April 25, 1924. Budapest
Erzsébet Szőnyi gained her impressions for a lifetime as a student of the legendary voice teacher and choral conductor, Adrienne Sztojanovits, who worked in the spirit of the Kodály program of the renowned Szilágyi Erzsébet Leánylíceum. Besides that Aglája Benczúr, the piano teacher niece of the famous painter, Gyula Benczúr contributed to the establishment of the knowledge of the future pianist, while Miklós Laurisin, a music theory teacher of the Academy of Music to the future composer's at private lessons. Erzsébet Szőnyi enriched her knowledge and earned degrees in more departments of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music: besides high-school teachers' training (1944/1945) and piano teachers' training (1945-1947) - where she studied with the guidance of Ernő Szegedi and Leó Weiner – probably the most important were her composition studies in the class of János Viski and the folk music classes of Zoltán Kodály (1943-1947).
She engaged herself with the profession of pedagogy as a student of the Academy, and was educating generations of future musicians for 36 years as a teacher of her former school then at the training school of the Academy and finally at the Academy.
The year she spent at the Conservatoire in Paris (1947-1948) had great significance in her entrant years when she continued her composition studies with Tony Aubin. She studied piano accompanying with Nadia Boulanger and aesthetic analysis with Messiaen. The support and guidance of Zoltán Kodály meant a lot for her. The fact that the Master consigned the education of folk music to Erzsébet Szőnyi as a substitute for him in the school year of 1945-46, marked his confidence in her. She connected tightly to Kodály's guidance at her other subjects, as well: she taught solfége, methodology and led the applied teaching, as well. An important and professionally widely influential result of this significant relationship came to existence in the work titled A zenei írás-olvasás módszertana [The Methodology of Musical Writing and Reading]. The personal experience of decades and Kodály's guidance for the improvement of musical abilities met in the frame of solfége in the work which considered practical aspects and was extended with a closing volume of the highest level in the 1980s and which is a known guidance at the international professional literature, as well.
A number of her students gained national and international recognition at the different departments (from winds to composition and choral conducting). Erzsébet Szőnyi was leading the high school voice teacher and choral conducting departments from 1960 to her retirement in 1981. Besides her educational work, she took part in the international popularization of the Hungarian musical training methods, the Kodály conception, as well. She gave lectures and led courses in numerous countries at five continents. She also took part in training foreigners visiting Hungary, at courses founded by her at the Esztergom Summer University, among others.
Erzsébet Szőnyi helped the outlook of the Hungarian music teachers as well, through her book reviewing the different methods of musical training of the 20th century.
She has been undertaking a role in the musical public life as well: had been a member of the directorate of ISME (vice president between 1970-74) and the International Kodály Society; co-chair of the Lajos Bárdos Society and the Hungarian Kodály Society.
Erzsébet Szőnyi should be acknowledged as a composer, as well! Almost every genre is represented in her rich oeuvre. From the instrumental and vocal work of pedagogical purpose to chamber music, from the lieder to the orchestral works (her Organ concerto is a representative Hungarian work of the genre). Her stage works, operas, musicals are the most popular of the genre and her children's operas deserve special attention. They are deservedly popular part of the repertoire because of their fresh musicality, and atmosphere which is close to the soul and the sounds of children.
The complex and large-scale creative career is marked by successes and awards: Erzsébet Szőnyi is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, and was awarded the Erkel-prize (1959), Bartók Béla–Pásztory Ditta-prize (1995), Apáczai Csere János-prize (1993) and Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic Commander's Cross (1992), Distinguished Artist (2000).