Zoltán Jeney

From Unearthing The Music

Zoltán Jeney in 2017. Photo by Eifert János

Zoltán Jeney (1943-) is an Hungarian composer, one of the founding members of New Music Studio and a key figure in the avant-garde music life in 1970s/1980s Hungary. He dealt with experimental and electronic music, and he composed pieces together with László Sáry (1940-) László Vidovszky (1944-) other path-breaking musicians from this age.

In 1970, after he graduated from music school, he established the New Music Studio with other musicians. In 1973 he experimented with the transcription of extra-musical materials (texts, chess game, meteorological data, telex) into music. In 1974 his first conventional composition with László Sáry and László Vidovszky generated a long debate in the music community. He toured in the 1970s-80s in France, Greek, Italy, and Sweden. These trips had a profound impression on him. Jeney received positive feedback from abroad was invited to some universities to teach, and he gave numerous concerts.

He spoke about his ars poetica in an interview in the 1970s: "I want to make the world around us visible in an acoustic way. I want to make the often unbearable, ordinary sounds of world aesthetically liveable and in this way acceptable."

According to a music journalist’s opinion, Jeney’s playing was mostly shaped by his intelligence and logic. Furthermore, another key element of his work is coincidence. In his view coincidence has a dual role: it appears in the performance and in the process of composing, as well. He and his fellow musicians applied randomness as a composing method because they felt that music history had already created a lot of information and overused schemes. Since they wanted to get rid of conventions, they had to turn aside from every planned thing. He indicated that he does hang on to the traditions, but he wants to live with them.

Dominic Gill, a journalist of the Financial Times London, wrote a report on the Budapest Music Weeks in November of 1974. In this article, he paid attention to the New Music Studio and Jeney’s activity. The symphonic piece titled Alef (1972) complimented by him with these words: "a remarkable piece, inexplicably attacked by the critics in Hungary for its 'mysticism and exoticism' built from slow-moving layers and blocks, at one massive and delicate, continually shifting in timbre, attack and density, a picture in sound of the latest open spaces, the most subtle blends of natural colour, light and shade."