Donald Lybbert


Donald Lybbert was born in Cresco, Iowa in 1923. He was a member of the American Composers Alliance from 1976 until his death in 1981. He received a B.Mus. degree from the University of Iowa, the M.A. degree from Columbia University, and was a Teaching Fellow at The Juilliard School of Music. He also studied at Fontainebleau, in France, and received an artist’s diploma.  Many of his scores and printing masters were deposited in the library collections of Hunter College in NYC, where Lybbert served as professor and music department chairman. 

excerpted from 1976 BMI promotional brochure, written by Oliver Daniel:

Lybbert was a disciplined composer, endowed with a strong feeling for instrumental color. When his opera Monica was given its premiere at the Netherlands National Opera House in Amsterdam in 1952, Karen Mengelberg stressed the “intellectual thrust” in his music:  “Lybbert’s lines of thought show his sense for musical logic, and he realized them in an original way. With genius and talent he made very forceful music from extremely interesting ideas.”

The Boston premiere of Octagon, a piece for soprano and seven chamber players which ends with Molly Bloom’s monologue from Ulysses, led David Noble to write in the Patriot Ledger (April 28, 1975) that “the cumulative result was undeniable, in the long run marvelous.”  His music contains an underlying force and intensity coupled with a bursting originality.

Lybbert’s first musical training was on the trumpet – as a high school freshman in Cresco, Iowa.  His family encouraged his studies, and he went on to major in trumpet at the University of Iowa. After World War II service as a commanding officer of a Navy LST, he went to Juilliard, in his own words, “hell bent for a trumpet career,” and worked with William Vacchiano.  But while there, also teaching trumpet and brass ensemble in the Extension Division, he wrote his first piece for wind octet.

From that point, he moved more and more into composing, studying at Columbia with Elliott Carter and Otto Luening, and later winning a summer scholarship to works with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau. By the time he joined the faculty of Hunter College in New York in 1953, where he later became chairman of the music department, the trumpet had been put away. He taught theory, composition, and orchestration.

Nicholas Slonimsky wrote of Lybbert, “his style of composition is evolved from firm classical foundations, but he applies dodecaphonic and other serial techniques; his rhythmic patterns are asymmetrical but his polymetry maintains a strong common denominator.” (Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians). 

Lybbert himself referred to his technique as “post serial” – free to let go of exact serial specifications when impelled by musical need or instrumental idiom. His aim, he said, “to write music which is thoroughly contemporary but still highly idiomatic for the performers.” He admitted influence of Olivier Messiaen.


(currently, in 2017, no Lybbert scores remain in our collection at ACA)


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