Born in Budapest in 1919, the son of Arnold Anhalt and Katalin Anhalt (née Herzfeld), Anhalt studied with Zoltán Kodály before being drafted into the forced labour service of the Hungarian Army during World War II. In the late 1940s he studied under Nadia Boulanger and Soulima Stravinsky before emigrating to Canada in 1949.
Anhalt served as a professor of music at McGill University and founded the McGill University Electronic Music Studio. He also served as head of music at Queen's University, Kingston. His works earned him the reputation of one of the founding fathers of electroacoustic music in Canada. Among his pupils are Kevin Austin, John Fodi, Clifford Ford, Hugh Hartwell, John Hawkins, Alan Heard, Richard Hunt, Donald Patriquin, and Alex Tilley.
In 2003, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2007, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Selections from his correspondence with American composer George Rochberg were published in 2007.
István Anhalt was born in Budapest, Hungary to a Jewish family on April 12, 1919. Anhalt speaks four languages, Hungarian, German, French, and English. When he was still an infant, Anhalt’s parents separated, and regarding the divorce’s terms, he was supposed to stay with his mother until the age of eight, however he only ended up leaving to move in with his father at the age of twelve, when his father remarried to his boss’ stepdaughter in 1931. His father’s financial troubles, his half-sister’s birth in 1935, and tension between him and his step mother led Anhalt to move again a few years later to stay with his maternal grandparents, where he lived up until he left in December 1942 for labour service duty.
Although Anhalt’s mother had some interest in serious music and opera, she was not especially musical, however a piano was always present in her home. It was Anhalt’s father who had a passion and deep love for music, which is where Anhalt developed most of his love for music, in addition to early experiments on the piano at home. Although he had a good ear for harmony, and taught himself to play the violin, he did not receive proper musical education. Some of Anhalt’s earliest musical memories were of him pretending to control the music’s flow while attending outdoor musical performances on Margaret Island. At the age of four, he was captivated by sounds on the Danube originating from the river barges and the flow of the water. He imagined that by some means he could make music out of these sounds.
He married Beate Frankenberg in 1952, and together they have two daughters, Carol Greaves and Helen Jennifer Marcello. He is also a grandfather to Astrid and Claudia Greaves and Walker Jordan. Anhalt met George Rochberg at an International Conference of Composers at the Stratford Festival in Ontario during the summer of 1960, and the two became great friends. Rochberg was born in New Jersey, and both come from a Jewish background.
From 1925 to 1929, Anhalt attended elementary school, and by his own report through some of his writings, he was rather a disinterested student during that time. Essays written during the end of elementary school gave a suggestion of the nature of the education he was acquiring during these years. By the age of ten, he began his studies at the Dániel Berzsenyi Secondary School on Markó Street, after receiving the marks needed to enter the school.
Anhalt’s studies at the secondary school level ended in 1937 when he graduated. He had an unbalanced career at the Dániel Berzsenyi Secondary School when he failed art and religion at midterm one year, but soon recovered his academic standing and even excelled in subjects such as geography, history, and Italian.
Anhalt began taking piano lessons at the age of six with a teacher who lived in his neighborhood. He eventually went on to take lessons with a family friend who was also a piano teacher. Although Anhalt thought that she uninspiring and unchallenging, the lessons went on until Anhalt was twelve years of age, and ended because of lack of interest and money.
Four years later, Anhalt overheard László Gyopár, a peer from a neighboring school, play a piece he had composed himself at the piano. Anhalt immediately heard the influence of Bach on the piece, and at that moment he had the realization that he wanted to be a composer as well. He admired Gyopár’s compositional achievements, and it was then that he began to learn how to write music and compose his own pieces. After the meeting, they became good friends, and soon after, Anhalt began to receive private harmony lessons for one hour twice a week with Géza Falk. Gyopár was attending the Academy of Music at the time, where Anhalt would audit Zoltán Kodály’s class from 1936 to 1937 before passing the entrance exam and joining his friend at the academy.
Anhalt studied with Zoltán Kodaly at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music until he finished with exceptional marks in all of the subjects, and received his diploma on June 14, 1941. He also continued his studies for the next year and a half by attending different classes from Turkish linguistics to Folklore at Pázmány University and attending a seminar by János Ferencsik for conductors.
He has studied with Louis Fourestier, Soulima Stravinsky, and Nadia Boulanger in Paris during the late 1940s.
In 1942, during the Second World War, Anhalt and his best friend at the academy were both forced to enter a forced-labour brigade for young Jewish men. Anhalt’s friend’s life was taken by a soldier in the unit. Reflections of human tragedy and the horror that Anhalt witnessed at the time are still heard within his music.
