British composer Gerard Schurmann, who died in 2020, would have been a hundred years old tomorrow. Schurmann's memorial service was delayed considerably by the COVID-19 pandemic and was eventually held in September 2022. The location was Boxgrove Priory Church near Chichester in the UK.
The service included contributions from a professional string trio and the church choir. There were also various addresses, including by Schurmann's widow, Carolyn.
You may be able to view and listen to a recording of the complete service by searching for 'Gerard Schurmann Boxgrove Priory'.
Gerard's wife had asked me to speak at this event, but a few days before the service, I contracted COVID-19 and instead made an audio recording at home which was played during the service. Below is that original sound recording. A transcript of what I said can be found below that.
Listen — Afternoon Tea with Gerard (original sound recording) :
Afternoon Tea with Gerard
Experts warn not to include too much of oneself when interviewing or writing tributes. In my limited experience, though, the greatest minds will suss one out as one questions them!
An elderly Wilfrid Mellers, for example, fell asleep during his interview, but turned the tables when he woke up and began interviewing me instead. Embarrassingly, it was my turn to fall asleep when I interviewed Swiss composer Daniel Schorno, late at night.
Even more memorably, Gerard Schurmann made me an honorary Hungarian by teasingly reversing my name, in the Hungarian manner, to 'Bramich Keith'. But he poked fun mercilessly when I mentioned my connections with Wales and the Presteigne Festival.
I never actually interviewed Gerard as such, but the friendship that developed was much more valuable.
Our first contact, a phone call in 1998, came completely out of the blue. Would I - a fledgling London-based web designer, known only for previously constructing John McCabe's website - build one for Gerard? I hastily phoned McCabe to find out more. 'You've got a real composer there!', I was told.
Expecting to be sent a parcel of material from Los Angeles and told to get on with it, I was surprised to be summoned, soon afterwards, to the Schurmanns' hotel in North London for a meeting, brandishing my initial sketches.
Later, as our professional relationship settled into a series of necessary website updates, each email from Gerard would be addressed to 'Bramich Keith', and it would be taken for granted that any mistake or misunderstanding on my part would be attributed directly to my having recently strayed over the border into Wales again.
Even more surprisingly, when they visited London, I was invited many times by Carolyn and Gerard to afternoon tea (with all the trimmings) at Fortnum & Mason's restaurant near Piccadilly in London, where Gerard would hold court in the grandest English manner, always the centre of attention, but managing to make everyone laugh.
Despite Gerard's various influences - Dutch, Hungarian and Indonesian in particular - he had grown up in England and I always thought of him as English. I never did build up the courage to tell Gerard that, at the funeral of another of my website customers, I once had to sing a solo in Welsh.
Sometimes there were other guests at Fortnum's. I particularly remember meeting music consultant David Wishart (1948-2007) several times. David was the owner and founder of Cloud Nine Records, and the publisher of a disc of Gerard's film music. Another disc, of Gerard's score for the film The Lost Continent, once received a rather dubious review in the online magazine I ran with Basil Ramsey. On discovering that the review had been written by an amateur - Basil's vicar, in fact - Gerard was scathing in the extreme, and thereafter brought up the subject again and again, with much amusement.
These teatime meetings were always hilarious and entertaining. One would expect a certain amount of discussion about the website and about Gerard's work, and I felt flattered that he and Carolyn were genuinely interested in my opinions. Our actual conversations were much wider in scope, however. Eastern Europe, with Gerard's part-Hungarian heritage and my (former) romantic adventures in Romania, was a regular subject. Somehow, Gerard had the gift to make me feel that we were equals, despite his supreme intellect, knowledge and experience.
Inevitably, one remembers the last of these meetings, which had gravitated from Fortnum & Mason's to Gerard's club in Henley-on-Thames, where he confessed that the tablets he took were keeping him alive.
I remain astonished and grateful to have had such a talented and generous friend.
Gerard: should it be tot ziens in Dutch, selamat tinggal in Indonesian, viszontlátásra in Hungarian, or simply farewell? You will surely know.
Copyright © 18 January 2024