A HERMIT AT HEART
CAROLYN NOTT pays an eightieth birthday tribute
to her husband, the composer Gerard Schurmann
It's hard to believe that Gerard is eighty on 19 January 2004. He seems no different from when I met him almost forty years ago, except that his hair is now white. Dictionaries and magazines frequently misquoted his age over the years. To rectify this situation, Gerard allowed me to give a copy of his birth certificate to Nicholas Slonimsky as proof of the right date for his Baker's Dictionary. Believe it or not, even he still got it wrong! Admittedly, the certificate issued in the former Dutch East Indies is confusing and reads like a book without punctuation. Amidst a string of strange and colourful names of towns, districts, sub-districts, and residencies, sounding like an Asian version of Tolkien's Middle Earth, is a date not of Gerard's birth but of its registration by his father, Johan Gerhard Schurmann, then thirty-five years old and an officer at a sugar factory (subsequently he became the proprietor of his own wine and cigar import/export business). Rambling on like a fairy tale, the saga goes on to describe Gerard's birth as taking place at a distance of more than ten poles from the building where the certificates of the Civil Registration were made up -- and finally we have the date -- on January nineteen, one thousand nine hundred twenty-four, in the evening at fifty minutes past seven.
Gerard Schurmann in his early forties. Photo © Mike Leale
After wartime service in the RAF, Gerard lived and worked as a composer and conductor in England for over forty continuous years, apart from a brief sojourn in the Netherlands in his early twenties when he was a resident conductor at the radio in Hilversum. Born into a highly cosmopolitan family, Gerard has cousins on his father's side in Holland, England, France, Sweden, and America, plus, on his mother's side in Holland, Hungary and Scotland. His uncle, Carl Schurmann, former senior Netherlands Ambassador to the UN and in Washington, married an English girl and educated his three sons at Eton. I remember that thirty years ago all three had Dutch passports, yet spoke not a word of Dutch. In England, during the war, Carl gave a series of lectures on Dutch music from the Old Netherlands School to the present, illustrated by Gerard at the piano.
Copyright © 19 January 2004
Carolyn Nott, Los Angeles, USA