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Peter Eotvos, Evocative Modernist Composer and Conductor, Dies at 80

WorldEuropePeter Eotvos, Evocative Modernist Composer and Conductor, Dies at 80

“His music may be rigorous, but his gentle, soft-spoken spirit gives his work its inimitable character and pathos,” the American opera director Yuval Sharon, who directed a 2016 production of Mr. Eotvos’s 1998 opera, “Tri Sestri,” in Vienna, said in a statement. Calling that work, which is based on Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters,” “unquestionably one of the great operas of our time,” Mr. Sharon said that it was only while working with Mr. Eotvos that he “realized how much of his emotional life is invested in the work.”

For the otherwise reserved Mr. Eotvos, music was his vehicle to express that inner life. “In everyday life I’m not a dramatic person at all,” he 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 the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s flight into outer space in 1961 — the first for a human and “the first major event of my life” — inspired him to write the piano work “Kosmos” when he was 17. He would revisit the 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 renown as a composer in his own right, Mr. Eotvos was pivotal to the development of late-20th-century music. As a key player in the musical avant-garde, he championed and helped transmit the musical doctrines of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, figures who dominated postwar European music.

Throughout his career, Mr. Eotvos 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 taught at the Karlsruhe University of Music and the Musikhochschule Koln (now the Cologne University of Music), both in Germany. Having spent much of his life abroad, he returned to Hungary in 2004, the year the country joined the European Union.

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