Sibelius user Derek Bourgeois has written more symphonies than any other Briton

Derek Bourgeois, pictured in Mallorca (Credit: The Guardian)
Derek Bourgeois, pictured in Mallorca (Credit: The Guardian)

Today’s Guardian newspaper in the UK has a fascinating article about composer Derek Bourgeois, who has been a Sibelius user for many years. Derek has completed 44 symphonies, making him the most prolific British symphonist in history!

And still he goes on. He marked the end of 2008 by remarrying, and by completing his 30-minute 44th symphony (the average length of a Bourgeois symphony is 47 minutes). He is now planning the 45th: by way of tribute to Haydn’s 45th, the Farewell Symphony, which ends with the players leaving the stage one by one, Bourgeois’s will begin with the players arriving one at a time. Few of these recent works have been performed in orchestral form. Instead, they live in cyberspace in synthesised sound – better than reading a score, but inferior to the full richness of an orchestra. At this stage of his life, Bourgeois is reconciled to writing works that may never be fully realised.

Derek has used Sibelius to realise all of his symphonies over the past 15 years, and has even input all of the ones composed before that into the program. Although the Guardian article includes audio examples of several of his symphonies, you can view and listen to all of the scores of his symphonies in Sibelius form on his page on Playback through General MIDI does no justice to the music Derek has created, but they are all worth a look and a listen.

I once had the pleasure of commissioning a work from Derek. Back in my student days I was involved in running a student music society in Dorset called Gli Amici della Musica, which was founded in 1969 and in 1999 celebrated its 30th anniversary. For the 30th anniversary concert (at which I was lucky enough to conduct a performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem with a choir of more than 100, made up of society members past and present, and an orchestra of nearly 80 players, and which remains one of my fondest musical memories), we had a guest conductor for the orchestral half of the program: Peter Stark, who was at the time the conductor of the National Youth Orchestra.

We wanted a new work to open the concert, and Peter suggested that we contact Derek. We duly did so, and the result was A Dorset Celebration, a cheerful and charming overture that went down a storm in its premiere in August 1999.

So congratulations, Derek, on becoming the most prolific British writer of symphonies, and long may you continue!

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