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The Nelhybel Collection

In June of 1975, trumpeter Doc Severinson was the soloist in the premiere of a commissioned work by composer Vaclav Nelhybel entitled De Profundis, a demanding, haunting and profound piece for trumpet and band based on Psalm 130. In December of 1998, a musician of a new generation, Seneca Black, lead trumpeter with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, became only the second person to perform the piece in its entirety. 

The University of Scranton Symphonic Band performed the world revival of De Profundis with Black at its concert on December 10, 1998. The performance celebrated the founding of The Nelhybel Collection, which was formally dedicated at The University of Scranton, Scranton, Pa., in the fall of 1999. The collection provides scholars, performers and students with access to Nelhybel’s published and unpublished compositions, personal papers, manuscript scores and other materials. 

“He would be very delighted to have his works at the University. It is, in a sense, the closing of a circle,” his wife Dorothea Nelhybel said. “His Jesuit background was very important to Vaclav in nurturing his talent. Having his works housed at a Jesuit university and available for research feels so right in so many ways.” 

Renowned musician Wynton Marsalis, who received an honorary degree from The University of Scranton in 1996, first became acquainted with Nelhybel’s works as a young trumpeter. Marsalis notes, “I’m glad that his manuscripts have found a resting place with those who so loved him, and will be placed in the position of prominence which they so richly deserve. This will afford students and all those who love his music the opportunity to study it and further learn about his contributions.” 

De Profundis’ silence of two decades had nothing to do with the quality of the composition; it had everything to do with the motivation of the composer. 

“I compose because that is me, that is what I am,” Nelhybel said in an interview with author Peter Boonshaft. “The only answer I have is that it is the best means for me to manifest my existence as a human being.” 

His drive to write music left little time to consider the publication of a completed piece, as the next would rise in his mind demanding release. The result is a library of works performed but once, and even some major compositions written for no particular occasion and never performed at all. The musical legacy and genius of the composer became even clearer shortly before his death in 1996, when his family began cataloguing more than 160 unpublished works to add to the over 400 that have already been published. 

“I knew, of course, that there were many unpublished works. When Mrs. Nelhybel began cataloguing them, even I was surprised by the number,” said Cheryl Y. Boga, the university’s Conductor & Director of Performance Music. “The variety, however, did not surprise me. I knew that he had written an incredible variety of work.” 

The unpublished works include 21 major orchestral compositions, nearly doubling those already in print and challenging the view of some that Nelhybel was primarily a composer for band. Also included are over 25 additional works for chorus, 22 for small ensembles, 16 concertos and three operas. 

Almost 40 compositions for band and band with soloists are among the unpublished works. The collection also includes solos for organ and harp; duos for strings, brass, winds and piano; trios for recorders and strings; quartets for brass, strings and clarinet; quintets for brass, guitar, winds and keyboards; sextets for brass, winds and piano; an octet for horns; and 22 small ensemble works for saxophone, clarinet, organ, brass, strings and even handbells. 

Award-winning playwright and poet John Doucet is a noted enthusiast of Nelhybel’s work. “This composer, best known for band compositions, has written fantastic pieces for larger ensembles, orchestras and choruses,” Doucet said. “The works challenge both the performer and listener with flurries of unique ideas spun across measures in elaborate complementary rhythms. The sound is quite unique in twentieth century literature. 

“Nelhybel’s music is complex and exciting; I have found no music more fundamentally stimulating. Nelhybel’s music needs to be heard.” 

Richard Field, principal violist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performed the American premiere of another unpublished work, Viola Concerto, in a recent season with the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution’s Orchestra and the Georgetown University Orchestra. The concerto was written in 1962 and premiered by the Swiss Radio Orchestra. Field describes the work as “very serious and profound” and considers it to be one of the five most significant concerti written for the instrument. 

“Nelhybel’s orchestral output represents a significant contribution to the 20th century orchestral repertoire,” said Dr. Patricia Sparti, former director of the Hopkins and Georgetown Orchestras and author of The Orchestral Concertos of Vaclav Nelhybel. “Vaclav Nelhybel was a first class composer and a supreme craftsman of orchestral music.” 

Among his unpublished works is Six Fables for All Time for orchestra, soloists and chorus. Commissioned by Ruth Steinkraus Cohen and premiered by Connecticut’s Ridgefield Orchestra in 1980, Fables was commissioned in honor of the United Nations’ 35th Anniversary. In writing the words and music for Fables, Nelhybel sought to capture in music fundamental themes of human relationships and a vision for a better world. In a review of its premiere, Noel Regney of the Ridgefield Press described the piece as a “monumental prayer of hope and peace, through all the ups and downs of human life”. 

In 1996, the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Frederick Fennell revived Nelhybel’s unpublished Sinfonia Resurrectionis, and included a recording of it and other Nelhybel works on a 1997 production by the Kosei Publishing Company, Tokyo. Colonel Arnald D. Gabriel and The U.S. Air Force Band first performed and recorded the piece at its premiere in 1981. 

“Nelhybel left us no words about his Sinfonia Resurrectionis; like Gustave Mahler, he seems to be searching for something in his Sinfonia – an expression possible only through the extended resource of the large ensemble for which the music is intended,” Fennell said. 

Added to his already performed operas Everyman in 1974 and Station in 1978 are two that were never before available for performance – A Legend written in 1954 and King Lear in 1967. According to Mrs. Nelhybel, Nelhybel wrote King Lear in 1967 purely for himself. “He wrote it because it was there,” she said. “It was something that he had to get out of his system.” 

In the epilogue from his published orchestral/choral work Let There Be Music, Nelhybel described the power and place of music in his life and, perhaps, in all our lives. “Let music speak for me the last kind words forgotten in the haste of living. With music, then, let me return to peace, at last. Let there be music of dreams, music of hope, of love, music of joy, music of life. Music of peace.” 

Through the body of his more than 600 works, Nelhybel will continue to offer dreams, hope, love, joy and peace for musicians and listeners all. 

For more information regarding The Nelhybel Collection, contact:  
Cheryl Y. Boga  
Conductor & Director, Performance Music 
The University of Scranton  
Scranton, PA 18510 
phone: (570) 941-7624  
email: music@scranton.edu or nelhybel@epix.net