In the mid-'60s, Ilona Prunyi was a gifted piano student forced to delay the launch of her promising career owing to a lengthy illness. She is now regarded as among the most important Hungarian pianists of her generation, both in the realms of solo and chamber music. Her repertory is broad, taking in many standards by Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Bartók, and others. But more often than not, even the works she plays by well-known composers are likely to be their less-often encountered pieces. She also performs works by Godowsky and Korngold, and in the realm of chamber music, compositions by Atterberg, d'Indy, Sinding, and Berwald. She has introduced or championed works by contemporary Hungarian composers like Láng, Hollós, Petrovics, and Sári. Most of Prunyi's nearly 40 recordings have been issued by Naxos and Hungaroton.
Prunyi was born in Debrecen, Hungary, on May 1, 1941. She began her piano studies at age six and in 1958 enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Her chief teachers there were András Mihály and József Gát. After her 1964 graduation she remained at the Liszt Academy as a teacher and struggled with illness for the next 10 years.
Prunyi gave her official debut concert in 1974, and thereafter regularly appeared as recitalist and soloist with major Hungarian orchestras. She also collaborated with prominent artists in chamber repertory and even occasionally appeared on Hungarian radio and television.
Though she would give concerts abroad (throughout, England, China, and Canada), she limited her career largely to her homeland. In 1988 she began recording for Naxos and its sister label Marco Polo, generally delving into lesser-known repertory, such as the four-hand piano music of Schubert and chamber works by William Sterndale Bennett and Kuhlau. Through 2007 she appeared on more than 25 recordings for Naxos and Marco Polo.
In the 1990s Prunyi also began recording for the Hungaroton label. Among her more important efforts was her 1994 Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and two discs of piano music by Ernö von Dohnányi, from 2000 and 2004, respectively. Prunyi has regularly given concerts throughout Hungary and appeared as collaborator in duo works with Zoltán Kocsis and Jeno Jandó, and in chamber works with the New Budapest Quartet and Tátrai Quartet. Among her later recordings is the 2006 CD of piano music of Stephen Heller on Hungaroton.