by Marta Gargas-Borowy
Composer Roman Ryterband was born in Poland in 1914, and thus his centenary has been celebrated throughout 2014. Having left Poland during World War II, Ryterband and his family settled in Palm Springs, CA in 1967 and his life became forever intertwined with the cultural fabric of Southern Calfornia. Marking November as the month of composer’s death, we honor his musical legacy with the article below, written by Polish harpist Marta Gargas-Borowy, and translated into English by Katarzyna Gressel.
Roman Ryterband is one of the most outstanding Polish composers of the twentieth century. His work has been compared to the work of Debussy, Ravel and Britten and is highly appreciated in music circles around the world. The composer spent most of his life in exile; therefore, his compositions are better known and more frequently performed abroad than in Poland. His name appears also on the list of American composers. The work of Roman Ryterband includes instrumental works, vocal—instrumental, chamber, choral and symphonic. So far, the only one of his compositions, Sonata breve for violin and harp, was published by the Polish Music Publishers (PWM).
People who personally knew Roman Ryterband consider him to be a beautiful and remarkable individual. He significantly contributed to the history of music as a pianist, composer, conductor, musicologist, writer and animator of musical life. He was born on August 2, 1914, in Łódź, into a Jewish family with multigenerational legal and music traditions. Initially, he studied at the State Higher School of Music in Łódź. His family’s belief that the music profession does not provide a suitable financial and social status led Roman to complete a law degree at the University of Warsaw. However, he did not give up his musical career and continued contact with artistic circles. Alexander Glazunov eventually convinced him to continue his musical studies.
From 1937, he worked in the Łódź Radio, then began a tour of Europe. The purpose of his trip, among others, was perfecting his linguistic skills. In addition to Polish and Hebrew, Roman spoke fluent German, French, Italian and Latin. In later years, he would also master Spanish.
The outbreak of war found him in France. On the advice of Consul General in Nice, he moved to Switzerland, where people of Jewish origin were not subject to repression. Subsequent years spent in Switzerland proved to be a period of exceptional creativity and hence very important for his future career. He studied musicology at the University of Brno where he earned a doctorate, became recognized as a conductor and began composing. A good knowledge of the harp Roman owed to the befriended Swiss-Italian harpist, Corinna Blaser. Harp, like the flute, were his favorite instruments. In Switzerland, he also met his wife, Clarissa, with whom he had two daughters, Astrid and Diana.
After sixteen years, in 1955 the Ryterband family emigrated to North America, initially to Canada, where the composer was appointed a music director of the radio station CKVL and AM / FM and taught composition and conducting at the University of McGill in Montreal. He was also an active pianist. Both in Canada and later in the United States he was very active in the Polish community, like other Polish artists whose fate brought them to North America.
In 1960 he moved permanently to the United States with his family. He was a lecturer at the Chicago Conservatory College and a conductor in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a recognized composer, he became the President of the Composers’ Union and the International Society for Contemporary Music. In 1965, the Chicago City Council awarded him the title of an Outstanding New Citizen of the Year.
In 1967, he moved to Palm Springs, where he spent the rest of his life. He taught at the University of California in Los Angeles. In the new place of residence he became the founder and director of the annual Palm Springs Festival of Music & Art. He also continued to compose, perform as a pianist and work in the scope of folk music. One of his well-known publications is “Folk Music and the Harp”, published in Folk Harp Journal, July 1976.
For the art of composition and the whole of his artistic work, Roman received many awards. Among the most frequently mentioned Ryterband’s compositions is Suite Polonaise for piano, which won the Kosciuszko Foundation prize. In 1978, the composer made the orchestral version of his composition dedicating it to His Holiness John Paul II.
Roman Ryterband died in Palm Springs on November 17, 1979. His wife Clarissa devoted herself to popularizing the music of her late husband. Numerous conductors such as Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Pierre Fournier, Stefan Askenaze and Nicanor Zabaleta included Roman Ryterband’s compositions into their repertoire. Due to a request by Nicanor Zabaleta, another version of Trois Ballades Hebraiques was created for violin and harp. This incredibly beautiful comjposition was originally composed for violin and piano.
Ryterband’s manuscripts, as well as manuscripts of other leading American composers Gershwin, Ives, Bernstein and Gould, are stored at Harvard University in the Haughton Library. In 1993, in honor of the composer, world-renowned violinist Dr. Francis D’Albert founded the Roman Ryterband Academy & Institute in Chicago.
Roman Ryterband expressed his understanding of music and art in the following words:
There are many differences that divide people from arround the world in which we live. These differences make our lives colorful and lively but also cause discord, unrest and suffering.
Believing in the high mission of art and music as the most sublime lanquage of international communication, it has always preached an agreement among nations via the universal idiom of music. I hope that my small contributions to art and music can promote the achievement of harmony, happiness, mutual respect, ideals to which people can strive from all around the globe.
Compositions for harp by Roman Ryterband
- Two Images for harp solo ( 1.Song of olden times, 2.At sunset beneath the palms )
- Sonata breve for violine and harp ( 1. Allegro agitato 2.Adagio pastorale 3.Vivo e scherzoso)
- Trois Ballades Hebraiques for violine and harp ( 1. The Dreamer, 2. The Joyful Master 3. Lullaby)
- Deux Sonnetsde Suite Marine for contralto or mezzosoprano, flute and harp (1. Eroica 2. La Perle)
- Two Desert Scenes for flute or violin and harp ( 1. A smoke tree dream, 2. The tahquitz falls)
- Sonata for two flutes and harp ( 1. Moderato espressivo, 2. Adagio non tanto, 3. Minuetto 4. Allegro)
- Personal account of Diana Eisele, daughter of the composer
- Zygmont-Roman Ryterband. Polish and American composer and conductor
- Polish Americans in California, vol.II National center of Urban Ethnic Affairs, Polish American Historial Association, California 1995
Marta Gargas-Borowy is a Polish harpist, harp teacher and journalist. Born in Kraków, she graduated the Academy of Music where later she worked as an assistant. In 1999, was awarded the title of assistant professor, the equivalent to the doctoral degree. Since 1988, she is a Polish correspondent of the World Harp Congress Review (USA).
Marta Gargas-Borowy cooperates with the Polish Composer’s Union as a performer and consultant. She inspired many composers (such as Bogusław Schaeffer, Eve Zuchowicz, Barbara Zawadzka and others) to write a variety of compositions for harp. She is the author of over 40 publications and conducted numerous interviews with composers and artists, including Witold Lutosławski, Romuald Tesarowicz, Helga Storck, Bogusław Schaeffer and Piotr Moss.
Marta Gargas-Borowy is one of the founders of the Polish Harp Society. At the present time, she is a harpist at the Silesian Opera and a harp teacher in Bytom. She is also an active performer as a soloist and chamber musician.