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Marcel Tyberg: A Forgotten Victim of the Nazis Re-emerges
posted 07 October 2006

Marcel TybergThese two articles draw attention to the extraordinary story of Marcel Tyberg (1893–1944), a composer whose achievements had completely disappeared from general awareness – although JoAnn Falletta, who will be conducting and recording his three symphonies, describes the music as ‘extremely powerful, rich and profound’. They make one wonder how many other forgotten voices still await a hearing. – ed.

1. The Rediscovery of Marcel Tyberg

by Herman Trotter
Music Critic Emeritus of The Buffalo News

In the years immediately before the Second World War II, Marcel Tyberg was a promising young composer whose Second Symphony had been premiered in the 1930s by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rafael Kubelík. But for more than sixty years his name (pronounced ‘Tee-berg’) has been languishing in limbo, following his arrest by the Gestapo in 1944 and his deportation from his home in the northern Adriatic town of Abbazia in a cattle car, headed for an undisclosed concentration camp. Nothing more was known of his destiny except for an unconfirmed rumour that he had hanged himself on the train rather than face almost certain torture and extermination at the hands of the Nazis.

There were only a few insiders who remembered Tyberg, an introverted loner whose real life was in the torrents of music swirling around in his head. He cared little for acclaim and fame, and several times declined offers to publish his music. Even those few insiders presumed that his compositions – consisting (at least) of three symphonies, two piano sonatas, a piano trio, a string sextet, two masses, some 35 lieder, and a scherzo and finale intended to complete Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony’(1) – had perished along with the composer.

But in early February a feature article in The Buffalo News ( USA ) disclosed that Tyberg had been so fearful of deportation that he had given all of his scores to a family friend, Dr Milan Mihich, who lived in nearby Fiume . Dr Mihich died in 1948, but left the Tyberg scores with his son, Enrico, who had studied harmony with Tyberg, and was then a medical student. In 1957 the young Enrico Mihich was offered a research position with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo , NewYork State , where he went on to establish a brilliant career as developer and director of its Cancer Drug Center . The Tyberg scores lay fallow for many years, while Enrico Mihich was absorbed in cancer research. Then, but in the 1980s, he began to make discreet inquiries with conductors of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra aimed at obtaining first American performances of Tyberg’s orchestral works, all to no avail. In the mid-1990s Dr Mihich turned back to Europe and made contact with the aging Rafael Kubelík, who was overjoyed to learn that Tyberg’s scores had been in safekeeping for more than half a century – but his death in 1996 put an end to that avenue of exploration.

More recently Dr Mihich has found a willing and enthusiastic partner in the current music director of Buffalo Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta. ‘Tyberg’s music is extremely powerful, rich and profound’, Falletta has declared, ‘and very worthy of performance and recording.’ As a result of Falletta’s enthusiastic reading of Tyberg;s scores, a Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund has been established in Buffalo at the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, where a supervisorycommittee including Dr Mihich and JoAnn Falletta has evolved a plan for the progressive introduction of Tyberg’s works.

The Fund’s modest first step was a recital on 12 February by the soprano Lucinda Hohn and pianist Elenora Seib in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo that included three lieder by Tyberg, the first of his works ever heard in the western hemisphere. Tyberg’s repertoire includes some 35 lieder and songs, most set to texts by Heinrich Heine, but four with texts by British poets. It was three of the British songs that were selected for the recital: EveningBells (text by Sir Thomas More), To a Flower (Barry Cornwell) and My Heart’s in the Highlands (Robert Burns). From conversations with Ms Hohn it was apparent that she has a thorough intellectual understanding of these songs, but in performance her voice was rather monochromatic, lacking any range in either coloration or warmth. As a result, even though the piano writing seemed highly idiomatic, in a clean and slightly spiky late-Romantic style, the emotional impact of Tyberg’s English song-settings will have to wait for other performers to reveal. Plans are taking shape for the eventual recording of all the lieder.

The second step in the rediscovery of Tyberg’s music took the form of performances on 1 March in the Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo by the young Russian pianist Katya Grineva of the First and Second Piano Sonata, completed in 1920 and 1934 respectively. This recital was followed by a session in the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo where both of these sonatas will be recorded for release on a commercial CD later this year.

Grineva’s advocacy of the Tyberg sonatas indicates that she feels his music is a natural match for the interpretive pianistic principles she espouses. A regular performer at Carnegie Hall, she has singled out Tyberg’s Sonata No. 1 for inclusion on her next recital on the main stage of that famed venue on 1 June – a first step in taking Tyberg’s music to a wider, international audience.

