Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tibor Serly

Tibor Serly was a Hungarian violinist, violist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Losone, Hungary) on November 25, 1901.  He studied with some of the greatest musicians of the late nineteenth century, including Jeno Hubay and Zoltan Kodaly.  Although he was an orchestral violinist for many years, he is now mostly remembered as a composer and the arranger of the Bartok viola concerto.   Serly’s first teacher was his father who was a composer of theatre works and conductor as well.  Interestingly, Serly began his studies in the U.S. since his family brought him here as a very young child.  He played in pit orchestras in New York (which his father conducted) until he was 21 years old, at which time he returned to Hungary (in 1922) to study at the Liszt Academy in Budapest.  His main teachers there were Jeno Hubay, Zoltan Kodaly, and Leo Weiner (teacher also of Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti, and Janos Starker.)  Serly graduated from the academy in 1925.  He was 24 years old.  He then returned to the U.S. and played in the Cincinnati Symphony (as violist from 1926 to 1927 under Fritz Reiner), in the Philadelphia Orchestra (as violist – one source says violinist - from 1928 to 1937 under Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy), and the NBC Orchestra (as violist from 1937 to 1938 under ill-tempered Arturo Toscanini.)  It has been said that Stokowski appointed Serly Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933 – perhaps it is true.  (I made an inquiry of the Philadelphia Orchestra to confirm that but they never responded.)  After 1938, Serly mostly devoted his time to composition, conducting, and teaching.  He was 37 years old.  His friendship and professional association with Bela Bartok began in 1925 (in Hungary) - he met with him sporadically thereafter.  However, Serly was in regular and frequent contact with Bartok between 1940 and 1944, after Bartok came to the U.S.  Serly completed Bartok’s viola concerto from many sketches which Bartok didn’t have time to assemble himself prior to his death.  (The concerto has subsequently been further revised by Bartok’s son Peter Bartok and violist Paul Neubauer as well as by violist Csaba Erdelyi – every edition is quite different so that an orchestra must be careful to use the same edition as the soloist when performing it.)  Serly also completed the last 17 bars of the third piano concerto – some say he merely orchestrated the last 17 bars of the piece – others say he orchestrated the entire piece.  Serly’s own works are now very seldom played but he remains an important figure in modern music because he promoted atonal and other non-traditional ways of putting notes together to form a whole.  He became a professor at the Manhattan School of Music (New York) but taught at other institutions as well.  Serly was one of many musicians who became well acquainted with poets and other artists of that period, including the notorious Ezra Pound and his violinist-lover, Olga Rudge.  (Few people know that Ezra Pound was also a composer.  It has been said that Rudge discovered 300 of Vivaldi’s forgotten concertos in Italy and thus greatly helped the resurgence in interest in Vivaldi’s music.)  Serly helped Pound organize concerts in Rapallo, Italy, to which he frequently traveled.  As late as 1976, Serly was still publishing books on music theory which are now not widely known.  He wrote a viola concerto in 1929 and that work is still sometimes played.  He also wrote a violin concerto.  His other works remain quite obscure.  He died after being struck by a vehicle (some sources say it was a car) while visiting London in 1978.  His exact date of death is October 8, 1978.  He was 76 years old.