“Accuracy, Essence, Beauty. These three words summarize everything I want and will be trying to achieve in music and what I value in the works of my predecessors and contemporaries. ” - Attila Bozay
Attila Bozay was born on August 11, 1939, in Balatonfűzfő. His father was Gyula Bozalyi (machinist), his mother Anna Moder (housewife), and his sister Ildikó Bozalyi (doctor).
He began his piano studies in 1949, started to play the violin in 1951 and the clarinet shortly afterwards. He always remembered the inspiring leader of Balatonfűzfő’s local pioneer band with a warm heart, who, as a true renaissance man, was able to play several instruments and organised the group during that time.
After a long and difficult period of fights and arguments with his parents about his future, in September 1953 he could finally apply to the famous Conservatory of Music in Békéstarhos. During the admission procedure, his mother asked the director of the school, György Gulyás, not to admit his son, but he insisted on young Bozay’s music education. Three of his early works are associated with Békéstarhos: ‘Two archaic pieces’, ‘Two short pieces for piano’ and the ‘Divertimento’. The composer called these pieces Opus juvenile.
In 1954, after the unexpected closure of the institution, he continued his studies in Budapest at the State Conservatory of Music, today’s well-known Béla Bartók Conservatory. In the course of these three years, the composer wrote five more Opus juveniles: ‘Introduction and Rondo Burlesco’, ‘Sonatina’, ‘Wind Quintet’, ‘A walk in Fairyland’, and a 36-movement piano cycle called ‘Medals’.
On October 23, 1956, he took part in the student demonstration against Russia’s political domination that marched from the Budapest University of Technology via Bem Square to Parliament, which with its uplifting feeling he always recalled as a defining experience of his life.
In 1957, a direct path led him to the Liszt Academy of Music and the well-known class of Ferenc Farkas from which he graduated with honours on May 17, 1962. This is where he met amongst others Árpád Balázs, Zsolt Durkó, Zoltán Jeney and Miklós Kocsár. The 9th Opus juvenile called ‘Romance’ was composed here as the last piece of this set. In 1958 he also wrote ‘Duo’.
Attila Bozay kept the catalogue of his works with precise care. He later destroyed the vast majority of his pieces from the earlier period. Even from his graduation portfolio only one of his five works remained intact: two were significantly rewritten, two withdrawn. He urged that the performance and publication of pieces that are not included in the list of works he compiled himself should never be undertaken. His colleagues at the Liszt Academy still remember to this day the characteristic dialogue with the extremely self-critical composer: “Attila, how is your new work progressing?” "It was good for tinder."
He called his first creative period between 1953 to 1968 the period of review. After graduating, he taught in Szeged for a year at the secondary level, then worked as director of chamber music at Hungarian Radio until 1966. In 1964 he wrote his first string quartet, then in 1965 ‘Pezzo Concertato No. 1’, Op. 11. He had been a freelance composer since 1967. He married the pianist Klára Körmendi and received a six-month scholarship from UNESCO to study in Paris the same year. Soon after that his String Trio, Op 3, was performed in the USA, the first performance of a work of his there.
“As a creative artist I learned most from the poet, Sándor Weöres… to take responsibility for my obviously uneven work as a whole. Weöres said there are two types of creators: the ‘hole digger’ and the ‘international thief’. The ‘hole digger’ works at only a few problems, but more and more over time… ”
The composer considered his 2nd creative period (from 1968 to 1978) as a time of “hole digging”. His first Erkel Award can also be considered as the start of this period. At the beginning of these years, he met zither player Mátyás Pribojszky, as a result of which he became interested in folk culture, in particular the (transformed) zither and beak flutes. In 1971 he wrote his first work for zither, Op. 22, No. 1, ’Improvisations’. This would ultimately form a pair with ’Improvisations’, Op. 27, No. 2, which is perhaps his most important work for beak flutes.
In 1974 his son Gergely was born.
