Vaclav Nelhybel

From Wind Repertory Project
Vaclav Nelhybel


Vaclav Nelhybel (VAHTS-love NEL-hee-bel) (24 September 1919, Polanka, Czechoslovakia - 22 March 1996, Scranton, Penn.) was a Czech composer and conductor. (There is some ambiguity as to whether the name should be written Václav Nelhýbel. The United States Library of Congress does not use the diacritics in its authorized version of the name; hence we do not use them here.)

Nelhybel studied composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatory of Music and musicology at the universities of Prague and Fribourg, Switzerland. As a student, he was already affiliated with Radio Prague as composer and conductor. At age 18, he was conducting the Czech Philharmonic as an assistant to Rafael Kubelik. By 1948, he had become active in Swiss National Radio as composer/conductor, and from 1950 to 1957 he served as co-founder and music director of Radio Free Europe in Munich. During this time he functioned as guest conductor with numerous European orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Bavarian Symphony, and Orchestra de la Swisse Romande. Beginning in 1957 he lived in the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1962, and was active as a composer, conductor and lecturer up to his death in 1996.

Among his many awards are the First National Prize for the best radiophonic composition (Prague, 1947); First Prize for the motion picture score to La Beaute des Formes (Paris, 1955); First Prize for the ballet In the Shadow of the Lime Tree at the First International Music and Dance Festival (Copenhagen, 1947); First Prize of the Ravich Music Foundation for the opera A Legend (New York, 1954); The "Man of the Year in Music" St. Cecelia Award (University of Notre Dame, 1968) and the United States Treasury Department Award for "Patriotic Service" (1968).

In 1962, Nelhybel received his first exposure to a concert band. He wrote: “The first band I heard played a piece by Persichetti, and it was so good I just caught fire. I was fascinated with the possibilities of what you can do with half an acre of clarinets, half an acre of flutes, and half an acre of percussion. So I said, why not try it? I did, and it seemed to open new creative channels in my mind.” It was the enthusiasm of the students that truly inspired him to compose. His music is complex and exciting; it employs linear counterpoint, freely dissonant harmonic textures, and forceful rhythms.

A common trait in the Nelhybel "sound" would seem to be a panchromatic melodic system, not serial in the dodecaphonic sense, but one which has a strong relation to one gravitational center. This relation to the 'gravitional center' generates and releases tensions which Nelhybel calls the human element in music and is the sine qua non of communication between composer and listener. He is not a revolutionary innovator. He is. rather, a synthesist, bringing all of past techniques into a harmonious entity. Nelhybel often employed thematic material from his Czech heritage.

Works for Winds


  • Bird, Hubert. "Remembering Nelhybel." The Instrumentalist, January 2017: 22-25. Print.
  • Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. 2002. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 4. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 113.
  • "The Nelhybel Collection." The University of Scranton. Web. Accessed 13 August 2022
  • Program Note by David Holsinger for Lee University Wind Ensemble concert program, 10 April 2017.
  • Vaclav Nelhybel. Wikipedia. Accessed 8 August 2016