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Violinist Tibor Varga dies aged 82

Tibor Varga posing in his garden at the Swiss village of Grimisuat Keystone Archive

The Hungarian-born violinist and conductor Tibor Varga, who founded one of Switzerland’s most prestigious music festivals, has died at his home in the alpine village of Grimisuat in canton Valais.

This content was published on September 5, 2003 - 11:41

Born in 1921, Varga was ten years old when he made his first public appearance as a soloist.

He began his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest the same year and by his early teens was performing around the world.

Varga also studied philosophy at Budapest University. He left Hungary for London in 1947, moving nine years later to Sion, the cantonal capital of Valais.

In 1964 Varga was responsible for putting the small Swiss city on the classical music map when he founded an annual music festival named after him.

After settling in Switzerland, Varga also created the “Academy of Music” in Sion. This summer school has become one of the most important academies of its kind in Europe, attracting more than 400 participants. An annual violin competition is also held there in his honour.

In 1997 he retired as artistic director of the festival, handing the baton over to his conductor son, Gilbert.

Performed with the greats

During his performing career, Varga played under the batons of Ansermet, Bernstein, Böhm, Boulez, Ferrara, Fricsay, Furtwängler, Markevitch, Solti and many other leading conductors of the 20th century.

His repertoire included interpretations of the Violin Concertos by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, while his Bach and Mozart interpretations became legendary references.

He was the first to introduce the Violin Concertos by Bartók, Berg and Schönberg throughout Europe and other continents.

Complimenting Varga's performance of his Violin Concerto, Arnold Schönberg wrote: “I wished to be younger to write more music of this order for you.”

And as the music critic of the German newspaper, the Allgemeine Zeitung, once wrote: “Tibor Varga's achievements as a virtuoso are admirable, but his contribution to creative interpretation is without doubt unique.”

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Key facts

Violinist, conductor and teacher, Tibor Varga was born in Györ, Hungary, in 1921.
He made his first public appearance as a soloist at the age of ten and the same year began his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.
Varga left Hungary for London in 1947, moving nine years later to Sion, the cantonal capital of Valais.
In 1964 he founded an annual music festival in Sion which was followed by the creation of an annual violin competition and summer school.
As a performer, Varga played under the batons of leading 20th century conductors.
In 1997 he retired as artistic director of the Sion festival, handing his baton over to his conductor son, Gilbert.
Tibor died at his home in Grimisuat on September 4, 2003.

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