Schurmann (Schürmann), (Eduard) Gerard

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Schurmann (Schürmann), (Eduard) Gerard

Schurmann (Schürmann), (Eduard) Gerard, pianist, conductor, and composer of Dutch and Hungarian descent; b. Kertosono, Dutch East Indies, Jan. 19, 1924. His father was an employee at a sugar factory in Java, and his mother was a pianist who had studied with Bartók at the Budapest Academy of Music. As war clouds gathered over Southeastern Asia, Schur-mann was sent to England in 1937; he went to school in London, and after matriculation joined the Royal Air Force, serving in aircrews on active flying duty. While still in uniform, he gave piano recitals; studied piano with Kathleen Long and composition with Alan Rawsthorne. During his travels in Italy, he took lessons in conducting with Ferrara. The government of the Netherlands offered him the position of cultural attaché at the Dutch Embassy in London; being fluent in the Dutch language, which was his mother tongue in the Dutch East Indies, he accepted. Later, he moved to the Netherlands, where he was active with the radio in Hilversum. He developed a successful career in London as a pianist, conductor, and composer. In 1981 he settled in Hollywood, where he became active as a film composer; also traveled widely as a guest conductor, presenting a comprehensive repertory ranging from Haydn to contemporary composers, including his own works. The structure of Schurmann’s music is asymptotic toward tonality; melodic progressions are linear, with the fundamental tonic and dominant often encasing the freely atonal configurations, while dodecaphony assumes the adumbrative decaphonic lines, with 2 notes missing in the tone row. The harmonic texture is acrid, acerbic, and astringent; the styptic tendency is revealed in his predilection for dissonant minor seconds and major sevenths treated as compound units; yet after the needed tension is achieved, the triadic forms are introduced as a sonic emollient. Thanks to this versatility of application, Schurmann achieves a natural felicity in dealing with exotic subjects; his proximity to gamelan-like pentatonicism during his adolescence lends authentic flavor to his use of pentatonic scales; remarkable in his congenial treatment is the set Chuench’i, to Eng. trs. of 7 Chinese poems. On the other hand, his intimate knowledge of Eng. music and history enables him to impart a true archaic sentiment to his opera-cantata based on the medieval poem Piers Plowman. Schurmann is self-critical in regard to works of his that he deems imperfect; thus, he destroyed his Piano Concerto, which he had played under prestigious auspices with the London Sym. Orch. conducted by Sir Adrian Boult in Cambridge in April 1944.


DRAMATIC: Opera: Piers Plowman, opera-cantata after William Langland (Gloucester Cathedral, Aug. 22, 1980). orch.: 6 Studies of Francis Bacon, comprising Figures in a Landscape, Popes, Isabel, Crucifixion, George and the Bicycle, and Self-Portrait (1968; Dublin, Jan. 7, 1969); Variants (1970; Guildford, March 8, 1971); Attack and Celebration (1971); Piano Concerto (1972–73; Portsmouth, Nov. 21, 1973); Violin Concerto (1975–78; Liverpool, Sept. 26, 1978); The Garden of Exile, cello concerto (1989–90). chamber: Violin Sonata (1943); 2 string quartets (1943, 1946); Duo for 2 Violins (1950); Wind Quintet (1964; rev. 1976); Fantasia (1968); Flute Sonatina (1968); Serenade for Violin (1969); Duo for Violin and Piano (1984); Quartet for Piano and Strings (1986). Piano: Sonata (1943); Rotterdam, suite for 2 Pianos (1944); Bagatelles (1945); Contrasts (1973); Leotaurus (1975); 2 Ballades (1981–83). vocal: Pacific, 3 songs (1943); 5 Facets (London, Jan. 20, 1946, Peter Pears tenor, Benjamin Britten pianist); 9 poems of William Blake (1956); Chuench’i, cycle of 7 songs from the Chinese for Voice and Orch. (1966; Harrogate, Aug. 10, 1969); Summer Is Coming, madrigal (1970); The Double Heart, cantata for Voices (1976); 9 Slovak Folk Songs for High Voice and Piano or Orch. (1988).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire