Date: February 16, Author: andypease 3 Comments Vaclav Nelhybel was a prolific Czech-American composer of music for various ensembles including handbells, chorus, orchestra, and a huge collection of wind music. He studied in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before starting his career as a composer and conductor, becoming the music director of Radio Free Europe in He emigrated to the United States in , where he continued his composition and conducting activities, leaving a mark especially at the University of Scranton, which houses a collection in his name , and where he was composer-in-residence. The Wind Repertory Project has more information about the piece. Full, professional performance with score: Read more about Nelhybel in several different places: Wikipedia articles in English fairly basic and German has a thorough works list that the English one lacks , a biography on his University of Scranton page , his New York Times obituary , a tribute to him by Joel Blahnik, and an extensive interview with Bruce Duffie. Share this:.

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He came to the U. He was a teacher, conductor and lecturer, but foremost for him was composing. His catalogue includes works for large and small ensembles, and even several works for handbells!

He wrote for professionals, of course, but also relished writing for and working with young people. His output for symphonic band is particularly noteworthy, and is where many of us first encountered his particular soundscape.

More information can be obtained at his official webpage maintained by the University of Scranton, and the biography from that site is reproduced at the bottom of this page. It was in that Nelhybel was in the Chicago area to conduct a High School band, and we arranged to meet at his hotel before the rehearsal.

He was excited about the performance and glad to speak about his work, even though his thoughts often ran toward the incredulous. His voice — the color as well as the inflections and mannerisms — reminded me a lot of the actor Peter Lorre.

Not the sniveling characterization, of course, but the relaxed conversational style without pretensions. If you hear that sound in your ear as you are reading this, it will give a reasonably accurate picture of the aural quality. Here is that conversation. What is audience? In my case, composing is the thing I like the most to do, and — I am not improvising this answer — to compose music is the best means to manifest my existence as human being.

I feel that is my function as a person, and if something excites me, it is much more complex. I must talk in specifics. For example, I am delivering today a commissioned work I started working on one and a half years ago, but I will be working now on something that will be performed in about two and a half years, a concerto for organ and orchestra.

I am in this kind of vacuum a little bit; ideas come in because I am not under pressure. I do function as a composer and as a person; the person and the composer is somehow identical.

So, for whom am I composing? Again, those words sound so big and so fantastic. I am trying to share my experiences, etc. If something excites me, I try to freeze it into paper, to have it there.

We can say [sings a musical passage quickly]; do you know how long it takes to write [sings the same passage very slowly]? I have two pianos at home, but I never touch the instrument. Of course, when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, the piano used to be my best friend, my best helper.

But then, having conducted for twenty five years in Europe , you build up the inner hearing. You know the sounds and you can write them down. With a piano, how can you compose a duo for two clarinets? Or if you try to imagine composition styles, for an oboe, if you will play it on the piano it will sound like [bangs hand on the table].

I use the piano for proof-reading of scores; I am very good in B flat, E flat, C, mixture, etc. We were trained in Europe in the use of the different clefs, different transpositions, etc.

I live as a composer. There will be very few answers. I may have some strong opinions, but then I will laugh because how does one get an idea? What is inspiration? I saw it! There were pages of sketches until finally the theme was [sings the opening theme]. For pages he had written [sings different ideas similar to the familiar opening] until finally he had it with all the drama in it. How much sweat and blood there was, changing and correcting it. I am saying Beethoven knew — because he was a great composer — that there was gold in this little theme, and he was working on it and working on it.

For years I wanted to save every little piece of paper I sketched on, and then show a commissioner my suitcase full of ideas and the enormous pile of sketches. But there must be some definitive idea in a composer. To some degree, everybody probably has some sort of idea in them. This composition is awful! I was very fortunate to have one man who had an enormous influence on me. A choral man, he taught conducting technique — not conducting, but conducting technique.

He was probably the best choral conductor in Czechoslovakia , and he commissioned me to write something. I wrote it and I was so excited! It was the excitement of writing for one of the biggest names and for the best male choir in Czechoslovakia. My first published composition was my string quartet, and the second was my woodwind quintet. That was about forty years ago, and I stand behind them one hundred percent.

But I know one thing — I know my crafts; I am a craftsman. I know whatever there is to learn in techniques like twelve-tone, how to make a symmetrical row, etc. I am a craftsman and I do as well as I can. Whatever it is I am doing, I take all the time I need because I function on my own metabolism, not the metabolism dictated by the fluctuation of day and night. I do work during the night quite a bit. For example, last year I skipped seventeen nights of sleep not in a row.

My kids would poke fun, but why should I go to bed? I talked to my doctor about it and he said not to worry about it. I lie down and sleep for maybe about three hours, and I feel as if I slept fifteen! I am blessed with only needing five hours, six hours maximum, of sleep. I have no responsibilities, only responsibilities to my family, so my big responsibility is to bring milk!

So would I cheat on it? Heck no! Then when it finally comes, it can be fast, it might be moderately fast, it can be very slow. Finally the composition is finished, and then I put it away.

But there is much to do. I do proof reading, I clean up orchestration; whatever it is where there is no involvement creatively directly.

Fortunately we have copying machines now, so I make always three copies and very often I need a fourth. I make changes, sometimes complete changes, working with three different colors - green, blue, and red. Go back! It is just hot water and you drink it! Then you find out the next day that you put only hot water in it. Then comes the moment before you send it to the copyist. There are not two compositions whose creative becoming was the same.

Sometimes it just comes; sometimes you have the form; sometimes it might be the orchestral instrumental sounds which start the germ from which it starts. You never go left, right, left, right, through the same door. Sometimes you climb through the chimney and then jump down. Writing on a low level, technically-speaking, I love to do it. It is fantastic because you still have ideas, but you cannot go into complex elaboration or a complex architecture of it.

Yet somehow the music has to be there, the organism has to be there, the form has to be there. I have a commission that will probably start in two and a half years, a concerto for organ and orchestra.

I have about four hundred folders; I am very organized. If I have any ideas, structural or thematic, I put them on paper to some degree, and when I come back six months later I remember what they were. The process is so accidental. I last saw him about twenty two years ago in New York. You have the whole scale, from suicidal to elated. I still have an opinion about it There are certain things that I expect to happen, of course.

The conductor has absorbed my composition and identified himself with it, even though his metabolism was different than mine. One answer is a personal one, and is quite often, yes. If you ask why, I will say I like a particular recording because it has a touch of personality.

I am a different animal than you are! If you are a squirrel, try to be the best squirrel there is, not an elephant, and vice-versa. I do like it if somebody identified themselves with the piece and made it his own.

The important thing to me is that there is the life in it, there is drama in it. My second answer is that today the very important criterion is sheer perfection. If somebody cracks a wrong note, it should not be so important as long as the tension and the smoothness of the piece was there.


Václav Nelhýbel

He came to the U. He was a teacher, conductor and lecturer, but foremost for him was composing. His catalogue includes works for large and small ensembles, and even several works for handbells! He wrote for professionals, of course, but also relished writing for and working with young people. His output for symphonic band is particularly noteworthy, and is where many of us first encountered his particular soundscape.


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