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TIBOR SERLY - COMPOSER & VIOLIST

 Autographed 1960’s 3” x 5” original photograph in a recording session from the collection created by record producer James Mallinson.

 

Serly (1901 - 1978) is a most interesting and important Hungarian-American composer, violist, arranger and conductor.  Born in Hungary, he came to America with his family at the age of four.  His father Lajos was an opera impresario and ran a Hungarian theatre.  He started his son on the violin as a child.  He was sent back to Hungary to the Royal Conservatory in Budapest where he studied violin with Janos Hubay and composition with Zoltan Kodaly and Leo Weiner. He became friendly with Bela Bartok while in Hungary and took private lessons from him and also became the composer’s assistant.  Serly graduated in 1925 and returned to the United States where he took successive positions as a violist, Cincinnati Symphony with Fritz Reiner for a year from 1926-1927, he was stolen from Cincinnati by Leopold Stokowski for Philadelphia for the 1928 season, where he played in the viola section until 1935 and as Assistant Conductor from 1933-1935. In 1934 he spent time in Germany studying conducting with Hermann Scherchen. He then went to New York to play viola for Toscanini in the NBC Symphony for the 1937-1938 season. He left the orchestra life to concentrate on composition.  Serly convinced Bartok an avowed anti-Fascist to come to the United States and helped lobby the State Department for his admission.  Bartok came to the United States in 1940 and settled in New York City with his wife.  Though never completely at home here, Serly became his closest friend here and insured he saw old friends from the Hungarian community. After Bartok’s death he reconstructed and orchestrated his viola concerto from 13 pages of manuscript sketches, he also arranged a cello version of the work. Serly also completed the final 17 bars of the 3rd piano concerto.  In homage to Bartok he wrote a work entitled Rhapsody for viola and orchestra on Folk Songs Harmonized by Bartok between 1946 and 1948. Further, he orchestrated 8 pieces from Bartok’s Mikrokosmos into an orchestral suite. 

 

After Bartok’s death, Serly became very involved with the development of a new twelve tone scale which he titled “Modus Lascivus” which divides the scale and creates a multimodal scale system.  He wrote two books about his system and also employed it in a number of his works.   

 

As a composer, Serly was quite prolific, his earliest and best known work for orchestra is his 1926 “Transylvania Rhapsody”.  He only wrote 2 long symphonies, however, the bulk of his symphonic works and there are many are orchestral suites and concertos for solo and multiple instruments and orchestra.  He composed 3 ballets, chamber works, solo works for violin, piano and harp, as well as songs and choral pieces.  A number of his solo works were written for his second wife, the pianist Miriam Molin.  His papers, manuscripts as well as Bartok’s American manuscripts are held in his archive at Columbia University.