Mátyás Seiber

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Mátyás György Seiber (Hungarian: [ˈmaːcaːʃ ˈʃɛibɛr]; 4 May 1905 – 24 September 1960) was a Hungarian-born British composer who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1935 onwards. His work linked many diverse musical influences, from the Hungarian tradition of Bartók and Kodály, to Schoenberg and serial music, to jazz, folk song, and lighter music.

Early life[edit]

Seiber was born in Budapest. His mother, Berta Patay was a reputed pianist and teacher, so the young Seiber gained considerable skill with that instrument first. At the age of ten, he began to learn to play the cello. After attending grammar school, where he was regarded as "outstanding" in mathematics and Latin according to the almanacs of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, he studied the cello and composition from 1918 to 1925, and composition with Zoltán Kodály from 1921 to 1925. For his degree, he wrote his String Quartet No. 1 (in A minor).[1]


He toured Hungary with Zoltán Kodály, collecting folk songs, and built on the research of Kodály and Béla Bartók. He developed an interest in medieval plainchant.

In 1925, Seiber accepted a teaching position at a private music school. In 1926, he took a position to play the cello in the orchestra of a ship from to North and South America. This was where became acquainted with jazz.[2]

In 1928 he became director of the jazz department at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, which offered the first academic jazz courses anywhere.[3] His text book Schule für Jazz-Schlagzeug was written in 1929, as a practical summary of his theoretical requirements. Two of his articles of great importance were published in the journal Melos: "Jazz als Erziehungsmittel" (1928) and "Jazz-Instrumente, Jazz-Klang und Neue Musik" (1930). After the jazz department was closed by the Nazis in 1933, Seiber left Germany.

He returned to Hungary but did not settle there; he worked as a music referent in the Soviet Union for two years, but his employment was ended after that.[4]

Seiber emigrated to England in 1935 and settled in London after his marriage in Caterham. He became a British subject the same year. He taught composition and cello privately while working as a consultant for the subsidiary of Schott in London and composed film music.

Michael Tippett invited him to be a professor of composition at Morley College in London, and from 1942 he was on the staff there; he became a teacher of composition, music aesthetics, and music theory. His students included Peter Racine Fricker, Don Banks, Anthony Milner, Hugh Wood, Karel Janovický, Malcolm Lipkin, John Exton, Wally Stott (who later became Angela Morley) and Barry Gray. During this period, he created and trained his choir, the Dorian Singers.

His friendships and work associations embraced many soloists, including Tibor Varga, Norbert Brainin, guitarists Julian Bream and John Williams, percussionist Jimmy Blades, folk singer Bert Lloyd, and tenor Peter Pears.[5]

He was a founder member of the Society for Promotion of New Music, actively promoting new music throughout his life. He was married to ballet dancer Lilla Bauer, another Hungarian émigré. In 1960 he was invited to do a lecture tour in South Africa, but he died there in Kruger National Park as the result of a car accident. Kodály dedicated his choral work titled Media vita in morte sumus to the memory of his former student.


Seiber's music is eclectic in style, showing the influences of Bartók, Kodály, Schoenberg, serialism, jazz, and folk song, and his output includes film and lighter music.[6]

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. [7] He also wrote one opera, Eva spielt mit Puppen (1934),[8] and the ballet The Invitation. His composition for violin, Fantasia concertante was recorded by Andre Gertler.

His two comic operas, A Palágyi Pekek and Balaton, were composed for the Hungarian theatre in London, the "Londoni Pódium". A Palágyi Pékek, (libretto, György Mikes) (1943), was the first collaboration of Mátyás Seiber and George Mikes. Balaton, (libretto, György Mikes) (1944), as George Mikes has reported, was aired during the war by the BBC and, after the end of the war even made it to Budapest. [9]

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 this name he wrote for John Dankworth.

In 1956 he was awarded the inaugural Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for "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). [10]

Alternative name spellings[edit]

There are articles with references to Seiber as Seyber and Mátyás as Matthis.

Compositions (selected)[edit]


  • Fantasia Concertante for violin and string orchestra (1943; 17 mins.; Ars Viva Verlag, Mainz ; BL)
  • Concertino for clarinet and string orchestra (1951; 15 mins.)
  • Notturno for horn and string orchestra (1944) (8.5 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Besardo Suite No. 2 (1942; 14 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Elegy for viola and small orchestra (1954; 8 mins.)
  • Tre Pezzi for cello and orchestra (1957; 20 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Improvisations for Jazz Band and Orchestra (with John Dankworth) (1959; 10 min.; BL)

Instrumental and chamber music[edit]

  • String Quartet No. 1 (1925; 18 mins.; BL)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1935; 22 mins.; BL)
  • String Quartet No. 3, Quartettolirico (1951; (23 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Divertimento for Clarinet and string Quartet ( 1925; Schott)
  • Permutazioni a Cinque for wind quintet (1958; 6.5 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Violin Sonata (1960; 20mins; Schott; BL)
  • Concert Piece for violin and piano (1954; 8 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Serenade for six wind instruments (1925; Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen ; BL )
  • 2 Jazzolettes for 2 saxophones, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, and drums (1929 and 1932; Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen ; BL )
  • Sonata da Camera (15 mins.)
  • Fantasia per Flauto, Corno e Quartetto d'archi (1956; Edizioni Suvini Zerboni, Milano)

Vocal works with orchestra[edit]

  • Ulysses : cantata for tenor solo, choir and orchestra (1947; 45 mins.; Schott; BL)
  • Cantata Secularis: the Four Seasons (text from the Carmina Burana) (1949-1952; 20 mins. Schott; BL)
  • Three Fragments from the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: chamber cantata for speaker, wordless chorus, orchestra ( 18 min.; Schott; BL)

A cappella choral music[edit]

  • Missa Brevis (1924, revised 1950; 14 mins.; Curwen; BL)

Songs for solo voice/choral and accompaniment[edit]

  • To Poetry (1952; 18 mins.; BL)
  • The Famous Tay Whale (text by William McGonagall)( BL)
  • The Greek Folk Songs (11 mins.)
  • The French Songs (7 mins.)
  • Medieval French Songs
  • Petőfi Songs (4 Hungarian Folk Songs) (12 m ins.)
  • The Yugoslav Folk Songs
  • Three Hungarian Folk Songs
  • Lear Nonsense Songs


  • Eva spielt mit Puppen (1934)
  • The Invitation (1960; BL)

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "Mátyás Seiber, Notable Alumni Franz Liszt Academy of Music".
  2. ^ "Mátyás Seiber, Notable Alumni Franz Liszt Academy of Music".
  3. ^ See article and references here: Timeline of jazz education
  4. ^ "Mátyás Seiber, Notable Alumni Franz Liszt Academy of Music". Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  5. ^ "Schott Music".
  6. ^ Wood, Hugh and Cooke, Mervyn. 'Seiber, Mátyás (György)' in Grove Music Online
  7. ^ The Seiber Centenary: 2005 and Beyond by Julia Seiber Boyd ICSM Online Journal 09 August 2005
  8. ^ Opera Glass
  9. ^ "Twentieth-Century Music and Politics: Essays in Memory of Neil Edmunds edited by Pauline Fairclough Page 226., 222., 225".
  10. ^ Seiber Boyd, Julia. "The Seiber Centenary: 2005 and Beyond", Suppressed Music, 9 August 2005.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]