Erzsébet Szőnyi, who turns eighty this year, has been a prominent figure of the Hungarian cultural life for decades. Apart from neing active as a composer and teacher, she has been instrumental in familiarizing the Hungarian music education system known as Kodály method on the international scene through master courses and lectures abroad.
Born on 25 April 1924 in Budapest, Erzsébet Szőnyi attended the Erzsébet Szilágyi Girl’s Grammar School where she already made up her mind to embark on a musical career. In her decision the influence of Adrienne Sztojanovits, the school’s music teacher and choral conductor, one of Kodály’s most outstanding pupils, had a great share. She took private piano instruction from Aglája Benczúr, the niece of the famous Hungarian painter Gyula Benczúr, and learned the rudiments of music theory with Miklós Laurisin.
Erzsébet began teaching while still at the Academy of Music. In the 1845/46 academic year Zoltán Kodály had other things to do, so she was asked to take over his folk music classes as a substitute. Education has been decisive throughout Erzsébet Szőnyi’s career. For a short period of time she taught music at her one-time Alma Mater, the Erzsébet Szilágyi Grammar School, then at the demonstration school of the Academy of Music, and finally at the Academy of Music itself.
Erzsébet Szőnyi was vice-president and board member of the International Kodály Society of the Lajos Bárdos Society and the Hungarian Kodály Society, respectively. In 1992 she was elected a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, vice-president of the Hungarian Chamber of Music, later co-president of the Hungarian Musician’s Forum. For her artistic and educational achievements she was awarded the Erkel Prize (1959), the János Apáczai Csere Prize (1993), the Béla Bartók-Ditta Pásztory Prize (1995, 2004), the title Outstanding Artist (2000) and the Zoltán Kodály Prize (2001).
English Translation by Erzsébet Mészáros