Gerard Schurmann's Centenary

Gerard Schurmann's Centenary
© Mike Leale

2024 marks the centenary of the late composer Gerard Schurmann (1924-2020). 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.

Going on to master music for both the screen and the concert hall, Schurmann was the recipient of numerous international awards and commissions. Though he wrote music for a wide variety of media, his output was always meticulously crafted, highly inventive, elegantly sensuous in melodic line, and emotionally direct.


'In the chaos in which we live, a strong personal statement is in the end the only thing of any interest.' 
 Gerard Schurmann


In celebration of the centenary of his birth, join us in exploring a selection of Schurmann’s finest concert works.


Six Studies of Francis Bacon (1968)

Dedicated to the painter Francis Bacon, these six provocative orchestral pieces, introduced by a brooding introduction, are studies of six paintings of Bacon’s - Figures in a Landscape, Popes, Isabel, Crucifixion, George and the Bicycle, and Self-Portrait. Schurmann’s colourful orchestration evokes the surrealist emotion of Bacon’s work – from the grotesque to the humorous. Lasting just over 30 minutes, the work was first performed on January 9 1969 by RTE Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Schurmann himself at Dublin Festival.


Variants (1970) 

A compact piece at under 20 minutes for Chamber orchestra, Variants was Commissioned by the Guildford Festival Committee. First performed by the London Mozart Players conducted by Harry Blech in Guildford Cathedral, Surrey, on 8 March 1971.


The Gardens of Exile (1989-90)

For cello and orchestra, The Gardens of Exile is in one continuous movement and opens with a substantial orchestra introduction that sets the scene. A ruminative solo for cor anglais, accompanied by two clarinets, elicits a dramatic response from the full orchestra. This strongly characterized sequence leads to a series of encounters, both lyrical and more sinister, in an atmospheric landscape.
The solo cello, discretely accompanied by celesta and tuned percussion, enters the environment quietly singing, and proceeds to develop the main material.
Near the centre of the piece, a cadenza briefly interrupts an extended fast section, marked Vivace. This is followed by a gradual restatement of earlier material in reverse order, until the opening cor anglais solo finally reappears, rendered by the cello accompanied by divided violas. The music ends quietly, almost reluctantly, with a dying resolve.


Schurmann with Pierre Boulez

Schurmann with Pierre Boulez


Piers Plowman (1979-80)

The text of this opera-cantata is a dramatized narrative derived from William Langland’s poem The Vision of Piers the Plowman, a kind of allegorical guidebook to the troubles of 14th-Century England.
An accessible, stirring drama with direct, modern, tonal idiom, and clean, vivid orchestration the whole work comes in at just under an hour.


The Double Heart (1976)

This unaccompanied SATB Choral Cantata lasts around 20 minutes, with text adapted from poems of Andrew Marvell (1621-1678).


Piano Concerto (1973)

Commanding the utmost technical expertise, this concerto in two movements explores the timbral diversity between the piano and orchestra, resulting in an exciting conflict of energy throughout. Written for pianist John Ogdon, he gave the first performance alongside the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Berglund at the Guildhall, Portsmouth on 21 November 1973.


Gerard Schurmann with John Ogdon

Schurmann with John Ogdon


Violin Concerto (1978)

Schurmann’s two-­movement Violin Concerto is a masterfully disarming demonstration on the development and transformation of ideas. Full of melodies recalling the gamelan music Schurmann heard as a child and idiomatically violinistic writing, it was written for Ruggiero Ricci’s golden jubilee as a performer. He gave the work’s first performance alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Walter Weller on 26 September 1978.


Concerto for Orchestra (1996)

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.
Concerto for Orchestra consists of 5 movements. 4 uniquely defined sections and a busy finale wherein some of the main ideas from the previous movements are re-worked and framed in altered contexts, keeping the whole orchestra well-occupied throughout.


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.

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