Mátyás Seiber Centenary 2005

2005 is the centenary year of the birth of Mátyás Seiber (1905 – 1960) who was a major influence on 20th Century music and the study of composition.

Seiber was born into a secular Jewish musical family living in Budapest . After excelling in Mathematics and Latin at school, he studied with Kodály at the Liszt Academy. In the late 1920’s he was appointed music lecturer in Frankfurt and established the first study of Jazz.

With the rise of Hitler, he left, travelling widely as part of a ship’s string quartet, playing his first instrument, the ‘cello, before settling in London, where he lived from the mid-30’s until his premature death while on lecture tour in South Africa in 1960.

His reputation as a teacher of music and composition spread rapidly, and Tippett invited him to teach at Morley College , which he continued part-time for years, also training his choir the Dorian Singers, who performed many of his choral pieces. He also taught from home, in Caterham, Surrey , where he moved after marrying Lilla Bauer, an émigré dancer with the Ballet Joos.

He taught many rising composers, including Ottavio Negro, Don Banks, Tony Gilbert, and counted many musicians amongst his friends, including Jimmy Blades, the Amadeus Quartet, Bert Lloyd, Luigi Nono and Ligeti. He also composed film music for some innovative animations of Halas & Bachelor, including Animal Farm and for two Australian movies, A Town Like Alice and Robbery Under Arms.

His compositions included choral music (some based on Hungarian and other national folksongs, first studied with Kodály), also chamber music for strings and wind instruments in various combinations. He also continued his interest in jazz – some published under the pseudonym of George Mathis – culminating in a joint effort; Improvisations for Jazz Band and Orchestra, with John Dankworth.

He was a founder member of Society of New Music and other institutions including that for the music of suppressed composers. His premature death in 1960 was commemorated by memorial pieces by Kodály and Ligeti.

The music of Mátyás Seiber is worthy of notice and the centenary provides a timely opportunity to encourage more interest in his music. His violin sonata was performed at the JMI IFSM 2002 ‘Continental Britons – The Émigré Composers’ Wigmore concert series and is available on CD of that name, performed by Nurit Pacht violin accompanied by Konstantin Lifschitz. (Nimbus NI 5730/1). There is lots more wonderful music waiting to be rediscovered.

A special website has been set up to commemorate the centenary of his birth (04.05.1905). The site contains a fuller biographical note. There is a list of suggested works for performance next year – to help celebrate the centenary.  Most of his scores are now in the British Library and there is a link to this catalogue from the Seiber website

The events already planned are listed (and will be updated as appropriate).  These include a ‘themed’ event at Morley College , of concerts, film and lecture with an exhibition of memorabilia and music.  There are also planned concerts in Glasgow to accompany the book launch of Professor Graham Hair’s book on Seiber.  Cheltenham Festival, Frankfurt and others have shown interest in performing his works. There will also be events in Budapest and at the Kodaly Institute.

The site also contains details for contact. More ideas for events and links will be welcome. Visit www.seibermusic.org.uk for the latest information.