1. Soldier’s Farwell by Erich Itor Kahn
This month’s new SOMM release, Mátyás Seiber’s Music a cappella is a
delightful collection of choral music written by a composer of great talent who
died tragically early and at the height of his powers. The disc is certain to
become a favourite among those of us who love choral music as well as amateur
and professional choirs not only in the UK, Seiber’s adopted home, but also in
every part of the world where choirs enjoy discovering new and challenging
Seiber was born in Budapest and studied there with Kodály, with whom he toured Hungary collecting folk songs. In 1928, he became director of the jazz department at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt but in 1933 he arrived in England during a mass exodus from Nazism and settled in London, becoming a British subject in 1935. He was on the staff of Morley College in London, where he became a renowned teacher of composition. Several of his students went on to become eminent musicians themselves, including Peter Racine Fricker, Hugh Wood, Don Banks, Malcolm Lipkin and Alan Gibbs.
Peter Racine Fricker referred to Seiber as “the greatest teacher of our time” and Hugh Wood thought that his knowledgeable sympathy of the music of Bartok and Schoenberg alike did much to form the post-1945 generation. Another of Seiber’s pupils, composer Francis Routh also admired the excellence of his teaching. “He was a complete teacher equally at home in the disciplines of Bach and Schoenberg. His teaching methods encouraged students to realize the reasons for every note they wrote and every harmony that they produced. He was a genuine inspiration.”
Seiber also had his own choir – the Dorian Singers – whose many concerts and BBC broadcasts were a vehicle for developing his on-going interest in Folk Music – French Medieval, early English, Yugoslav and Hungarian. It also gave opportunities for his impish sense of humour to show, as indicated here in the Nonsense Songs.
Much overlooked after his tragic early death at the age of 55, the last 6 years have seen both the centenary of his birth and 50 years’ anniversary of his death with celebratory concerts in Germany, Hungary, USA as well as the UK. This disc will no doubt serve to remind us of Seiber’s delightful range of styles, as well as his characteristic mix of Hungarian-German-Englishness of which there is ample evidence.
For instance, the Yugoslav Folk Songs begin with a Serbian song and continue with a Bosnian song and Three Hungarian Folk Songs have melodies collected by Bartók. Seiber captures equally well the very English humour of Edward Lear’s limericks in the Nonsense Songs, and yet we find very similar humorous writing in his earlier tongue-in-cheek German Madrigals and Schweinekarbonaden. Seiber was also a keen editor and conductor of Renaissance choral music, and his ravishing Missa Brevis which also includes plainsong settings of the Gloria and Credo (normally omitted from a Missa Brevis) is a work of great spirituality.
There are also three pieces by other composers with a personal connection. Erich Itor Kahn’s Soldier’s Farewell (Erich was a close friend in Frankfurt who also fled Nazism), The short Gloria in excelsis (1962) which was composed in Seiber’s memory by his pupil, composer Alan Gibbs who also wrote the CD liner notes, and Kodály’s Media Vita in morte sumus which was especially written for the memorial concert of 19 November 1960 and was sung by the Dorian Singers.
The booklet includes texts, and also translations where necessary. Languages represented on this recording do not include Hungarian, as virtually all of Seiber’s Hungarian and Balkan pieces were set by the composer in English.
CC21’s conductor Howard Williams has conducted most of the UK’s leading orchestras, appearing at the BBC Proms, at all the major festivals in the UK and at festivals in Budapest, Hong Kong and throughout France and Spain. He has also worked extensively with English National Opera and companies throughout Europe. In 1989 he was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Pécs Symphoy Orchestra in Hungary.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, The Choir of the 21st Century has created many performances with a 21st-century perspective and is made up of some of London’s most experienced singers, performing a repertoire which is deliberately broad, both sacred and secular. The choir’s recordings on SOMM include both the Elgar and Kodály Musicmakers (SOMMCD 230) and Philip Glass’s Another Look at Harmony – Part IV (SOMMCD 072).
SOMM is grateful to the Seiber Trust for their financial assistance. We would also like to thank a CC21 Patron for a contribution towards the artistic costs for the recording of this CD.