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Duke Organist Helps Resurrect Work Of Austrian Composer Killed In Auschwitz

Photo of Jacobson in Duke Chapel
Courtesy of Duke University
Christopher Jacobson is the organist for Duke Chapel and Duke Divinity School.

A few nights before Marcel Tyberg was arrested by the Gestapo, he gathered an intimate group in the organ loft of his hometown church and together they sang through two masses he had composed. Tyberg, who was part Jewish, was later captured in a night raid and died in Auschwitz.

Photo of album cover for 'Tyberg: Masses'
Credit Pentatone Music
'Tyberg: Masses' features Duke Chapel Organist Christopher Jacobson and the South Dakota Chorale. It was nominated for four Grammy awards.

For decades, little was known about his musical brilliance or his compositions. But in the late 2000s, Tyberg’s work was rediscovered, and Duke Chapel organist Christopher Jacobson is part of the team that brought his work back to life. 

Jacobson, along with conductor Brian Schmidt, and the South Dakota Chorale, reinterpreted his musical manuscripts and recorded the four-time Grammy-nominated album “Tyberg: Masses.” Host Frank Stasio speaks with Jacobson about Tyberg’s legacy.


On the character and contributions of composer Marcel Tyberg:
[He was] an incredibly soft spoken, introverted gentlemen who didn't seek fame or riches or earthly possessions … He lived in his own world of music swirling in his head. And these two masses are the only surviving works that we have from his sacred output, but he did write three symphonies as well.

On Tyberg's reputation as a musician and composer within his lifetime:
He was a fine violinist and a fine pianist and had already began establishing himself as a composer but mostly among his friends. And he declined many opportunities to have his compositions published. He just enjoyed them himself mostly.

On reading Tyberg's music for the first time:
We were sitting there in our offices at Duke and looking at these scores and hearing the music in our heads and reading about the story of Tyberg and his capture and death in Auschwitz. [We] immediately just began to hear the beauty in this music and how Tyberg weaves the organ writing in with the choral writing and how this music needs to be heard. 

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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