October 23, 1902. Budapest – February 17, 1955. Natick, Ma.
Ottó Gombosi received his first piano lessons from his mother, herself a music teacher, and then he studied piano with Sándor Kovács and music theory in the private Music School of Ernő Fodor in Budapest. He became a student in composition of Leó Weiner in 1919 and later of Albert Siklós at the Academy of Music. He studied musicology at the University of Berlin from 1921, as a student of Johannes Wolf, Curt Sachs and Erich von Hornbostel; and besides that he also studied art history and philosophy. He earned his doctorate in 1925 with his important dissertation on Jacob Obrecht which was published, as well, in the same year.
Returning to Budapest he edited the periodical Crescendo that he founded for some years, and published regularly in domestic and international journals; he was committed to the art of Bartók and Kodály. He had been pursuing research between 1929 and 1933 again in Berlin and then worked in Rome at the Hungarian Institute and in Basel. He immigrated to the United States in 1939; there he had a successful teaching career in Seattle, Chicago and at the Harvard University. (Meanwhile he taught in Europe, as well, with a Guggenheim-Scholarship.)
Gombosi belonged to the outstanding musicologists of his generation. The picture formulated about the old school of the Netherlands was adjusted profoundly according to his researches on Obrecht, it was a result of that - among others - he published many of the compositions still not published until then of the contemporaries of Obrecht in his book (Jacob Obrecht, 1925). The first publication of two important works of Thomas Stoltzer (Octo tonorum melodiae, Erzürne dicht nicht) was also tied to his name. His interest was extended to Renaissance lute literature, as well: he published a monograph on Bálint Bakfark in 1935 (Der Lautenist Valentin Bakfark. Leben und Werke), and the edition of the lute book of Vincenzo Capirola from 1517 – containing transcriptions of works by Obrecht, too – made by him was also published in the year of the anniversary of his death (Compositione di meser Vincenzo Capirola). His many publications in different journals and lots of presentations at international conferences reflect that his interest and deep knowledge was not restricted to the music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: his topics cover the time from Pindaros to the world of blues, and his original approach generated prolific debates and led to new discoveries. He was extremely interested in phenomena and parameters of music cannot be written in the score. Questions of form and musical structure in the most general sense were equally interesting for him as the problems of metrical analysis. His unique attitude formulated towards profound theoretical subjects appeared in his editing work, as well and had a great impact on his students.