The Ryterband Collection Grows

Roman Ryterband, Heracles Herakles Argonauts

Roman Ryterband’s daughter, Diana Eisele, stopped by the PMC recently with another valuable donation, an orchestral score of her father’s ballet music, Herakles and The Argonauts. “It was a real find,” Diana said with a smile, “because for many years we’ve considered this score lost.” Commissioned by Walter Fischer, a Swiss acquaintance of the composer who also provided libretto for this ballet in five scenes, Roman Ryterband initially produced a version for two pianos and percussion. A copy of the score of this version and a recording of the concert performance in the Bay Area were donated to the PMC by the composer’s family over a year ago.

At some point in the late 1970s, Ryterband outsourced the orchestration of the ballet to the Kraków-based conductor and composer, Tadeusz Dobrzański (1916-1996). The orchestral score of Herakles and the Argonauts eventually ended up in possession of violinist and composer, Francois D’Albert—a friend of Roman Ryterband from Montreal and later from Chicago, where D’Albert moved to assume the directorship of the Chicago Conservatory College of Music.  Ryterband later also joined the Chicago Conservatory faculty and was active there as a composer, conductor and performer.

In a 1961 letter, the Swiss-American pianist Rudolph Ganz wrote, “… I have heard several works of Roman Ryterband and seen several orchestral scores from his pen. The all show excellent craftsmanship and sympathetic imagination. Conductors should do well by becoming interested in Mr. Ryterband’s compositions … for eventual performances.” As it turns out, there were attempts to perform the fully orchestrated Herakles and the Argonauts. Together with the score, we received from Diana Eisele a copy the April 4, 1979 letter from Patricia Neary, Director of the Zurich Opera Ballet to the librettist, Dr. Walter Fischer. In it, Ms. Neary mentions that programs for the 1979-1980 season were already set by Mr. Balanchine, the Artistic Advisor of the Zurich Ballet, and the staging of Herakles and the Argonauts was not possible. Thereafter, the score and the materials were returned to the United States, probably just after Ryterband’s death in November of 1979.

His widow, Clarissa Ryterband, continued to advocate for the score and sent it on to various friends and performers. Decades had passed, nothing happened, and the score was considered lost until a few months ago when Clarissa Ryterband received a call about the score from D’Albert’s family. They had found the composer’s phone number among D’Albert’s papers. Fortunately, after moving house following her husband’s passing, Clarissa retained the old phone number, so the connection was made. After waiting for many suspenseful weeks with no follow-up, Diana Eisele sprang to action and traced the D’Albert relatives in Chicago. After her gentle nudge, the orchestral score of Heracles and the Argonauts finally circled back to the family on August 2, as a kind of a posthumous gift from the composer on his 103rd birthday!

As of August 15, the orchestral score of Ryterband’s Herakles and the Argonauts resides with the rest of his archival collection at the PMC, next to a set of beautifully hand-copied orchestral parts. Anyone interested in performance of this ballet music? Please let us know!