Later this year, JoAnn Falletta is planning to present a concert with members of the Buffalo Philharmonic, offering the first performances of Tyberg’s Trio for piano, violin and cello, and his Sextet for two violins, two violas, cello and double bass. A recording is also scheduled for these chamber works.

Promise, Arrest and Oblivion
The intriguing story of Marcel Tyberg’s fleeting fame, his death, and now his re-emergence onto the world stage hinges on the close relationships between the Kubelík, Tyberg and Mihich families. Marcel Tyberg was born in Vienna on 27 January 1893 , the son of two musicians. His father, also Marcell (but spelt with a double L), was a violinist, and his mother, Wanda, was a pianist who had studied with Artur Schnabel. They were close friends of the violinist Jan Kubelík and his son Rafael, then a budding conductor. In the 1920s, musical appointments took the Tybergs to Gorizia and then Abbazia, in the northern Adriatic region of Italy . But they kept in contact with the Kubelíks, and young Marcel dedicated several of his compositions to members of the Kubelík family.

When Marcell Tyberg died in 1927, his son became extraordinarily protective of his mother. In a touching memoir by their friend Marion Schiffler, published in a German newspaper in the early 1950s. Wanda is portrayed as ‘an unusually generous, gentle woman. Patiently toiling, she copied Marcel’s illegibly scrawled compositions, and the copies were so beautiful that every note appeared as if engraved’.

A tragic aspect of Tyberg’s story was the fact that his loving mother could be naïve and innocent to a fault about the character of the German government. When the Nazis took over the area in 1943 they required anyone with a Jew in the last seven generations of ancestry to register with the authorities. Wanda had a Jewish great-grandfather and without a second thought she dutifully went to report this lineage. A few months later she died, apparently of natural causes. It was then that Marcel, obsessed with the idea that he might be deported, turned his life’s work over to Dr Milan Mihich for safe-keeping.

It was a prescient move: a few weeks later Tyberg was indeed arrested and shipped off on a train, never to be seen again. The bitter irony is that Marcel was only one-sixteenth Jewish, a fact of which the Nazis would probably have remained unaware if his mother had not been so terminally honest about her great-grandfather.

With definite plans for performance and recording of Tyberg’s songs, piano sonatas and chamber music, what about the Symphonies? JoAnn Falletta says that the Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund expects to build on the publicity generated by this year’s performances, the income from sales of recordings, and anticipated donations to the Fund as the base of a campaign to expedite grants that will cover the cost of copying out of the parts for Symphony No. 3 so that it can be performed and recorded. ‘It’s a beautiful work’, Falletta says, ‘that is not radical or revolutionary in any way.  It’s right out of the late-Romantic tradition, but still has its own individual stamp. If you think of Brahms, Reger and the more lyrical works of Szymanowski, it should give you an inkling of what Tyberg’s sound is like. More than anything, it’s listener-friendly, and I think audiences will love it.’

The Surviving Compositions of Marcel Tyberg   
The list below records all the compositions of Marcel Tyberg known to have survived, along with dates of completion. Key signatures, opus numbers and other pertinent identifying data will be added as they become available.

Symphony No. 1 (1924)

i Allegro molto
iii Scherzo

iv Finale (Allegro non troppo)

Symphony No. 2 (1927)
i Allegro appassionato
iii Scherzo
iv Finale

Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1943)
i Andante maestoso
ii Scherzo
iv Rondo

Scherzo and Finale for Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony (1928)

chamber music
Trio for piano, violin and cello (1936)
i Allegro maestoso
iiAdagio non troppo
iii Rondo

Sextet for two violins, two violas, cello and double bass (1932)
i Allegro non troppo
ii Scherzo
iiiAdagio molto sostenuto (theme and variations)
iv Scherzo
iv Finale

choral music
Mass No. 1 ( satb, organ) (1934)

Mass No. 2 ( satb, organ) (1941)

piano music
Sonata No. 1 in B minor (1920)
i Allegro appassionato
iiLarghetto (theme and variations)
iii Rondo

Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor (1935)
i Allegro con fuoco
iii Scherzo
iv  Finale

vocal music
35 Lieder:
31 to texts by Heinrich Heine
4  to texts by British poets

The Marcel Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund is based at the Jewish Community Center 787 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14209, USA; contact Peter Fleischmann (telephone +1 716 886-3145, Fax +1 716 961-0863).

