Peter Eotvos, evocative modernist composer and conductor, dies at 80

“His music may be rigorous, but his gentle, quiet spirit gives his work its inimitable character and pathos,” says American opera director Yuval Sharon, who directed a 2016 production of the opera by Mr. Eotvos from 1998, “Tri Sestri”. Vienna, he said in a note. Calling that opera, based on Chekhov's play “Three Sisters,” “undoubtedly one of the greatest works of our time,” Sharon said it was only while working with Eotvos that “he realized how much of his emotional feeling life is invested in work.”

For the otherwise reserved Mr. Eotvos, music was the vehicle for expressing that inner life. “In everyday life I'm not a dramatic person at all,” she 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 Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's space flight in 1961 — the first for a human being and “the first major event of my life” — inspired him to write the piano work “Kosmos” when he was 17 years old. He would revisit her work at various stages in his life, including in the 2017 concert piece “Multiversum.”

“It put my whole life on a cosmic trajectory,” he said.

Long before he found fame as a composer in his own right, Eotvos was central to the development of late 20th century music. As a key player in the musical avant-garde, he supported and helped transmit the musical doctrines of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, figures who dominated post-war European music.

Throughout his career, Eotvos has educated and supported young composers and conductors, including through the International Eotvos Institute, which he founded in 1991, and the Peter Eotvos Contemporary Music Foundation, founded in 2004. He has taught at the University of Music in Karlsruhe and at the Musikhochschule Koln (now Cologne University of Music), both in Germany. After spending much of his life abroad, he returned to Hungary in 2004, the year the country joined the European Union.

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