Sammlung János Tamás

János Tamás (1936–1995)
Hungarian-Swiss Composer


The Paul Sacher Foundation has taken over the posthumous estate of the Swiss-Hungarian composer János Tamás (1936–1995), thereby expanding its already rich holdings of twentieth-century Hungarian music (Béla Bartók, Antal Doráti, Sándor Veress, György Ligeti, György Kurtág, and Peter Eötvös). The János Tamás Collection encompasses sketches and fair copies for the composer's entire musical output as well as correspondence, sound recordings, program booklets, reviews, and other documentary material. Starting immediately, it will be available for scholarly research in the Foundation's archives on Münsterplatz, Basel.

János Tamás was born in Budapest in 1936 to a Jewish mercantile family. His childhood was clouded by the German occupation, but he escaped the Nazi's grasp by going into hiding. After the war, he studied piano at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy (1956), where he briefly received composition lessons from Ferenc Farkas. During the Hungarian Uprising in that same year, the young musician fled via Vienna to Switzerland, where he found a home in the artistically minded family of Max and Maggie Matter-Tobler in Schönenwerd. Not only did the family take him under its wing like a foster child, they actively supported his musical career. During his early years in Switzerland, he attended piano master-classes with Walter Frey and Karl Engel and took conducting lessons from Paul Müller-Zürich and Pierre Boulez. His studies with fellow countryman Sándor Veress in Berne were formative for his artistic evolution. After serving as a vocal coach at the Zurich Opera, he earned his living mainly by conducting and giving piano lessons. From the 1960s on, he conducted the Biel-Solothurn joint municipal theater and the Aarau Orchestral Society and served as the principal piano teacher at the Old Cantonal School in Aarau.

The posthumous estate, presented to the Paul Sacher Foundation by the János Tamás Promotional Association, contains items from every period of his life, including manuscripts of his Hungarian juvenilia. His compositional oeuvre, parts of which have never reached publication, covers a total of 120 works, with more than a dozen orchestral pieces, several oratorios (including his magnum opus Das infernalische Abendmahl), solo and choral lieder, and chamber music for many different formats. Pride of place must go, however, to his piano music, including three sonatas and a concerto premièred by the Kammerorchester Basel in 2009. Tamás deliberately composed his music beneath the banner of (Hungarian) tradition with echoes of his great forebear, Béla Bartók. At the same time, he sought his own musical idiom, which is characterized by an exploration of the potential of musical instruments and a strongly introverted bent. Many things remain to be discovered in Tamás's wide-ranging oeuvre, which was barely noticed outside his own region during his lifetime