Serly, Tibor, Hungarian-born American violist, conductor, teacher, music theorist, and composer; b. Losonc, Nov. 25, 1901; d. London, Oct. 8, 1978. His family moved to the U.S. in 1905, and he became a naturalized American citizen in 1911. He received his early musical training from his father, Lajos Serly, founder of the first Hungarian theater in N.Y. and his own Hungarian-German opera company; then returned to Hungary, where he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest; there he took courses with Koessler, Hubay, Bartók, and Kodaly (graduated, 1925). Upon his return to the U.S., he was a violist in the Cincinnati Sym. Orch. (1926–27); then was a violinist (1928–35) and asst. conductor (1933–35) with the Philadelphia Orch.; subsequently was a violinist in the NBC Sym. Orch. in N.Y. (1937–38). After studying conducting with Scherchen in Europe (1934), he led various concerts in N.Y; was primarily active as a private teacher from 1938. When Bartok settled in the U.S. in 1940, Serly became his closest friend and adviser; after Bartók’s death in 1945, Serly completed the last 17 measures of Bartók’s third Piano Concerto, and totally reconstructed and orchestrated Bartók’s Viola Concerto from 13 unnumbered MS pages. In 1948 he devised a system of composition called Modus Lascivus. Although the medieval Modus Lascivus was synonymous with the C-major scale, Serly expanded its connotation to include enharmonic modulation. He wrote the treatises A Second Look at Harmony (1965), Modus Lascivus: The Road to Enharmonicism (1976), and The Rhetoric of Melody (with N. Newton; 1978). Shortly before his death, he made an arrangement of Bartók’s Viola Concerto for cello and orch.
DRAMATIC: Ballet : Mischchianza (1937); Ex Machina (1943); Cast Out (1973). orch.: Transylvania Rhapsody (1926); Viola Concerto (1929); 2 syms.: No. 1 (1931; Budapest, May 13, 1935, composer conducting) and No. 2 for Winds, Brass, and Percussion (1932); 6 Dance Designs (1932–33; Budapest, May 13, 1935); The Pagan City, symphonic poem (1932–38; in collaboration with J. Klenner); Transylvanian Suite for Chamber Orch. (1935); Sonata concertante for Strings (1935–36); Colonial Pageant and Alarms and Excursions, 2 suites (1936–37); Midnight Madrigal for Trumpet and Orch. (1939); Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orch. (1943–58); American Elegy, based on Taps (1945); Rhapsody for Viola and Orch. (1946–48; N.Y., Feb. 27, 1948); Miniature Suite for 12 Winds and Percussion (1947; revision of a discarded Rhapsody of 1927); American Fantasy of Quodlibets (1950); Concerto for Trombone and Chamber Orch. (1952–54); Lament: Homage to Bartok (1955); Concerto for Violin, Winds, and Orch. (1953–58; Portland, Ore., Nov. 30, 1978); Symphonic Variations for Audience and Orch. (1956); String Sym. (1956–58); Little Christmas Cantata for Audience and Orch. (1957); Symphony in 4 Cycles for Strings (1960); Concertino 3 x 3 for Piano and Chamber Orch. (1964–65; Syracuse, N.Y., Jan. 13, 1967); Canonic Fugue in 10 Voices on 10 Tones for Strings (1971; Portland, Ore., June 5, 1977); Music for 2 Harps and Strings (1976). CHAMBER : Violin Sonata (1923); String Quartet (1924); Sonata for Solo Violin (1947); Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (1949); Chorale in 3 Harps (1967); Rondo Fantasy in Stringometrics for Violin and Harp (1969); piano pieces, including 40 Piano Études in Modus Lascivus (1946–60; first complete perf. by his second wife, Miriam Molin, N.Y., May 4, 1977). VOCAL : 4 Songs from Chamber Music for Soprano and Orch., after James Joyce (1926); Strange Story for Mezzo-soprano and Orch., after E. Wylie (1927); Anniversary Cantata on a Quodlibet for Voices and Small Orch. (1966); Consovowels 1–5: No. 1 for Soprano (1968), Nos. 2 and 3 for Soprano and Clarinet (1970, 1971), and Nos. 4 and 5 for Soprano and Violin (both 1974).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire