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Falletta's backing brings treasured works to public ears

In the years leading up to World War II, Marcel Tyberg was a promising young European composer whose Symphony No. 2 had already been premiered by one of Europe's most prestigious orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic, under the baton of the famed conductor Rafael Kubelik.

But in 1944 the Gestapo knocked on his door, loaded Marcel onto a train destined for a concentration camp, and he was never heard from again.

It was presumed that the composer's output of symphonies, masses, chamber music, sonatas and songs had also disappeared forever. For decades Marcel Tyberg (pronounced Tee-berg) was a name lost in history. Recently, however, a fascinating story of more than 60 years of diligent custodianship has come to light.

It turns out that manuscripts of the complete works of Marcel Tyberg are right here in Buffalo. They are the treasured property of Dr. Enrico Mihich, distinguished member of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and for 30 years the developer and director of its Cancer Drug Center.

Since his arrival in Buffalo in 1957, Mihich had cautiously shown his Tyberg trove to certain Buffalo Philharmonic conductors, with an eye toward getting first American performances of some of the music, but was refused.

He had also contacted the aging Rafael Kubelik. Because of his strong memory of the Second Symphony, Kubelik was genuinely excited to learn of the music's existence. But his death in 1996 shut down that avenue of exploration.

More recently Mihich has found a willing and enthusiastic partner in the BPO's current music director, JoAnn Falletta.

"Tyberg's music is extremely powerful, rich and profound," Falletta said recently, "and very worthy of performance and recording."

As a result of Falletta's very positive read of Tyberg's scores, a Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund has been established at the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies. The fund's overseeing committee includes Falletta, Mihich, professional singer Lucinda Hohn, BPO program annotator and historian Edward Yadzinski, and Peter Fleischmann, chief executive officer of the foundation.

The fund has wasted no time in starting to bring Tyberg's legacy into the public arena. At 5 p.m. today, soprano Lucinda Hohn will present a recital in Holmes Chapel of Westminster Presbyterian Church. This will be the first music by Tyberg ever heard in the Western Hemisphere.

>Family bonding

The intriguing story of Marcel Tyberg's fleeting fame, his death, and now his potential re-emergence onto the world music scene hinges on the close relationships between the Kubelik, Tyberg and Mihich families.

Marcel Tyberg was born in Vienna on Jan. 27, 1893, the son of two musicians. His father Marcell was a violinist, and his mother Wanda was a pianist who had studied with Artur Schnabel. They were very close friends with Jan Kubelik, a world famous touring violinist, and his son Rafael, the budding conductor.

In the 1920s, musical appointments took the Tybergs to Gorizia and then Abbazia, in the northern Adriatic region of Italy and Yugoslavia, respectively. But they kept in contact with the Kubeliks, and young Marcel dedicated several of his compositions to Kubelik family members.

When Marcell Tyberg died in 1927, his son became extraordinarily protective of his mother Wanda. In a touching memoir by their friend Marion Schiffler, Wanda is portrayed as "an unusually generous, gentle woman. Patiently toiling, she copied Marcel's illegibly scrawled compositions, and the copies were so beautiful that every note appeared as if engraved."

Schiffler's memoir also pictures Marcel's demeanor as something close to the typical absent-minded professor. "Hands clasped behind his back, he walked through town in an old, outworn loden coat, much too large, a Basque cap, and very good shoes which took on a special shape because of his organ playing."

>A musical bequest

He may have looked ridiculous and unkempt, the memoir continues, but "his large, dark eyes radiated gentleness and childlike joy. He ran past his best friends, and if they did not actually stop him they could not awake him from his musical dreams. It is impossible to describe the beauty of his compositions, for which he refused many offers of publication, living happily unknown, apart from all earthly tumult. Later generations will perhaps see his music revived."

Tyberg's mother was apparently naive and innocent to a fault. When the Nazis took over Italy and Yugoslavia in 1943 they required anyone with a Jew in the last seven generations of ancestry to register. Wanda had a great grandfather who was a Jew, and without a second thought she dutifully went to report this lineage.

A few months later she died, apparently of natural causes. Marcel, obsessed with the idea that he might be deported, sought out his friend Dr. Milan Mihich in nearby Fiume and gave him all his music for safe-keeping. At that time Tyberg was teaching harmony to Dr. Mihich's son, Enrico.

It was a prescient move, because a few weeks later Marcel Tyberg was, indeed, arrested and shipped off in a cattle car. The only word of his fate was an unsubstantiated rumor that he had hung himself on the train headed for Germany. The bitter irony is that Marcel was only one-sixteenth Jewish, and the authorities would probably never have learned that if his mother had not been so terminally honest about her great grandfather.

After World War II was over, Mihich moved to Milan with his Tyberg manuscripts, and his son Enrico enrolled in medical school.

The senior Mihich died in 1948, having entrusted the Tyberg treasure to his son. And nine years later Enrico, now a doctor himself, arrived in Buffalo with his musical bequest to take up his long and extraordinarily successful association with Roswell Park.

>'It's listener-friendly'

About his name, Dr. Enrico Mihich laughingly recalls that his father was such an ardent anti-fascist that quite early on he Anglicized the name Enrico and gave him the nickname Henry. "To this day," he says, "both names have stuck."

With definite plans for performance and recording of Tyberg's songs, piano sonatas and chamber music, what about the symphonies? Falletta says that the Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund expects to be able to parlay the publicity generated by this year's performances, the income from sales of recordings, and anticipated donations to the fund into a campaign to expedite grants that will cover the cost of copying out of the parts for Symphony No. 3 so that it can be performed and recorded.

"It's a beautiful work," Falletta says, "that is not radical or revolutionary in any way. It's right out of the late romantic tradition, but still has its own individual stamp. If you think of Brahms, Reger, and the more lyrical works of Szymanowski, it should give an inkling of what Tyberg's sound is like. More than anything, it's listener-friendly, and I think audiences will love it."

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