Gerard Schurmann, Film and TV Composer, Dies at 96
Art and Experience: Gerard Schurmann, whose 1960s film scores included “The Bedford Incident” and “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow” but who also composed extensively for the concert hall, died March 24 at his home in the Hollywood Hills. The cause of death was not announced; he was 96.
Schurmann’s death was announced by his music publisher, Novello & Co. Ltd., in London. Said James Rushton, head of Novello’s Wise Music Group: “Gerard will be much missed – a man and musician of the highest caliber, who expressed himself, whether through his music or in conversation, with the firmest conviction. He understood so very well about writing for the orchestra, and for instruments generally, but unusually knew how to employ the orchestra both in the concert hall and also for film. He wrote for both with such facility.”
The composer’s death came just a few months after Chandos released a collection of newly recorded suites from his film work, led by his swashbuckling music for the 1963 “Dr. Syn,” perhaps his best-known work. Written for a three-part, Disney-produced television miniseries that aired in the U.S. as “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” starring Patrick McGoohan, it was released theatrically in Europe as “Dr. Syn” and has enjoyed a cult following ever since.
The album also featured suites from the horror films that occupied him during the late 1950s and 1960s: “Horrors of the Black Museum” and “Konga”; he also scored the Hammer-produced “The Lost Continent” in 1968. At the time of his death, Schurmann was working on arrangements for a second album of his film music.
Schurmann’s best-known American film was “The Bedford Incident,” a 1965 Cold War thriller starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. Later films included “Attack on the Iron Coast” (1968), “Claretta” (1968, about Mussolini’s mistress) and “The Gambler” (1997, about Fyodor Dostoyevsky).
He composed portions of “The Cruel Sea” (1953) for his composition teacher Alan Rawsthorne, followed by a solo credit on the 1956 Ealing Studios noir “The Long Arm.” He also scored actor Laurence Harvey’s directorial debut, “The Ceremony,” in 1963. As England’s Gramophone magazine put it: “Schurmann’s music was always superbly crafted and imaginatively orchestrated.”
Schurmann rarely orchestrated for other composers, but did so for two major ones: Ernest Gold for “Exodus” and Maurice Jarre for “Lawrence of Arabia,” both of whom won Oscars for those scores. He later orchestrated Gold’s “Cross of Iron,” one of Sam Peckinpah’s last films. Gold once called Schurmann “a marvelous orchestrator and master of the medium.”
His many concert works includes “Six Studies of Francis Bacon” (1968) and “Variants” (1970) for orchestra; “The Gardens of Exile” (1990) for cello and orchestra, his opera-cantata “Piers Plowman” (1980), the choral cantata “The Double Heart” (1976), concertos for violin and piano, and many solo instrumental works. The Pittsburgh Symphony debuted his “Concerto for Orchestra” in 1996.
Born in 1924 to Dutch parents in the Dutch East Indies (now Java), he eventually settled in England and served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He became a cultural attache at the Dutch Embassy in London which led to his being named conductor at Netherlands Radio in Hilversum in 1947; he scored a handful of Dutch films in the late 1940s and 1950s. He moved to the U.S. in 1981.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Carolyn; a daughter, Karen, two children and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service is expected later this year.