Derek Bourgeois obituary | Music

If there was a natural successor as a composer to Malcolm Arnold, it was Derek Bourgeois, who has died aged 75. A hugely prolific composer, he had the same knack for turning a memorable tune, a Waltonian sense of grandeur and a delight in infusing humour into his music whenever he could.

The five movements of his Wine Symphony (his Fourth, 1978), are entitled Champagne, Bordeaux, Hock, Beaujolais and Burgundy, while the end of his otherwise sober Variations on a Theme of Herbert Howells for organ (1984) includes a reference to For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. Some of the humour was more subtle: his Eighth Symphony, subtitled The Mountains of Mallorca (2002), includes a fugue in honour of the Mallorcan town of Arta – the Arta fugue.

Bourgeois was at his best in shorter works, often for wind and brass bands, such as the Green Dragon Overture (1969, which – like many of his works – exists in versions for full orchestra and wind ensemble), the delightful Serenade (1965, written originally for organ in order to be played at his wedding) or Blitz (1980, one of a number of test pieces written for brass band competitions). Though his music received little critical acclaim, players and audiences loved its tunefulness and harmonic richness, and continue to do so.

When interviewed by Alan Rusbridger for the Guardian in 2009, Bourgeois said: “Blitz … was regarded by a great number of people as an absolutely heinous piece, whereas when I played it to [the composer] Robert Simpson, he said, ‘That’s a very jolly blitz.’ One camp thought I was too old-fashioned, the other camp thought I was far too avant garde. So eventually I just decided I would be myself, and that’s that.”

The catalogue of his 391 works includes 17 concertos – that for trombone (1988) probably the most played – a host of works for orchestras of various makeups, an opera and music for TV productions including the Buddyboy episode of Nigel Kneale’s Beasts (1976), and two high-profile series: The Barchester Chronicles (1982) and Mansfield Park (1983). His final four works – all composed this year – are wholly representative: Rhythm With a Smile for wind orchestra, a Sonata for Two Violas and Piano and the last two of his 116 symphonies, more than any other British composer (he passed Havergal Brian’s 32 in mid-2006). The outright record goes to the Finnish composer Leif Segerstam, with so far more than 300.

Derek Bourgeois’ Trombone Concerto

Bourgeois had retired to Mallorca in 2002 with just seven to his credit, but 109 more of them, plus more than 100 other orchestral, wind, brass and chamber works, just came “tumbling out”, partly to stop himself “going mad”. His first wife, Jean Berry, whom he had married in 1965, was dying of motor neurone disease, and he was suffering from cancer.

The largest, at 155 minutes, is No 42, Life, the Universe and Everything (2008) in honour of Douglas Adams. Bourgeois overtook Haydn in 2015, naming his 104th The Esterhazy in emulation of Haydn’s London Symphony more than two centuries earlier.

Born in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, Derek was the son of David Bourgeois, a company director, and his wife, Dinah (nee Ford), and attended Cranleigh school in Surrey, where he would later work as a music teacher. After gaining a first-class degree in music and a doctorate at Magdalene College, Cambridge, he studied for two years at the Royal College of Music, London, with Howells for composition and Adrian Boult for conducting. His introduction to the brass band world came in 1980, as the conductor of the Sun Life (now Stanshawe) Band in Bristol, and 10 years later he became artistic director of the Bristol Philharmonic Orchestra.

Derek Bourgeois’ Serenade, here for brass band

Bourgeois taught as a lecturer in music at Bristol University from 1971, leaving in 1984 to become director of music for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, a post he held until 1993. He founded the National Youth Chamber Orchestra in 1988, and in 1994 he was appointed director of music at St Paul’s girls’ school, west London.

Jean died in 2006, and from Mallorca he went to New York, and finally to Dorset.

In 2008 he married Norma Torney, who survives him, as does his sister, Wendy.

Derek David Bourgeois, composer, born 16 October 1941; died 6 September 2017

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