Gerard Schurmann

1924 - 2020

Dutch

Summary

Gerard Schurmann was born of Dutch parents in the former Dutch East Indies, but lived in England from childhood until 1981, when he settled in the United States. He studied composition with Alan Rawsthorne, who became a lifelong friend,  piano with Kathleen Long and conducting with Franco Ferrara. The recipient of numerous international awards and commissions, Gerard Schurmann wrote music for a wide variety of media. His catalogue of concert works includes Six Studies of Francis Bacon (1968) and Variants (1970) for orchestra, The Gardens of Exile (1989-90) for cello and orchestra, the opera-cantata Piers Plowman (1979-80), the choral cantata The Double Heart (1976), concertos for Violin and Piano and many solo instrumental works, songs and chamber music. Schurmann's Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and first performed by them for their centenary anniversary concert in March 1996, with conductor Edo de Waart. The piece was subsequently recorded on the Chandos label, alongside Schurmann’s Violin Concerto, featuring the BBC Philharmonic conducted by the composer. Gaudiana (2000-2001), a set of Symphonic Studies for Orchestra that draws its inspiration from the work of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, was written for and first performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra in 2005. Gerard Schurmann  made his home in the USA, but continued to have close musical ties with England and Europe. 

Biography

Gerard Schurmann was born in 1924 of Dutch parents in the former Dutch East Indies, but lived in England from childhood until 1981, when he settled in the United States. His mother, Elvire Dom, came from a large family of European landowners who had settled in Java as far back as the eighteenth century. It is said that the first Dom to arrive in the Dutch East Indies had been shanghaied onto a merchant ship in Holland and ended up on the island of Java where he stayed, married a native, and started a dynasty with close ties to the Netherlands. Elvire was an accomplished pianist who accompanied leading performers of the day on tour in Southeast Asia. Her maternal grandmother was a Hungarian lady by the name of Anna Maria Popp who may have influenced her musically: as a boy, Gerard was aware of a Hungarian connection, and remembers the Hungarian folk music that his mother used to play at home. 

On the Schürmann side of the family, Gerard's great grandfather emigrated from Cloppenburg, Germany, to Holland in 1842, where he married an English relative of Jacques Offenbach. They produced several distinguished Dutch literary figures, most prominent among whom was the author and playwright Willem Frederik Schürmann (born in 1876) whose statue stands in the Parklaan, Rotterdam, where there is also a Willem Schürmann Straat. Willem's older brother Joseph Schürmann (born 1857) was a well known impresario who was the manager of various international artists, including actress Sarah Bernhardt and opera singer Adelina Patti.

From the age of about ten, when Gerard says he first became preoccupied with music via gramophone records and his mother's playing, he started to feel frustrated by the cultural limitations of his colonial environment and, a few years later, he took advantage of an opportunity to go to England (later dropping the umlaut on the family name). Although he had learned to play the piano in Java, and made his first attempts at composition in imitation of Javanese gamelan, he did not receive his professional grounding in music until he came to London as a teenager, where he studied composition with Alan Rawsthorne, who became a lifelong friend, piano with Kathleen Long and conducting with Franco Ferrara. At the end of World War II, and service in the Royal Air Force, Schurmann briefly held the position of Netherlands cultural attaché in London, after which, while still in his early twenties, he was appointed resident orchestral conductor at the Netherlands Radio in Hilversum. Following his subsequent return to England, he established himself as a composer, receiving numerous international awards and commissions.  

Gerard Schurmann has written music for a wide variety of media. His catalogue of concert works includes the Six Studies of Francis Bacon (1968) and Variants (1970) for orchestra, The Gardens of Exile (1989-90) for cello and orchestra, the opera-cantata Piers Plowman (1979-80), the choral cantata The Double Heart (1976), the orchestral song-cycle Chuench'I (1967) on poems from the Chinese, concertos for Violin (1975-8) and Piano (1972-3) written for, and first performed by Ruggiero Ricci and John Ogdon respectively, a set of Nine Slovak Folk Songs (1988) for soprano, tenor and orchestra, and many solo instrumental works, songs and chamber music.

Schurmann's Concerto for Orchestra (1994-6) was commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and first performed by them at their centenary anniversary concert in March 1996, with conductor Edo de Waart. The piece was subsequently recorded on the Chandos label, alongside Schurmann’s Violin Concerto (soloist Olovier Charlier), featuring the BBC Philharmonic conducted by the composer. Gaudiana (2000 - 2001), a set of Symphonic Studies for Orchestra that draws its inspiration from the work of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, was written for and first performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rumon Gamba in 2005. Gerard Schurmann made his home in the USA, but continued to have close musical ties with England and Europe.

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