Léonie Sonning Awards 2003

György Kurtág

György Kurtág received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 500,000 at a concert held on Thursday, 18 September in Radiohusets Koncertsal. 

The music prize was presented by editor Steen Frederiksen, who said:

“György Kurtág says that his music must speak for itself, that he cannot speak about it. But one can of course analyse your music – even so, it is as with much other great art: one cannot analyse one’s way to the secret of the music. Despite this, so much has been said about your music – because it invites analysis – that it is impossible to add anything new.

A few words, even so – István Balázs has said: Kurtág’s works clarity, they awaken consciousness in the best sense of the word, not aggressively as an avant-garde composer might do, not ideologically or dogmatically. Kurtág’s music teaches me to be a human being [...] In its beauty it does not allow us to forget the world’s vices. It seeks to liberate.”

You can listen to the award speech (in German) and the motivation (in Danish) here:

The programme

Franz Schubert Symphony no. 7 in B minor, The Unfinished
György Kurtág ...concertante... for violin, viola and orchestra. First performance. Commissioned by the Music Foundation.
Béla Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin, op. 19

Performed by:

Hiromi Kikuchi, violin
Ken Kakii, viola
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Michael Schønwandt


The 2003 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 500,000 is awarded to György Kurtág, as one of the most important composers of our age. Kurtág’s compact, aphoristic and poetic music is a genuine, strong defence of what it human. It is both innovative and familiar music which with its deep roots in the historical and musical past takes the soul of European culture on further.

György Kurtág in Denmark

The Funen festival Musikhøst presented five of his works in 1987, but there was a need of events that would seriously place him on the Danish musical map, where he was scarcely known at the time.

Dansk Musik Tidskrift published a special number exclusively about Kurtág and his music – nine articles that gave a good impression of the composer and his music.

The Esbjerg International Chamber Music Festival featured music by Kurtág three days in a row. From 28 to 30 August, audiences could hear such Kurtág works as his Wind Quintet, op. 2, Three old inscriptions for bass-baritone and piano, op. 25, Three pieces for violin and piano, op. 14a, Hommage à Robert Schumann and Kafka Fragments.

In addition, there were Kurtág concerts at Louisiana Museum and Radiohuset with Athelas Sinfonietta.

On Monday, 15 September, Kurtág entranced a packed concert hall at The Royal Danish Academy of Music, where he gave a two-hour master class with the Piazo Quartet (Mikkel and Kirstine Futtrup, Magda Stevenson and Toke Møldrup).

On Tuesday, 16 September, the Athelas Sinfonietta and conductor Christian Eggen celebrated Kurtág with a truly memorable concert in the concert hall at Radiohuset – devoted exclusively to music by the Hungarian prize-winner. First his quasi una fantasia for piano and chamber orchestra, after which Ida Speyer Grøn played his Jelek (sign) for viola solo, and, as the final work before the interval, Four Capriccios – to poems by István Balint – with the soprano Ellen Aagaard and a chamber ensemble. After the interval, the Hungarian Ildikó Vékony gave Splinter for cimbalom solo its first performance in Denmark. This was followed by Hommage à Robert Schumann, then ...quasi una fantasia... once more.

Two days after the prize-concert, another concert took place at the Danish Broadcasting Concert Hall, this time with Márta and György Kurtág as soloists. The programme was one, they had presented in several countries: Kurtág’s fine Bach-adaptations and excerpts from his own 'Jatekok' for piano duet.

Selected Music by György Kurtág

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

“There are rounded episodes in Kurtág’s new double concerto, as one had expected from a composer who prefers to keep within a limited format. But there is plenty of development despite this. Long lines, rises and, not least, strong passions that broke through the silence like volcanic eruptions. We were given a musical sequence that moved from silence and then returned to silence. But that also let the pulse of the orchestra beat warmly and passionately.

Despite the use of a large symphony orchestra – and despite the unusual use of mutes and silent practice instruments – there were never any problems in getting the solo voices to float on top of everything. Mainly because the contributions from the orchestra came in dribs and drabs. Like a beating pulse. It began like an account of the creation. In the beginning was the note. Persistently held onto by the soloists. Then came the unfolding of a musical universe. When the silky solo voices died away, Kurtág had taken us with him on a journey into space which, in the promised 24 minutes, had riveted one’s attention. The only thing one wanted afterwards was to hear the concerto again.”

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

“In the ... concertante ... it is never the two soloists, Hiromi Kikuchi on violin and Ken Hakii on viola, who transmit musical energy to the orchestra. Nor vice-versa. They gain colour from each other in their parallel streaming in and out of the silence. As the dots in Kurtág’s titles indicate – for him there is no beginning and no ending. Music is an eternal flow. As in a river.”

(Knud Ketting, Jyllands-Posten)