The date of these two movements – 1928 – strongly suggests they were intended as an entry for the competition announced by the Columbia Graphophone Competition in 1927 for a completion of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony. The outcry against the idea was so strong that the rules were altered also to admit works composed ‘in the spirit of Schubert’. The eventual winner was Kurt Atterberg’s Sixth Symphony, which was nicknamed ‘The Dollar Symphony’ because of the generous prize it won – no less than $10,000, which in 1928 was a substantial sum. The other two finalists were Franz Schmidt’s Third Symphony and Czesław Marek’s Sinfonia, which won ‘highest recognition’; other works in the last rounds included Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1, TheGothic, and Ludvig Irgens Jensen’s Passacaglia. The jury included Carl Nielsen and Donald Tovey. – ed.

2. Tyberg Remembered

by Marion Schiffler

Article first published in Standpunkt ( Merano , Italy ), February 1948; translated by Herbert Winters, December 2005

Everyone in Abbazia(2) knew him. One could not miss him when he in his typical attitude – ­hands clasped behind his back, the head strangely gentle and slightly bent forward as if listening – walked through the streets. He always wore an old outworn loden coat, much too large for his slight stature, a Basque cap, and always very good shoes which took on a special shape because of his organ-playing. The casual observer might have found his appearance ridiculous and unkempt. But if one looked more closely at his face, one would hesitate, and if one met his gaze one would start thinking. They were large, dark eyes radiating gentleness and childlike joy, and they projected a peculiar light over his features – eyes which gave life to his whole face full of a clear dreamy gravity.

I myself encountered him several times before I was introduced to him. Nearly always he smiled at me in a friendly manner, while his eyes momentarily rested on me in quiet contemplation. Later I realised that his glances and his smile appeared quite accidentally without noticing the human being in the slightest way. He ran past his best friends, and if they did not actually stop him they could not awake him from his musical dreams. His thoughts dwelled in another realm, in those heavenly heights which were known only to the endowed artists of the past.

It was my friend Enrico(3) who told me more about Tyberg. Twice a week the artist spent the afternoon with Enrico at the piano. He had the great gift of being able to analyse each piece of music with deep understanding, and his all-embracing musical knowledge enabled him to introduce his students to realms of complete expression and feeling, realms so difficult to achieve. At the time when Enrico first told me of him, Tyberg lived in indescribable poverty and supported himself and his mother only through miserable lessons. Not too many years earlier his mother had been a well-known pianist whose playing through its expressiveness was especially moving. Between mother and son there was a very loving relationship. Tyberg hung on his mother with the deepest love and reverence; she was described by all as an unusually generous gentle woman. Patiently toiling, she copied his illegibly scrawled compositions, and the copies were so beautiful that every note appeared as if engraved. For Tyberg, the death of his mother was a wound which never closed. Today, I believe that he suffered all blows of fate with that angelic patience because of his unbounded love of his mother and his piety.

‘Tyberg is Polish, and lived in Vienna for many years’, Enrico concluded his story. ‘By the way, he greatly resembles Beethoven, especially in his mouth and chin. lf you want, I will ask him next time to play for us from his compositions.’

A few days later I took the noon ferry to Laurana, together with Sergio,(4) a friend of Enrico and a rather critical music-lover. When we entered Manuel’s music room, with its magic view of the open sea, it seemed to me as if a wave of peace emanating from Tyberg’s quiet modest personality swept through the light chamber. At the time he must have been over forty years old and had just recently lost his mother. This terrible pain created a moving solitude around him which awakened in all of us the feeling that this strange spiritual man already walked a step further on this earth than was granted to most humans. We received the indescribable impression of a man who is not far from the end of his journey on earth and who, unknown perhaps to himself and us, has already raised his glance to that great unknowable which involuntarily frightens us. One felt that for this artist earthly goods and honours no longer had meaning.

‘Caro maestro,’ said Enrico, after the first conversation ended, ‘you know how much I am connected to Brahms and how much I love his music. It is that much more painful for me that I simply cannot come to grips with his Intermezzi. I am unhappy about this.’

Tyberg looked at him with a smile that seemed to return from a far distance; at the time, I could not comprehend his answer. He said quietly: ‘Be happy, dear fellow. I, at least, am happy that you cannot understand them yet. This time will come for you, too.’

It was Sergio who then asked the artist to play from his compositions. At the start a pitiful picture presented itself to us – that slight figure with disorderly clothes and unkempt hair, which, bending over the keys of the piano, called forth tones with an unusual voice was so strange that we could not suppress a smile. But the more he played and sang, the more seriously and carefully, finally breathlessly, did we listen. Already after the first few bars, the feeling overcame us that here sat one of those few endowed by heaven who created great and immortal works.