Anhalt escaped from the brigade, disguised himself as a seminarian, and hid until the war was over. He then took advantage of his newfound freedom and emigrated to Paris, where he had access to exquisite teachers and abundant artistic stimulation.
Anhalt emigrated to Canada in 1949, as a recipient of a Lady Davis Fellowship. Settled in Montreal for twenty two years, he taught at McGill University in the Faculty of Music, where he taught analysis and composition. There, he founded the electronic music studio and established the Theory and Composition Departments, and during that time, he was composing seminal musical works.
Soon after his emigration, Anhalt met Beate Frankenberg, a biochemist, who would later become his wife. Anhalt states that their wedding was happiest day of his life.
For his twenty-two years in Montreal, Anhalt devoted his working life towards McGill University. During that time, he established the music composition program for the institution, was chairman for the Theory Department, and developed and directed, the McGill University Electronic Music Studio (EMS). He composed continually during that time as well. His loaded work schedule of administration, composition, and teaching was one he carried with him to Kingston in 1971 when he became the head of Queen’s University's Department of Music.
In 1971, he and his family moved to Kingston, Ontario after accepting a job at Queen’s University as the head of the Department of Music, where he kept the position until 1981. He continued to teach at the university until 1984 when he retired. During his years at Queen’s University, Anhalt continued to build his reputation as an author, composer, administrator, and teacher. He became a mentor for a number of his students, with many keeping in touch with until the final years of his life.
After his retirement, he continued to develop new major compositions, in addition to diverse writings, and scholarly articles.
While Anhalt was employed at Queen’s University as Chair of the Music Department, he was still working on original works, with La Tourangelle premiering in July 1975, and soon after he began to work on another piece, which would be his second opera, Winthrop. All the while, he began to work on his monograph Alternative Voices.
Anhalt died at the age of 92, on February 24, 2012, in Kingston, at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital.
Anhalt is one of the earliest composers to seriously recognize electronic sound and music.
Anhalt’s music has undergone changes over the years, and can be divided into four periods. The first period ends in 1958, the second is from 1959 to 1961, the third began in 1962, and the fourth dates since 1971.
With Anhalt’s music, we do not have as much evidence regarding his literary tastes when judging the music just by itself. Anhalt has a librettist of his own for all of his dramatic works, beginning in 1969 with Foci, and ending in 1999 with Millennial Mall.
The first period focused on a variety of works for chorus, solo voice, ensembles, and instrumental soloists. This period formed Anhalt’s artistic identity, and ended with the finalization of his work Symphony No. 1, which immediately won Anhalt both a national, and an international reputation.
The next brief period in Anhalt’s musical career was entirely dedicated to electronic music where he produced four compositions, and fulfilled his wish to have enough first-hand information regarding the newest developments during that time, in order to better understand new media, and to establish fresh and current concepts for his original work.
The period from 1962 to 1971 is a reworking, consolidation, and expansion of Anhalt’s experiences during the two previous periods. Anhalt incorporates electronic sounds with the sounds of the chorus or the orchestra in his Symphony of Modules, Foci, and Cento. Anhalt also adopted a more flexible syntax, as well as a larger musical vocabulary to achieve new vocal and instrumental sounds. He began to question the concepts of timbre, time, and densities that have taken up a new meaning to him, and that have provided new dimensions to his work.
From 1971, Anhalt has only produced three works which were all large in effect and scale. There was La Tourangelle, Winthrop, and Alternative Voices.
La Tourangelle is an hour-long piece that premiered in 1975, in a performance broadcast by CBC Radio. Anhalt has labeled the work “A Musical Tableau,” which was composed for an orchestra of 16 players, five singer-narrators, and pre-recorded tapes for five operators. This particular piece deals with the pursuit of God and meaning, making it a piece with a powerful message. Anhalt chose to base the work on one of the earliest French women to have settled in Canada, Marie de l’Incarnation.
Once Anhalt completed La Tourangelle, he felt the need to compose a parallel piece focused on English Canada. The story is based on John Winthrop, a 17th-century Englishman who was the founder and governor of Boston, Massachusetts. It was completed in March 1983, and calls for a mixed choir, six solo singers, an instrumental ensemble that consists of no less than 30 players, and a boys’ choir. Anhalt describes it as “A Musical Pageant” that is not a traditional narrative work for the stage, but more of a subtle exploration into the spiritual and personal aspects of a man, as well as how these supply meaning and significance to his actions.
Published in 1984, Alternative Voices is one of his written works that consists of a study of linguistics as a way of acquiring an understanding of the human voices’ potential in a choral compositional, as well as a contemporary vocal, context. Anhalt began his research on Alternative Voices while on his first sabbatical leave from 1976 to 1977, although he had started studies of the reflection of personalty through the voice as early as 1967 in the composition classes he taught.
