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György Kurtág

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György Kurtág was born on 19th February 1926 at Lugoj in Romania, not far from the birthplace of fellow György Ligeti. Both young composers hoped to study with Béla Bartók in Budapest in 1945, but Bartók died in America and Kurtág went on to study , composition and with other teachers at the Budapest Academy. Among his early works was a Korean Cantata which expressed solidarity with the North Koreans in the Korean War against the US, but he reached the age of thirty-three before he was willing to give any of his works opus numbers.

In the early 1950s the Stalinist regime in Hungary proscribed Bartók’s later works, and immediately his music became a rallying call for artists taking a stand against authoritarianism. Also banned in Hungary until the mid-1950s was the music of Arnold Schoenberg, and the middle and late-period works of Igor Stravinsky. To escape this creative straitjacket Kurtág moved to Paris in 1957 to study music with Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud and Max Deutsch. He also had consultations with the Hungarian art psychologist Marianne Stein, and it was her advice that would prove most influential on his future development. While in Paris he wrote his first String Quartet, designating it ‘opus 1’ to mark a decisive break from his compositions to date. He returned to Budapest in 1958, stopping for a few days in Cologne where he first heard recordings of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen and Ligeti’s recent electronic music.

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