Balázs Horváth : Hungarian composer

Balázs Horváth was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1976. He studied composition at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest with Zoltán Jeney. He received his doctorate degree in composition at the same Academy in 2005, while teaching there as a senior lecturer. He also visited music seminars lead by Bryan Ferneyhough, Michael Jarrell, Marco Stroppa, Péter Eötvös, Karlheinz Stockhausen and László Tihanyi.

Horváth’s compositions are performed at international music events such as the Budapest Spring Festival, Gaudeamus Music Week (Amsterdam), ISCM World Music Days (Ljubljana, Göteborg, Zagreb, Tongyeong), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Music in Current (Tokyo), musikprotokoll (Graz), cresc. Biennale für Neue Musik (Frankfurt) etc.

As a composer he worked with reknown conductors and ensembles such as Péter Eötvös, Gregory Vajda, Pierre-André Valade, Amadinda Percussion Group, Ensemble Modern, Göteborg Symfoniker, Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Sinfonietta, RSO Wien, Ensemble UMZE, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble.

Horváth is founder and artistic leader of THReNSeMBLe that performs contemporary music. The ensemble often serves the programs of the Péter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation for which Horváth has been a member since 2012.

Since 2014 Horváth is co-curator and founder of Átlátszó Hang (Transparent Sound) New Music Festival in Budapest with Samu Gryllus.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

I was six and just about to finish kindergarten when we had a closing ceremony where the children were singing together, reciting poems etc. The final song was accompanied by simple (percussion) instruments as well we also marched together. I was the “conductor” of this song and marched as first person and gave the tempo. Although this is not the beginning of a composer’s career, but is my first musical memory that has a strong connection to my musical activities.

More specifically as a composer maybe the first concert of my music was a significant memory. I organized a concert when I was a secondary school composition student. Six of my recent compositions were performed at the main hall of the school when I was sixteen.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

Yes, of course there are. But I could mention not only composers but personalities. Some of them affected me through their music, some with their personality + music.

Those that were influential as composers for me (the most important are bolded): Bartók, Brahms, Mahler, Louis Andriessen, Bach, Webern, Stockhausen, Gabrieli, Ligeti, Gérard Grisey, Helmut Lachenmann, Ives, Georg Friedrich Haas, Simon Steen-Andersen, John Oswald.

Those whom I have known personally and this was also an important influence on my music and knowledge: Zoltán Jeney, László Tihanyi, Péter Eötvös, Gergely Vajda, Marcell Dargay, Péter Tornyai, Samu Gryllus.

How do you approach the question of “form” especially for longer works?

During composing (or preparing) a piece there are two aspects in the forefront of my thinking concerning the overall form.

  1. I envision the global form and the music materials will fill in this form later.
  2. I create the initial music materials and ignore the overall dramaturgy. The local situations create or tend to create the overall form during composing.

The local form of a piece always depends on the actual musical material.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

Unfortunately I have no regular schedule.

I teach two days a week and keep the weekends for family, which means I could have three days for composing. But all other activities (organizing concerts, conducting, preparing for teaching, other works etc.) interrupt the regularity.

During the initial period of composing a piece, I generally spend time thinking about it and writing down some ideas. These first days usually contain 5-15 minutes of composing the piece and the rest is just thinking and pushing it away. Then the next days/weeks it grows up to 1 hour and finally a certain time later it can be 5-6 hours a day. But since my son was born a year ago, finding time is more difficult. Now composing occurs more sporadically: 20 minutes to 2 hours when I can, on the train or while travelling alone.

Generally I write everything on paper and the final result is edited in a notation software. But sometimes certain music ideas need to be edited and elaborated with the software. A computer is used when I add electronic devices to my acoustic music, or for those occasions when I write music where the acoustic instruments imitate electronic sounds.

Most of my pre-compositional materials are texts or drawings. This is faster and easier for me to do it on paper.

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

I Got Riff (2012; for symphony orchestra and electronics)

Performed by the Savaria Symphony Orchestra, Howard Williams (cond.)

Inspiration. In 2011 I came across on the Internet a video recording of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” played by the composer as an encore ( While listening to the recording I was fascinated by the naive simplicity and graceful acceleration as he performed his piece.

Understanding the concept. Riff: “In jazz, blues and popular music, a short melodic ostinato which may be repeated either intact or varied to accommodate an underlying harmonic pattern.” (J. Bradford Robinson: Riff in New Grove, 2001)

History of genesis. After analyzing Gershwin’s recording I broke off his riffs into smaller elements, almost splinters, then replaced them with my own motifs designed to emulate them. That is to say, the form of my piece follows literally the Gershwin piece, but in the process,  a completely different composition has emerged due to the fragmentation of the musical materials.

Final result, synthesis. In order to allow “I Got Rhythm” which served as the source of inspiration to be incorporated in my piece, I ”invited” Gershwin to participate in its performance. The recording of his playing can be heard ”accommodated” already to the character of I Got Riff.

I Got Riff was first performed on July 13, 2012 at the opening concert of the International Bartók Festival, Szombathely. George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, 75 years before almost to the day .

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