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Vaclav Nelhybel (1919-1996) was a prolific Czech-American composer of music for various ensembles including handbells, chorus, orchestra, and a huge collection of wind music.  He studied in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before starting his career as a composer and conductor, becoming the music director of Radio Free Europe in 1950.  He emigrated to the United States in 1957, where he continued his composition and conducting activities, leaving a mark especially at the University of Scranton, which houses a collection in his name, and where he was composer-in-residence.

Nelhybel wrote Festivo in 1968, describing it as “an overture-type composition in which the woodwinds and the brasses are constantly confronting each other like two antagonists in a dramatic scene.”  It is a classic of grade 3 (middle school level) wind band literature, with exciting parts for every instrument and contrasting musical sections to draw in an audience.  The Wind Repertory Project has more information about the piece.  There is also a great, thorough write-up about conducting the piece in John Knight’s book The Interpretive Wind Conductor, of which you can read an excerpt on Google books.

Full, professional performance:

Read more about Nelhybel in several different places: Wikipedia articles in English (fairly basic) and German (has a thorough works list that the English one lacks), a biography on his University of Scranton page, his New York Times obituary, a tribute to him by Joel Blahnik, and an extensive interview with Bruce Duffie.

One Comment

  1. Festivo, to me, always had a very soviet sounding military style. I suppose that might have been influenced by his time at Radio Free Europe (RFE).
    I always found it interesting how Nelhybel would refute any idea that his music, or any music for that matter, could be political. He would maintain that it is only being manipulated to be so. But contrast that with the deep cultural and political motifs in Wagner’s ring cycle, which he would have no doubt studied in post WW2 Europe; how could he say music was not political? Perhaps this was in response to beethoven’s fate motif, the famous short-short-short-long pattern in his 5th Symphony. While it was not politicial when it was written, it certainly became political as part of an allies victory cry as the tides of power shifted in the war.

    Just food for thought


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