Tyberg’s improvisation was simply perfect As we got used to the peculiar ensemble of piano and voice, we truly felt as if we were listening to an orchestral performance. Through his incredible ability to modulate his voice he was able to imitate nearly all instruments of an orchestra. It was a performance in which every solo part sounded out to harmonise at each ‘tutti’ in a masterful fashion.

Often, he dropped his hands and called out discouraged: ‘Why don’t I have more hands? Ten fingers and one voice are not enough to play a symphony for you. You can’t understand anything!’ But we understood him anyway. We lived and felt his music. It is impossible to describe the beauty of his compositions. Later generations will perhaps see it revived and experience the same feelings which we felt at that time.

A cool evening breeze swept in from the sea as the artist ended. We had forgotten everything around us. Enrico sat, his head buried in his hands; Sergio the sceptic had become silent; and I leant wordless at the window, where the first stars twinkled over Cherso.(5)

When we begged Tyberg to publish his compositions, he only shook his head. He had refused several offers. He did not thirst after fame and honours. He stood clearly aside from all earthly tumult; human passions and ambitions were strange and incomprehensible to him. Satisfied with the little he owned, he lived happily unknown.

Tyberg was a believer filled with deepest piety. So, for instance, he has completed a Te Deum which was to have its first performance at the consecration of the enlarged Abbazian church. On the evening before, I attended the last rehearsal in the dimly lit church. The organ played, and a choir with a Russian-sounding baritone – a carpenter from Laurana­ – sang to God’s honour and praise. I listened, moved by the music as I had been moved only once before – listening to Mozart’s Requiem. In that night Italy ’s fate was decided for a long period to come. . It was 25 July 1943 .(6)

For Enrico’s birthday, Tyberg presented him with a Scherzo a scopo di divertimento composed by him. Enrico had once asked the Maestro whether he could also set words to music, for instance, ‘The lesson is up, dear Mr. Tyberg’, and now he had composed a scherzo on these words for his favourite student. The artist began to play; suddenly he stopped and said unhappily: ‘How can one write so illegibly! I can’t read it. Enrico, you play it!’ We all broke out in hearty laughter, and Enrico finished the charming piece.

I will never forget those hours in which Tyberg played his own compositions for us on the organ in the church of Volosca .(7) Shuddering and shivering, we listened to the uninterrupted flow of sounds which ranged from cheerful pastoral tunes to the greatest Beethoven-like outbursts. His face shone transfigured and happily smiling out of the dimness. There was a childlike joy and tenderness in him that is only seen in great souls shortly before their return home. The tears ran down my cheeks. We all had the feeling that he will not be with us much longer. Perhaps he felt it himself, too; he hardly knew any more where he was and who we were. It seemed as if he had to fulfil some final task – to play for his friends – and then to part and never to return.

As he ended, we silently embraced the completely exhausted artist and only hesitantly did words of thanks pass across our lips. It was as if our thanks could wipe out this his last gift. We shook his hand, one after the other. I was not able to utter a word. He, however, smiled, friendly and ingenuous, as if he wanted once more to let us take part in his unknown greatness. In that dark old church he stood like a saint in our midst – a strange ray of light ­the first moonlight – fell at this moment through the high arched window on his quiet face. It was the last time that I saw him.

During a night raid a few days later he was taken into custody by the Gestapo. All our attempts to get his freedom were unsuccessful. No one was permitted to visit him. Like so many others, he was never heard of again. The only thing we heard many months later was the news of his suicide.

He is one of the many nameless who suffered unknown and died. The memory of this quiet sufferer lives on in the hearts of his friends. His work remains. Perhaps some day, when the world turns toward the good, his work, faithfully preserved by Enrico’s parents, will take its place in musical circles, modest and unobtrusive as he was himself – mildly inflamed by love and beauty like the sea in Laurana when touched by the last rays of the sun....


(2) On the Quarnero Riviera, province of Fiume – nowadays Opatija in Croatia . – ed.

(3) Henry Mihich – ed.

(4) Sergio Kociancich, retired Italian ambassador. – ed.

(5) A n island located opposite Laurana and the Istria peninsula. – ed.

(6) The day on which Mussolini was forced to resign, whereupon the Germans provided the principal resistance to the Allied invasion of Italy . – ed.

(7) For an historical image of Volosca, crowned by the church on top of the hillside, go to www.ushistoricalarchive.com/photochroms/4762.html


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