György Kurtág

Wolf Prize Laureate in Music 2024

György Kurtág


Award citation:

“for his contribution to the world’s cultural heritage, which is fundamentally inspirational and human”.


Prize share:



György Kurtág, (born in 1926, in Lugo, Romania) is a renowned Hungarian composer celebrated for his avant-garde contributions to contemporary classical music. Kurtág started playing the piano at the age of 5 with Klára Vojkicza-Peia. His professional musical journey began at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest in 1946, where he studied piano and composition under the guidance of renowned mentors, including Pál Kadosa (piano), Leó Weiner (chamber music), Sándor Veress, and subsequently, Ferenc Farkas (composition). Kurtág obtained his degree in piano and chamber music in 1951 and in composition in 1955. His early musical education, which was influenced by Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, laid the foundation for a career marked by a profound connection to Hungarian folk traditions and a commitment to modernist innovation.
From 1960 to 1968, Kurtág served as a répétiteur for soloists at the National Concert Bureau. In 1967, he received an invitation to instruct at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, initially as an assistant to Pál Kadosa in piano and later as a teacher of chamber music. Though he officially retired in 1986, Kurtág continued to conduct classes regularly until 1993. Since then, and up to the present day, he has conducted chamber music courses in numerous European countries and the United States. Throughout his illustrious career, Kurtág has crafted a unique musical language, blending elements of modernism with a deep emotional resonance. He composed a diverse range of works, including chamber music, vocal compositions, and orchestral pieces. Notable among these is “Játékok” (Games), a monumental collection that showcases his exploration of musical language and experimentation with form.
Kurtág’s collaboration with his wife, Márta Kurtág, a pianist, has been a defining aspect of his artistic journey. Their partnership has yielded remarkable interpretations of his compositions, offering audiences a nuanced understanding of his intricate musical world. Kurtag and his wife participate in recitals where they perform pieces from the piano series “Játékok” (Games) alternating with Kurtág’s transcriptions of Bach compositions. Kurtág is one of the most sought after contemporary composers, with a prolific career marked by numerous performances. Throughout his extensive journey, he has held the prestigious position of composer-in-residence with esteemed orchestras, concert halls, theatres, and ensembles. Notable among these affiliations are the Berlin Philharmonic, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Wiener Konzerthaus, the Dutch National Opera, and Ensemble InterContemporain.
Kurtág’s impact on contemporary classical music is profound. His influence extends globally, and his compositions are performed and revered by musicians and audiences alike, earning him international recognition and accolades. Kurtág’s works exhibit intensity and a keen sense of introspection, capturing the essence of human experience in condensed yet emotionally charged musical expressions. His contributions have earned him numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. His compositions challenge conventional boundaries and expand the possibilities of musical expression. As a venerable figure in the world of modern music, Kurtág’s legacy extends beyond his compositions. He has served as an inspiring teacher, influencing generations of musicians and composers. His commitment to pushing the boundaries of musical exploration and a deep connection to his Hungarian roots establishes Kurtág as a luminary in the pantheon of 20th and 21st-century classical composers.
György Kurtág is awarded the Wolf Prize for presenting a shining example of a true musician and a human being. His music, which deals with the existential questions of the human soul, focuses on fundamental emotions such as love and sorrow, fear, anxiety, despair, and a desire for harmony and reconciliation. His art ranges from small forms, such as his short piano works, to a large-scale cantata or opera, and it reflects the past and present of the entire history of Western music. Kurtág’s immense influence on numerous musicians is simply magical. His scholarly environment has always been lucky to absorb from him a unique spirit of devotion to music, structural thinking and harmony and hence experiencing his tutorial work as a torch of humanity.


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