Mátyás Seiber

Matyas Seiber portrait credit family archive Julia Seiber Boyd
Composer; born 4 May 1905 in Budapest, died 25 September 1960 in Johannesburg.


The composer Mátyás Seiber was born in Budapest in 1905. He learned instruments from an early age, and from the age of 14 he attended the Ferenc Liszt Consevatory where he studied Cello with Adolf Schiffer and studied composition with Zoltán Kodály.

In 1925 he took up a position as a cellist on a cruise ship in the Americas where he became acquainted with Jazz. Returning to Frankfurt, he became the director of the first Jazz department in a German conservatoire from 1928-33. His many successful works are characterised by ’fearless self assurance and a healthy disregard of genre limitations and national borders’ (AVI music), comprising ballets, comic operas, chamber music, and film scores.

From 1928 he was a lecturer at the Hoch conservatorium in Frankfurt, teaching jazz. In 1930, Seiber began experimenting with the twelve tone composition technique and in 1935 he emigrated to the United Kingdom, where initially he worked for the publisher Schott and as Theodor Adorno's assistant. In Britain he became a highly productive and versatile composer, writing acclaimed chamber music, vocal music including the cycle To Poetry for the tenor Peter Pears as well as folk-song arrangements for solo voices and choirs such as the cantata Ulysses (1947).

Seiber was also much in demand as a composer and arranger for animated films such as Animal Farm in 1950 and Cabaret. From 1942 Seiber was a composition teacher at Morley College in London, where he was highly respected. He was killed in a car accident in Kruger National Park in 1960 while on a lecture tour of South Africa.

Links and Sources

Mátyás Seiber trust website

Mátyás Seiber in the University of Hamburg online database of musicians persecuted during the Nazi Period

Elsewhere in this resource

Alexander Goehr interview

Photo: Mátyás Seiber portrait, credit family archive Julia Seiber-Boyd

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