FERDINAND REBAY (1880–1953) was an Austrian composer, pianist, conductor and piano teacher with Italian roots. Pognana, next to Lago di Como (Lake Com), Italy, has been documented since ancient times as the ancestral seat of the Rebay family, and the composer’s grandfather, Antonio Maria Agostina, emigrated to Brno in the first half of the 18th century from Italy. Rebay’s father, Ferdinand Wilhelm Rebay, owned a music shop and was a partner of Anton Robitschek Rebay & Robitschek Verlag in Vienna.

Ferdinand Friederich Wilhelm Rebay was born on June 11th 1880 in Vienna. In 1890, the 10-year-old boy was sent to the Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz as a choir boy for four years. Here he received, thanks to his teacher, Father Stephan Pfeiffer, and the abbey’s organist, Hans Fink, a thorough musical education and training. Later he graduated from the Kunstgewerbeschule des Museum für Kunst und Industrie in Vienna. At the same time, he took music lessons with Joseph J. von Wöss and Eusebius Mandyczewski. From 1901 to 1904, he studied composition with Robert Fuchs and piano with Josef Hofmann at the Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. While still a student he was awarded the Silberne Gesellschaftsmedaille, the ‘Brahms Premium’, and the ‘Zusner’ Prizes. In 1904 Rebay graduated with distinction for his work Erlkönig for full orchestra. In the same year, he became the leader of the Wiener Chorverein and later the Wiener Schubertbund, two choirs for which he composed many works. Rebay also accompanied various famous singers (KS Sophie Capek, Hilde Gold-Hönig, Lisa Hardegg, Rudolf Hille, KS Hans Duhan, etc.) as a pianist in numerous Lied recitals at the Festsaal des Hauses der Industrie, Wiener Konzerthaus, and Großer Musikvereinssaal. At these concerts, some of his own songs were performed.

In 1920, Rebay was appointed Professor of Piano at the Staatsakademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. Among his pupils were Dr. Hans Sittner, Prof. Hans Duhan, Prof. Dr. Josef Dichler and Grete Dichler, Prof. Herbert Seiter, Prof. Karl Pilß, Prof. Gottfried von Freiberg, Alfred Gronemann, and Irene Schneidmann – among others. At the same time, Rebay continued to be very active. He wrote two operas, an operetta, a symphony, oratorios, masses, a piano concerto (later a piano symphony), many choral works, chamber music works for various instrumental ensembles, and piano works. He also composed many Lieder with piano or guitar accompaniment (with lyrics by various poets including himself), and children’s songs with piano and guitar accompaniment.

Rebay began to be interested in the guitar due to the influence of his friend Jacobus Ortner, professor of guitar at the Musikhochschule, and of his niece, the concert guitarist Gerta Hammerschmied to whom he dedicated a significant number of his guitar works. He composed about 600 pieces (296 of which are kept in The Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz Collection) for solo guitar, guitar chamber music in various combinations with other instruments, lessons for beginners, solo songs, children’s songs and choral parts with guitar accompaniment.

Since his death, his name has been remembered for numerous piano excerpts from the Erich Korngold operas Die tote Stadt, Violanta, and Der Ring des Polykrates, as well as operas by Alexander von Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker. The name Rebay is also known in Switzerland, Italy, Spain and the USA because of his guitar works, which have been partly released and recorded on CD, performed in concerts and taught by guitar teachers. Rebay’s compositional style could be categorised as late Romantic. His musical language is absolutely in the Romantic Neoclassical tradition. Each work has a proper melody, accompanied by matching harmony. He used the classical sonata form, as well as Baroque forms such as the suite, the serenade and (especially) the variations. The influence of Brahms is apparent and also visible in Rebay’s editing of folk songs from various nations.

I would like to thank the Right Reverend Maximilian Heim OCist, Abbot of Stift Heiligenkreuz, and Father Roman Nägele OCist, Director of The Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz Collection, for the opportunities both to browse through these musical treasures and to make the music of Ferdinand Rebay accessible again.

(by Maria Gelew, PhD musicologist, pianist – Ferdinand Rebay Collection at the Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz)