György Kurtág was born on 19 February 1926 at Lugoj (Romania). In 1940 he starts taking lessons in piano from Magda Kardos and in composition from Max Eisikovits at Temesvár (Timisoara, Romania). In 1946 he moves to Budapest and enrols in the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. There he studies composition with Sándor Veress and Ferenc Farkas, piano with Pál Kadosa and chamber music with Leó Weiner.
In 1951 he graduates in piano and chamber music and in 1955 in composition. In 1954 Kurtág is awarded with the Erkel Prize by the Hungarian State (also in 1956 and 1969). Between 1957 and 1958 he studies with Marianne Stein in Paris and attends courses of Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. From 1960 till 1968 he works as répétiteur of soloists with the Hungarian National Philharmonia. In 1967 he becomes professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, first of piano and then of chamber music. In 1971 he stays one year in West-Berlin as grantee of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).
In 1973 he is awarded the Kossuth Prize by the Hungarian state and in 1985 the title Officier des Arts et des Lettres by the French state. In 1986 Kurtág retires from the Academy of Music, however he continues to teach a limited number of classes until 1993. In 1987 he becomes member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, Munich and member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. In 1993 he is rewarded with the Prix de Composition Musicale by the Fondation Prince Pierre the Monaco for his “Grabstein für Stephan” and “Op. 27 No. 2(Double Concerto)”. In the same year he is awarded the Herder Prize by the Freiherr-vom-Stein Stiftung, Hamburg and the Premio Feltrinelli by the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome. Also in 1993 he is invited to stay at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin for two years as composer in residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
In 1994 he receives two other prizes: the Austrian State Award for European Composers and the Denis de Rougemot Prize, bestowed on him by the European Association of Festivals. In 1995 he stays in Vienna for a year, composes and teaches master classes at the Wiener Konzerthaus. In 1996 the Hungarian state awards him with Kossuth Prize for his life achievements. He is invited in the same year by the Sociéte Gaviniés, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, the Muziekcentrum Vredenburg Utrecht, the Concertgebouw NV Amsterdam, the Nederlandse Opera, the Schönberg Ensemble, the Asko ensemble, the Orlando Quartet, the Osiris Trio and Reinbert de Leeuw to stay in the Netherlands for two years.
In 1998 he receives the “Österreichisches Ehrenzeichen” by the Austrian Republic, the Music Prize of the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung, and the European Prize for Composition by the “Fördergemeinschaft der Europäischen Wirtschaft” and the “Fondation des Prix Européens”. For the second time between 1998-1999 he is invited by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 1999 he is also invited by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Conservatoire of Paris, the Cité de la Musique, and the Festival d’Automne ŕ Paris to stay in the French capital for two years. In the same year he receives the Order of Merit in Sciences and Arts, Berlin. In 2000 he wins the John Cage prize in New York. 2001 brings him the Foreign Honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Hölderlin Prize by the City and the University of Tübingen, Germany.
In 2002 the Kurtág couple settles in France. In April an May the South Bank Centre and the Royal Academy of Music organizes a three-week Kurtág Festival in London.