We received this moving obituary of Erzsébet Szőnyi, written by Matthias Funkhauser of the German Kodály Society.
Erzsébet Szőnyi (25 April 1924 – 28 December 2019) (also Erzsébet Szilágyi) was a Hungarian composer and music teacher. Her works encompass symphonic compositions, chamber music works, art songs, and oratorios. She also wrote numerous stage works including eight operas. (from Wikipedia)
Erzsébet Szőnyi’s work is significant for posterity in two areas. As the most eminent female Hungarian composer of the 20th century, she stands in a row with her male colleagues Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, György Ligeti and György Kurtág. As a pedagogue she played a decisive role in the development and spreading of the Hungarian model of music education, which, based on the principles of Kodály, became world-famous as the Kodály Concept of music education. Furthermore, as a professor of the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, she trained generations of Hungarian and international music teachers.
Erzsébet Szőnyi was born on April 25, 1924 in Budapest as the daughter of a Bulgarian mother and Hungarian father. She spent her school years at the Erzsébet-Szilágy- Gimnázium in Budapest, where she came into early contact with Zoltán Kodály’s music educational ideas through her music teacher Adrienne Sztojanovits, who was in close contact with Kodály. From 1942 to 1945 Szőnyi studied composition with János Viski and folk music with Zoltán Kodály at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest. From 1947 to 1948 she continued her musical education at the Conservatoire de Paris in the composition classes of Nadia Boulanger, Tony Aubin and Olivier Messiaen. She studied the French solfège system in several school institutions and also took part in the courses taught by Yvonnes Desportes at the Conservatoire de Paris.
Based on her observations in France and her experiences as a music teacher at different school levels in Hungary, she implemented Kodály’s reform efforts for Hungarian solfège lessons from the end of the 1940s onwards. In 1954 she published her three-volume solfège textbook A Zenei Írás-Olvasás Módszertana [Musical Reading and Writing], which has been translated into several languages.
Szőnyi composed about 300 works for various instrumentations, including operas, oratorios, chamber music and instrumental works, many of which have received national and international recognition.
As the international ambassador of the Kodály Concept Szőnyi has travelled to all continents, lecturing at music education conferences and thus ensuring that the Kodály Concept is now part of the teaching repertoire of numerous international music institutions. Szőnyis biographer, the US-American Jerry L. Jaccard characterized her also against the political-historical background of the then-communist Hungary as a “Hungarian ‘Renaissance woman,’ who, in spite of a repressive regime’s attempts to contain her, ended up wielding an international artistic and pedagogical influence”.
Erzsébet Szőnyi died on 28 December 2019 at the age of 95, in Budapest.
Thanks to Mary-Ellen Kitchens for making Matthias Funkhauser’s remembrance of Szőnyi available to us.