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Sándor Szokolay was born into an amateur musical Family on 30 March 1931 in Kunágota, a village in Békés County in the South-East part of Hungary.
His Grandfather and Father played several music instruments, and his Father, Bálint Szokolay established and led choirs. His Mother Elisabeth was a sensitive and deeply religious woman.
Szokolay started his musical studies in Hungary’s famous music school in Békéstarhos, which was among the first to attest to Kodály’s concept of musical education. In 1950 the young Szokolay completed his studies with distinction. These years in the Boarding School, founded and headed by the legendary choirmaster György Gulyás, had a life-long influence on Szokolay, who later declared that without those experiences he may never have become a composer.
He met here for the first time with the folk-rooted compositions of Bartók and Kodály and also came to know Zoltan Kodaly personally, whose spirit influenced the development of Szokolay’s musical thinking and artistic credo.
From 1950, Szokolay studied at the Academy of Music in Budapest first briefly under the guidance of Ferenc Szabó, and then Ferenc Farkas.
Szokolay’s early success in international competitions accelerated his professional advancement. In 1955, he won the World Festival of Youth in Warsaw, and then again in 1957 in Moscow, as well as1959 in Vienna. In 1956 he won a prize with Allegro de Concerto at Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw.
Parallel to his studies he taught at the Budapest Music School Organization.
He received his degree in 1957 and started to work as musical editor at Hungarian Radio, and later as musical lector at Hungarian Television. From 1966 until his retirement he was teacher of composition at the Academy of Music.
Szokolay also maintained an active public life as a leader of several musical and civil organizations. He was president of the Hungarian Kodály Society, Hungarian Chamber of Music, Friend’s of Opera Budapest and Vice President of the Fészek Artists’ Club, and the Honoree of the Hungarian Corvin Chain Award for Merit, among others.
In 1994 Szokolay withdrew from public life to focus intensively for creation, moving to Sopron in the western part of Hungary.
Szokolay was only thirty-five years old when he received Kossuth Prize, the highest Hungarian award for his first opera Blood Wedding.
His opera Blood Wedding became not only a success in Hungary but, after being translated into some dozen languages, toured Europe, reached America, and so far has been performed in twenty theatres. Besides Blood Wedding he has written six full operas.
Szokolay composed nearly five hundred pieces, seven operas, five ballets, four tale opera, seven oratory, three symphonies, twenty-seven cantatas, eight concerti, fourteen orchestral works, two-hundred choral works, two string quartets, forty solo pieces, hundred and twenty chamber work. Over hundred hours of Music.
The composer’s stature was recognized by the greatest cultural awards: Erkel Prize (1960, 1965), Kossuth Prize (1966), Meritorious Artist (1976), Excellent Artist (1986), Bartok Award (1987, 2001), Hungarian Art Prize (1993), Hungarian Heritiage Award and Kodaly Award (1998), Corvin Chain Award (2001), Prima Prize (2008), Artisjus Grand Prix (2011). Freeman of his homeland: Kunágota, Orosháza, Sopron.
His creative period completed in 2011. Sandor Szokolay died on 8 December, 2013 in his Sopron home.