Kortárs magyar szerzők orgonaművei [Hungarian Contemporary Organ Music]
  • 1999 - Rückblick Moderne - Orchestermusik im 20. Jahrhundert [Rückblick Moderne - 20th Century Orchestral Musik]
  • 1999 - Solos - XX. századi magyar kompozíciók szóló fuvolára [20th C. Hungarian Works for Flute]
  • 2000 - Kim Kashkashian - Bartók / Eötvös / Kurtág
  • 2000 - Ligeti / Kurtág / Veress - Wind Quintets
  • 2000 - Marlboro Music Festival - 50th Anniversary Album
  • 2001 - Psy: A cimbalom varázsa [Psy: Charm of the Cimbalom]
  • 2001 - Tihanyi Gellért: Kurtág/Bartók/Faragó/ Stravinsky/Reich
  • 2001 - Vékony Ildikó: Szálkák [Ildikó Vékony: Splinters]
  • 2002 - Bartók Béla: 44 Duos for Two Violins/Ligeti György: Ballade und Tanz/Kurtág György: Ligatura - Message to Frances-Marie Op. 31b [The 2002 -Answered Unanswered Question]
  • 2002 - Kurtág, Szőllősy, Sáry, Serei, Sári, Gyöngyössy
  • 2003 - Kurtág György: Signs, Games and Messages
  • 2003 - Viola Space - Japan 10th Anniversary
  • 2004 - Music Colors - Hungarian Contemporary Music (1989-2004)
  • 2004 - Piano Four Hands - Two Pianos in the XX Century Dynamic
  • 2005 - a la Carte - szólódarabok gordonkára [a la Carte - Solo Works for Cello]
  • 2005 - Die Revolution der Klange - Musik im 20. Jahrhundert
  • 2005 - La langue maternelle - Mother Tongue - Bartók, Ligeti, Kurtág, Eötvös
  • 2005 - Leaving Home: Orchestral Music in the 20th Century
  • 2006 - Játékok [Games]
  • 2007 - Kurtág 80
  • 2007 - Játékok; Szálkák; Grabstein für Stephan [Games; Splinters; Grabstein für Stephan]
  • 2008 - Játékok 2. [Games - Selection 2]
  • 2009 - Harpchipelago - Kortárs magyar kompozíciók hárfára [Harpchipelago - Contemporary Hungarian Works for Harp]
  • 2009 - Kosmos / Crumb - Kurtág - Stockhausen - Bartók - Eötvös
  • 2010 - Ligeti and Kurtág at Carnegie Hall
  • 2015 - In memoriam Haydée - Játékok, átiratok szóló zongorára és négy kézre [In memoriam Haydée - Games and Transcriptions for piano solo and four hands]
  • 2016 - Kurtágék Kurtágtól játszanak [György and Márta Kurtág play Kurtág]
  • 2016 - Sir Simon Rattle Conducts and Explores Music of the 20th Century Arthaus Musik