Mordecai (Markus) Sandberg (Hebrew: מרדכי זנדברג‎‎) (February 4, 1897 – December 28, 1973) was a composer and physician. He was a creative and prolific composer, a musical theorist, and an innovative physician in the area of alternative and natural medicine[citation needed] in 1920s and 1930s Israel.


Sandberg was a pioneer in the field of microtonal theory and music. He believed that a microtonal system of music could be the basis of making “a music of humanity” that would bring people together from all cultures and transcend local traditions. He argued that although there seemed to be a conflict between the western and eastern tonal systems, there was in reality one music and one humanity. He developed his Universal Tonal System, a synthesis of oriental and occidental scales using microtones. He also designed several instruments and a notation system for microtonal music.

As a composer of microtonal music Sandberg intended to translate and interpret the sacred texts of all the worlds’ religions to musical form. He began his monumental project with the Hebrew Bible, from his own European Jewish tradition. He theorized that microtonal music, incorporating the tonal traditions of Asia, was an appropriate means for setting Hebrew, an Oriental language, to music. Over the course of his life, Sandberg produced some twenty thousand pages of musical composition. His magnum opus was setting the Book of Psalms to music, a task which comprised more than twelve thousand pages of composition.


Sandberg began his life in the small town of Hârlău, not far from Iaşi, the capital of the Romanian province of Moldavia. As a young child, his family moved to Suceava in Bukovina, a province of what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire. On his mother’s side he was descended from the Tanenhaus family of Suceava which traced itself to 18th century Galicia. An important influence on his life was his maternal grandfather, Abraham Zeev Tanenhaus who died in 1916. He attended a German gymnasium as a teenager and afterward moved to Vienna, the capital of Austria to study medicine.

Sandberg studied medicine at the University of Vienna, during World War I, under such professors as Julius Tandler, a well known academic and political figure in Vienna at the time. While pursuing a medical education, Sandberg informally studied music. It was during this time that he began his earliest surviving creative work, Demosthenes, a play and later an overture which was completed in 1925. Although his studies were interrupted because of the war, Sandberg graduated from the University of Vienna in 1921 as a medical doctor.

After World War I, Austria-Hungary was dismembered. Romania assumed control over part of Bukvovina, and Sandberg’s home city of Suceava. In 1922 Sandberg elected to move to Jerusalem in British Mandate of Palestine. There he opened a medical clinic utilizing alternative medical techniques, including vitamin and herbal therapies, diet change, and spiritual healing. His patients ran the spectrum of people living in the Palestine, and beyond, and he journeyed at times to Egypt to care for patients using his alternative techniques. As part of his practice of medicine he authored The Way of Spiritual Healing according to the Jewish Tradition (1939), a book published in Hebrew which incorporated ideas from Judaism and various Indian religious traditions.[citation needed]

While working as a medical doctor in Palestine, Sandberg’s pursued his passion for music and he was active as a composer. In 1924, Sandberg began composing music to the Book of Psalms. In 1925, Sandberg’s musical composition, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was performed in Jerusalem. In 1926, he founded the Palestine Musicians Association together with composers Jacob Weinberg and Solomon Rosowsky. In 1927, he was one of the founders of the Palestine section of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In the same year, he organized concerts for his own works and that of German composer Willi von Moellendorff in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv; he lectured on the quarter tone system in Palestinian music in Tel-Aviv and offered courses in ear training to performers and composers.

In 1928 Sandberg presented a concert in Jerusalem of his own works and those of Arnold Schoenberg. In 1929 he arranged concerts of his works in Germany and published a paper on his theory of microtonal music entitled, “Die Musik der Menschheit: Die Ton-Differenzierung und ihre Bedeutung” at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin. He also designed a harmonium with 12th and 16th tones. In 1930, he founded the Hebrew monthly magazine, Hallel which included photographs of some instruments of his design.

In 1938, Sandberg took part in an international conference on music and art in London. His lecture on microtonal music was later broadcast on the BBC. After the conference, he organized a number of concerts, broadcasts, and lectures of his work in England. The BBC program planner and advocate of contemporary music Edward Clark said that Sandberg was "a composer in whose path new music is following".[1]

Sandberg himself settled in the United States after the outset of World War II, later bringing his family to New York following the end of the war. In 1939, he offered a number of lectures in music in New York including one on radio station WEVD about the “Problems of Palestinian Music”. In 1940, he taught a course at the New York College of Music on the subject of microtonal music. Over the next few years, concerts of his music were performed at Carnegie Hall, on radio station WCBS-FM, and at New York's Town Hall.

In 1949, Sandberg’s works Eskerah ("I remember") and Ruth were performed at Town Hall. The former was begun in 1938 in memory of those who were suffering persecution at the hands of the Nazis in Germany, but it was completed after the war when the full extent of the destruction of World War II became known.

Over the next twenty years, Sandberg devoted his time to composing musical settings for the entire Bible. In 1970, he moved to Toronto, Canada, where he obtained a position as a teaching fellow at Stong College of York University. He died in Toronto on December 28, 1973.

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