This work received favourable reviews, and was then a selection of the 1984 outstanding academic books by Choice.
In Alternative Voices, Anhalt makes recurrent references to some Canadian composers, as well as their music. Anhalt’s approach with Alternative Voices is suggested by the integration of a number of Canadian composers’ works. The book is categorized as a major work regarding contemporary Western art music where Canadian music is not only simply referred to, but discussed in the context of present-day thought in art, music, and philosophy.
Rhythm, theatre, poetry, performing techniques, sound, speech, and the roots of language and music are explored, their components interconnected, as well as their usage are examined.
The publication of his work Alternative Voices and the finalization of Winthrop, both within the same year that Anhalt retired from university teaching, displays a coincidence in his career. These works are landmarks of Anhalt’s commitment to teaching, scholarship, and composition.
StageLa Tourangelle. 1975
Traces (Tikkun), opera. 1996
Millennial Mall (Lady Diotima's Walk), opera. 1999
OrchestraInterludium, small orchestra. 1950
Funeral Music, small orchestra. 1951 (Montreal 1954)
Symphony, orchestra. 1958 (Montreal 1959), BMIC 1963
Symphony of Modules, orchestra, tape. 1967
Simulacrum, orchestra. 1987 (Ott 1987)
SparkskrapS, orchestra. 1988 (Toronto 1988)
Sonance•Resonance (Welche Töne?), orchestra. 1989 (Toronto 1989)
Twilight Fire (Baucis' and Philemon's Feast), orchestra. 2001
The Tents of Abraham (A Mirage), orchestra. Premiered 2004
ChamberTrio. 1953, RCI 229/RCA CCS-1023/5-ACM 22 (Brandon University Trio)
Sonata, violin and piano. 1954, RCI 220/RCA CCS-1014/5-ACM 22 (Bress violin)
Foci, soprano, chamber ensemble, tape. 1969, Ber 1972. RCI 357/5-ACM 22 (Mailing)
Doors ... Shadows (Glenn Gould In Memory), string quartet. 1992
PianoArc en ciel, ballet, two pianos. 1951 (Montreal 1952)
Fantasia. 1954. Ber 1972. Col 32-11-0046 (Gould piano)
ChoirThe Bell Man (Herrick), choir, 2 bells, organ. 1954 (rev 1980)
Three Songs of Love, (de la Mare, anonymous), SSA. 1951
Three Songs of Death (Davenant, Herrick), SATB. 1954
Cento 'Cantata Urbana' (Grier), 12 speakers (SATB), tape. 1967. BMIC 1968. RCI 357/5-ACM 22 (Tudor Singers of Montreal)
VoiceSix Songs from Na Conxy Pan (Sándor Weöres), baritone, piano. 1941-7 (English version 1984)
Psalm XIX 'A Benediction' (A.M. Klein), baritone, piano. 1951
Journey of the Magi (Eliot), baritone, piano. 1952
Comments (Montreal Star clippings), alto, piano trio. 1954
Chansons d'aurore (Verdet), soprano, flute, piano. 1955
A Wedding Carol (Anhalt), soprano, organ. 1985
A Little Wedding Music (Hopkins), soprano, organ. 1984, Ber 1985
Thisness, "a duo-drama" (Anhalt), mezzo, piano. 1986 (Vancouver 1986)
The Squirrel (E. Barnett), voice, piano. 2002
"The making of Cento," Canada Music Book, 1, Spring-Summer 1970
"About Foci," Artscanada, vol 28, April–May 1971
"La musique électronique," "L'histoire de Cento," Musiques du Kébèk, ed. Raoul Duguay (Montreal 1971)
"Luciano Berio's Sequenza III," Canada Music Book, 7, Autumn-Winter 1973
"About one's place and voice," Identities: The Impact of Ethnicity on Canadian Society, ed. Wsevolod W. Isajiw (Toronto 1977)
"Winthrop: the work, the theme, the story," Canadian University Music Review, vol 4, 1983
Alternative Voices: Essays on Contemporary Vocal and Choral Composition (Toronto 1984)
"What tack to take? An autobiographical sketch (life in progress ... )," Queen's Quarterly, vol. 92, Spring 1985
"Pst ... pst ... are you listening? Hearing voices from yesterday," Queen's Quarterly, vol. 93, Spring 1986
"Music: context, text, counter-text," Contemporary Music Review, vol. 5, no. 1, 1989
"Text, context, music," Canadian University Music Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 1989
"Thisness: marks and remarks," Musical Canada
Oppenheimer (opera), 1990, play only not music
Record and book reviews in Canadian Music Journal (1957–61), including a review of Varèse recordings, Winter 1961