Remembering Miklós Szabó

Miklós Szabó

(15 April, 1931 - 12 June, 2020)

It is with great sorrow that we have to say our final farewell to Professor Miklós Szabó.

The first time I met Miklós Szabó was in 1994. The freshly enrolled group of students was anxiously waiting in front of Room II, just across from the Small Hall on the first floor of the Liszt Academy, wondering what was awaiting them in these upcoming five years. A few minutes before 8 a.m. his figure emerged, approaching the top of the stairs with swift steps, dressed in a grey suit with a matching tie. We all turned towards him with a shy “Good morning professor” while he - without looking at us - opened the double door as we were getting ready to follow him into the room. Then, with a sudden move he shut the door behind him, leaving his class outside in disbelief. “This is not starting out well.” The fifteen young teacher trainees were frozen solid. About a minute later he peaked out his head. “Enter,” he instructed us with a quick hand gesture.

During the next five years we entered Room II hundreds of times to attend his 2-hour-long Solfege and Music theory classes twice a week. The first month was almost unbearable. At the beginning, it seemed impossible to fulfill even half of his daily assignments. We barely managed to understand his special and very detailed instructions on certain musicianship tasks. Looking back on it, I am forever grateful for his tough ways of breaking us in and molding us.

I feel humbled and incredibly honored to have received a share of his immeasurable knowledge which was beyond my comprehension. Every single musical masterpiece he dissected in our Solfege class was an inexhaustible source of secrets that he unveiled through extremely precise analysis and reflective insight, breaking music down to its molecules to reveal every single atom within. He demanded that we handle these treasures with great care and humility. In my attempts of his assigned exercises, one mistuned note, a wrong chord, or inaccurate rhythm would cost me a great deal of misery and humiliation. He would often say, “Go home and come back when you are ready to perform this perfectly.” Professor Szabó didn’t take pity on his students; in fact, the more he loved them, the more he demanded.

I feel especially grateful to have attended his Saturday lectures on Bartók’s 27 Children’s and Female Choruses. He graciously offered these special weekend classes to his class; I remember his eyes lighting up with joy and excitement upon noticing our enthusiasm. I am incredibly thankful and lucky to have heard him present his research - a tremendous scholarly work representing his vast theoretical and practical knowledge, later published as “Bartók Béla Kórusművei” - on the composer’s masterpieces for treble voices.

Miklós Szabó founded the world-renowned, award-winning Győr Girls Choir in 1958, not long after his graduation with distinction from the Liszt Academy. The choir’s extensive and meticulously planned repertoire ranged from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary compositions with an emphasis on works by Hungarian composers. Several hundred girls of the Győr High School of Arts and Teacher Training College sang under his hands for over five decades. He often referred to his choristers affectionately as “my Győr girls”. Their countless recordings are a testimony to Miklós Szabó’s unquestionably high standards and unparalleled musician- and conductorship.

To most of us, Miklós Szabó was known as a humble and private person with a great sense of humor. Moments of personal interaction were scarce, however, he often mentioned his passion for Agatha Christie’s detective novels, filling his students in on his most recent reads. He preferred to have conversations about what he devoted his life to: music; and always generously offered his time to give professional advice or discuss music related subjects.

Due to some (fortunate) administrative error, the class of ’99 at the Liszt Academy was assigned Miklós Szabó’s Solfege and Musicianship class for ten semesters. For the last year, he planned Wagner’s Parsifal and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, both of which we studied with great enthusiasm - but also with considerable worry - for the final exam. Upon examining my written exam, realizing I reached the highest possible score for the chord ear-training portion, he looked up from the paper, gave me a mischievous smile and said, ”It’s just luck.”

It is beyond luck to have been Miklós Szabó’s student, and I can’t express with words how grateful I am for his clear guidance, wisdom, and knowledge that he passed on to hundreds of his students. He will live on forever in our hearts.

Ildió Thész Salgado