"I am a patriot of the globe."
Life in Vienna | 1904-1938 | Musician
Herbert Zipper was born in Vienna, Austria on 24 April 1904, into a close-knit Jewish family. His father, Emil, was a successful engineer and inventor, and the family was immersed in the artistic and intellectual community of the city.
As a promising young musician, Herbert studied with Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss, among other leading composers. In his early professional life he conducted in Vienna, Dusseldorf, Paris, and London, at times collaborating with dancer, choreographer, Trudl Dubsky, who was gaining notice throughout Europe.
After the rise of the Nazis in 1933 and the increasing persecution of Jews, Herbert, working in Dusseldorf at the time, left Germany and returned to Vienna where he became active in political theater, often composing subversive music for various cabaret performances.
Dachau & Buchenwald | 1938-1939 | Survivor
Hitler’s troops invaded Austria on March 12, 1938. Despite the Zipper family’s precautions, Herbert and his brothers Walter and Otto were arrested at their home in the early morning hours of May 27.While temporarily imprisoned at a local school, Herbert successfully convinced his captors to release his brother Otto who had been sick at the time. On May 31 Herbert and his brother Walter were overnighted by train boxcar to Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich.
While in Dachau, Herbert Zipper found strength in music, and organized a small orchestra with makeshift instruments, giving secret concerts for the prisoners in an unused latrine. Together with Jura Soyfer, a fellow prisoner and poet he knew from the Vienna cabaret scene, they wrote the Dachau Song, an anthem of resistance that passed from camp to camp.
The Zipper brothers were transferred to Buchenwald in September 1938, from which the Zipper Family was able to secure their release in late February 1939. Soyfer, also scheduled for release, died in Buchenwald of typhoid. After his release, Herbert went to Paris, and this was his first opportunity to write down the music and lyrics of the Dachau Song.
On May 30, 1939, Zipper set out from Paris for the Philippines to become the director of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.
The Philippines & World War II | 1939-1945 | Activist
As director of The Manila Symphony, Herbert embraced his new life and married Trudl Dubsky, his long-time love.
The Zipper’s work in Manila was the start of a life-long relationship with the Philippines, with Hebert conducting and bringing European music & opera to the cultural scene, and Trudl contributing modern choreography and staging through her Moderne Ballet dance company.
When the war came to Manila with the Japanese occupation in 1942, Herbert was imprisoned again. In the true spirit of activism, he resisted pressure and threats from the Japanese to reconstitute the Manila Orchestra, which he had wisely disbanded. Trudl continued to work, and also documented images of wartime life through her watercolor paintings. Upon his release Zipper worked with the underground intelligence, using the codename “Berting,” by radioing information to General MacArthur’s headquarters offshore.
After the 1945 liberation of Manila by American troops, Zipper, recognizing the healing power of music, organized a concert in the bombed out ruins of the Santa Cruz Church, with 2,400 people attending. Due to the success of this concert, the U.S. Army hired him for a 45-week concert series. In the post-war period, the rebuilding of Filipino cultural life was very important to the Zippers. Herbert and Trudl’s commitment to this task took them to the United States for the first time in 1946.
New York, Chicago and Manila | 1946-1971 | Conductor
While fundraising for Philippines’ cultural arts in the States, Herbert was invited to rebuild the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, an opportunity presented to him by former soldiers who had attended and loved his concerts in Manila.
Herbert was also determined to bring classical music to the surrounding community with the help of the Brooklyn Symphony and other prominent artists. Despite criticism from board members, Herbert put together an integrated orchestra, a radical idea for its time, which included four black musicians and eight women. He collaborated with African-American poet Langston Hughes on a production of Hughes’ opera The Barrier and gave music lectures in Harlem. During this same time, Zipper began taking concerts to local high schools—a practice he would continue in future settings. He also taught at the New School of Social Research.
Trudl was hired by Erwin Piscator to become director of the Dance Department at the prestigious Dramatic Workshop of New York.
Because of Herbert’s increasing commitment to music education for children, the Chicago area became the Zippers’ new home base in 1952. At the Winnetka School of Music, the Music Center of the North Shore, and as the first Executive Director of the National Guild of Community Schools, Herbert Zipper created innovative music programs and raised the funds to implement them.
In the early 1950s, the Zippers joyfully returned to Manila each year to produce a series of summer performances, a commitment they would continue until 1969. These included the world premiere of Bizet’s Carmen in the Filipino Tagalog language and other major classical operas.
California & Trips to Asia | 1971-1997 | Educator
In 1972, the Zippers moved to Los Angeles, reuniting with family and becoming part of an extended community of European artist and musician émigrés.
Working for the University of Southern California as Projects Director for the School of Performing Arts, Herbert continued to develop programs bringing music to schools and the broader community. His projects ranged from the creation of the Schoenberg Institute to establishing the 32nd Street School Project, an arts-oriented public elementary school. He was also involved in the early development of the Colburn School of Music.
Herbert joined the Board of Trustees of Crossroads School in 1976 and was influential in the development of the music and arts curriculum, as well as, teaching music theory in the classroom. For his 87th birthday, Crossroads honored him with an aptly themed concert Afternoon in Vienna featuring the music of Austrian composters, including Herbert Zipper.
After retiring from USC in 1980, Herbert was invited by the Chinese government to teach and conduct in China. So began a series of trips in the 1980s and 1990s. In China, Zipper was affectionately known as “Papa Z.”
In 1986, Crossroads School founder and headmaster Paul Cummins began weekly conversations with Herbert that would eventually result in the writing of Zipper’s biography. The conversations and the friendship between the two would continue throughout the rest of Herbert’s life.
“My Ambition is to be a good ancestor” | The Final Years | Maestro
In the final decades of his life Zipper enjoyed widespread recognition for his accomplishments, both musical and humanitarian. Reconnecting with his Austrian roots, Herbert was invited to conduct the 1988 world premiere of Dachau Song at the annual Autumn Festival held in Graz, and in 1994 he composed Erlebnisse, an autobiographical piece of music about his life’s journey.
In 1992 Paul Cummins published Zipper’s compelling biography Dachau Song, and in 1995, filmmaker Terry Sanders released the documentary film Never Give Up- The 20th Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. The film would be honored with a 1996 Academy Award nomination in the category of Documentary (Short Subject) category.
Herbert Zipper was been honored with numerous awards throughout his life. However, some of his most enduring honors came after his April 21, 1997 death, including the completion of the Herbert Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School for Music and the Performing Arts, and the opening of the Herbert Zipper Archives at Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences.
The inspiring legacy of Herbert Zipper lives on in the countless students, colleagues and others who have been touched by his unfaltering commitment to music and his limitless passion for life.