(1914 - 1979)
Polish and American composer and conductor
by Artur Zygmont
Names such as Lutoslawski and Penderecki are well know in the ranks of successful 20th century composers. Another who has recently attained considerable fame is Henryk Gorecki. There are also Wojciech Kilar and Zbigniew Preisner. But, none of these are or were Californians. However, we do have a Polish composer of great talent who lived and died in California. He is Roman Ryterband. While his fame is not on the level of Lutoslawski or Penderecki, serious musicians agree that he will be considered one of America's greatest 20th century composers.
Roman Ryterband was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1914 and first studied at the State Academy of Music in Lodz. His uncle, a first violinist with the Lodz Symphony, struggled to earn a decent living and this convinced Roman's father that his son should study Law. He did so, and received a degree in Law from the University of Warsaw. However, he also played piano while attending the University. A famous symphony conductor, Alexander Glazunov, convinced him to continue his music studies.
In 1939 while Roman Ryterband was in France, as part of a young man's tour of Europe, Poland was invaded and World War II began. The Consul General in Nice advised him to travel to Switzerland and he took the last train to Switzerland before the borders were sealed.
Here, he began composing while studying musicology for his Doctorate at the University at Berne. Here he married CIarissa, a lovely young woman from Venice. Their daughters, Astrid and Diana were born in Switzerland. He also became a conductor. On the shore of Lake Thun in the concert bowl, he conducted concerts for audiences of up to 50,000.
In 1955, the Ryterband family moved to Canada where Ryterband was appointed Director of music on CKVL, an AM/FM radio station and also lectured at McGill University in Montreal. He continued to conduct symphonies and devoted time to leading a Polish chorus.
In 1960, the Ryterbands moved to Chicago where he joined the faculty of Chicago Conservatory College. In 1961, one of his works, Dialogue for Two Flutes won First Prize. In 1965, the Citizen Council of Chicago named him the Outstanding New Citizen of the Year. In Chicago, Ryterband conducted the Southside Symphony Orchestra for several years and also was involved with the Polonia and Polish choruses. In addition, he served as chairman of the Composers' Society, International Society for Contemporary Music.
In 1967 Roman Ryterband made his last move to Palm Springs, California. While residing in Palm Springs, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and wrote a composition entitled, Tunes of America for the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration. He also served as a founder and director of the Palm Springs Festival of Music and Art.
In the late 1960's, Ryterband taught at California State University in Los Angeles. During this time, he performed as a pianist, as a solo performer and accompanist for other soloists. He also continued to compose. His repertoire included compositions for chamber music, ballet scores, symphonic and choral works and works for organ, piano and harp. His Suite Polonaise for piano won a Kosciuszko Foundation grant. He expanded this work for a full orchestra in 1978 and dedicated it to His Holiness Pope John Paul II. His original manuscripts and other memorabilia are in the Harvard University Houghton Library in the company of manuscripts by Gershwin, Bernstein, Gould and lves.
Ryterband's music is played far and wide and, given the lack of original compositions for harp, is especially treasured by harpists. A Polish pianist at Palomar College in San Diego, Peter Gach has often played his compositions for piano, especially the Preludes, in California and Poland. Some musicians compare Ryterband with Debussy, Ravel and Britten. In 1993, in his honor, Dr. Francis D'Albert a world renowned violinist established the Roman Ryterband Academy and Institute in Chicago. Roman Ryterband died in Palm Springs in 1979, but his wife, CIarissa, continues to promote his music and his legend.
From: Polish Americans in California, vol. II. National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs & Polish American Historical Association. California 1995.