1979 was a hectic year for Bozay: he began to compose an opera, which also opened a new creative period: a period of facing new challenges. He received his second Erkel Prize. His daughter Melinda was born. This same year he started to teach orchestration at the Liszt Academy of Music, and two years later his first composition class. In 1982 he was divorced from Klára Körmendi.
Between 1983 and 1985 he wrote four sets of choruses, each entitled ’6 Choruses for Children's or Female Voices’ and setting in each case six poems by a single poet. These works are dedicated to his great role model, Béla Bartók, and show striking similarities to Bartók’s ’27 Choruses for Children's and Female Voices’. During his lifetime, Bozay composed more than a hundred song settings of Hungarian poets such as János Arany, Bálint Balassi, Dániel Berzsenyi, Attila József, Amy Károlyi, János Pilinszky, Sándor Petőfi, Miklós Radnóti and János Vajda.
His opera ’Csongor and Tünde’, based on the verse play by Mihály Vörösmarty, was completed in 1984 for the centenary of the Opera House. The work had success uniformly with both professionals and the public. In 1985 he was rewarded with the Meritorious Artist Award. From 1986 to 1989, he looked towards a new field of music through genres and forms not previously used. Over these years he composed two piano sonatas, a violin-piano sonata and a cello-piano sonata. Bozay traversed the genre with typical thoroughness exploiting its potential in such ways that his own idiom is always recognizable.
In 1988 he was awarded the Bartók-Pásztory Prize and became a member of the Hungarian Music Society’s board and the president of the Békéstarhos Circle of Friends. In 1989 he married Erzsébet Varga and in the same year received the Hungarian Heritage Prize.
Between 1990 and 1993, he was the director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic, an activity requiring much time and energy. Subsequently, he looked back at this work, which had taken him away from composition, with some remorse. However, not to mislead the reader, here, as always, he undertook the work in the spirit of Attila Bozay: with modesty, zeal, dedication, diligence, and most of all a great desire to create.
He wrote his 3rd and last ’Pezzo Concertato’ Op 37, in 1990. He was awarded the Kossuth Prize in the same year and was elected President of the Hungarian Composers’ Association for a year.
He was a founding member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts and was Vice-President of the Hungarian Music Department for four years from 1992. That year he was awarded the Hungarian Art Prize. Written in 1993, his composition, ‘Poor Yorick’, based on poems by István Kormos, reveals perhaps the most profound insight into his own soul. He composed his 3rd and last ‘Pezzo Sinfonico’ Op. 38 in 1995. In 1997 he completed his last String Quartet op. 40 and two cycles of Choruses for mixed-voice choir dedicated to Zoltán Kodály. The texts are taken from Bálint Balassi and István Gyöngyösi.
In 1998, he began to compose an opera for the Hungarian Millennium Opera Competition. This large-scale work had been circling in his mind for almost 30 years. Based on the final scenes of Imre Madách's play, The Tragedy of Man, his opera is called ‘The Last Five Scenes’. After suffering a third, this time fatal, heart attack during a vacation in Szilvásvárad he passed away on September 14, 1999. Much of the opera was not yet fully orchestrated. With the help of the composer’s instructions it was completed by three former students of his, Zoltán Kovács, Zsófia Tallér and Gyula Fekete. A year after his death, the opera, which can also be considered as the masterpiece of his oeuvre, was produced on October 21, 2000, and earned universal acclaim.
His dear student, Endre Olsvay, who graduated in his first composition class at the Liszt Academy, wrote: "Attila Bozay, like one of his role models, Bartók, passed away with his luggage full." The plan for another opera, ‘A boy from Pest’, about the martyrdom of Péter Mansfeld in 1956, and further cycles for mixed-voice choirs could not be completed by the composer, who had died a tragically early and sudden death. The significance of his life’s work was confirmed with the Artisjus Prize in 2001 and a second Hungarian Heritage Prize in 2009. In 2016 a street in Balatonfűzfő was named after Attila Bozay.