Seiber was born in Budapest, and studied there with Zoltán Kodály, with whom he toured Hungary collecting folk songs. In 1928, he became director of the jazz department at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, which offered the first academic jazz courses anywhere. After they were closed by the Nazis in 1933, Seiber left Germany and settled in London. He became a British subject in 1935. From 1942, he was on the staff of Morley College in London, where he became a respected teacher of composition. Several of his students went on to become eminent musicians themselves, including Peter Racine Fricker, Don Banks, Anthony Milner, Hugh Wood, Malcolm Lipkin, Wally Stott (who later became Angela Morley) and Barry Gray.
Seiber's music is eclectic in style, showing the influences of jazz, Bartók and Schoenberg. His output includes Ulysses (1947), a cantata on words by James Joyce (he recorded another Joyce-related work, Three Fragments from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", for Decca shortly before his death); a clarinet concertino; scores to animated films, including Animal Farm (1954); a setting of the Scottish "poet and tragedian" William McGonagall's work, The Famous Tay Whale (written for the second of Gerard Hoffnung's music festivals); three string quartets; and choral arrangements of Hungarian and Yugoslav folk songs. He also wrote one opera, Eva spielt mit Puppen (1934), and two operettas, A Palágyi Pekek and Balaton.
Seiber used a pseudonym for his jazz works and popular music: G. S. Mathis or George Mathis (a rearrangement of his name using Anglicised forms), under which name he wrote for John Dankworth. In 1956 he was awarded the inaugural Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for the song, "By the Fountains of Rome", which was a hit that year in the UK Single Charts, making it to the Top Twenty. (The lyrics were by Norman Newell, and it was sung by David Hughes).
Alternative name spellings
When searching for Seiber, it should be noted that there are articles with references to Seiber as Seyber and Mathis as Matthis.
- See article and references here: Timeline of jazz education
- Mátyás Seiber biography at IMDb
- Opera Glass
- Seiber Boyd, Julia. "The Seiber Centenary: 2005 and Beyond", Suppressed Music, 9 August 2005.
- Karolyi, Otto. Modern British music. The second British musical renaissance. From Elgar to P. Maxwell Davies, Associated University Presses, 1994.
- Leach, Gerald. British composer profiles. A biographical dictionary and chronology of past British composers 1800-1979, British Music Society, 1980.
- Lyman, Darryl. Great Jews in Music, J. D. Publishers, 1986.
- Sadie, Stanley. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians, Macmillan, 1980.
- Wood, Hugh; Cooke, Mervyn. Seiber, Mátyás (György), Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy
- Mátyás Seiber 2005 centenary website
- Index of Complete Works of Mátyás Seiber
- The early reception of Jazz in Germany: Mátyás Seiber and the Jazz Orchester of the Hoch Conservatory in a radio recording from 1931
- The first jazz theory class, ever, wasn't offered in the United States—it was at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany