Morris Surdin | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Morris Surdin

Surdin, Morris. Composer, arranger, conductor, b Toronto 8 May 1914, d there 19 Aug 1979. At six he began violin lessons with Louis Gesensway in Toronto, and soon the lessons were expanded to include counterpoint and harmony.

Surdin, Morris

Surdin, Morris. Composer, arranger, conductor, b Toronto 8 May 1914, d there 19 Aug 1979. At six he began violin lessons with Louis Gesensway in Toronto, and soon the lessons were expanded to include counterpoint and harmony. Gesensway moved in 1926 to the USA to play in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1937 Surdin joined him for a further year of study. He also studied conducting in 1945 with César Borré in Toronto and composition in 1950 with Henry D. Brant in New York. A conductor and a composer of incidental music for the CBC (on staff 1939-41 and freelance after l947), Surdin also worked in the USA as an arranger for the Philadelphia Pops and as a composer and conductor l949-54 for the CBS network. With the playwright Ray Darby he collaborated on several CBC radio productions, including the musical comedy The Gallant Greenhorn (l949) and the series 'Once upon a Time' (l949, directed by Esse Ljungh, later also produced for CBS as 'Once upon a Tune'). Surdin wrote the music for almost all of W.O. Mitchell's radio plays, including the series 'Jake and the Kid' (l950-72), a light-hearted situation comedy set in a Saskatchewan farming community. He composed incidental music for 'CBC Playhouse,' 'CBC Stage' (continuing his association with Ljungh), 'Adventure Theatre,' 'Festival,' and 'Hatch's Mill' and the film score for the Hollywood feature Hospital (1971). Several of his works were commissioned: The Remarkable Rocket (196l, for the National Ballet of Canada), two accordion concertos (l966 and l976, both for Joseph Macerollo), Wild Rose (1967, with W.O. Mitchell for the Mac l4 Theatre Society of Calgary), Suite Canadienne and A Feast of Thunder (1970 and l972, for the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble of Toronto, with whom he toured the Ukraine in l970), Eine Kleine Hammer-Klapper Musik (l976, for the TS), and a Viola Concerto (l978, for Rivka Golani).

Surdin displayed great competence and facility as a composer, particularly of music to accompany theatrical situations. He had a keen sense of the relationship between 'dialogue time' and 'musical time' and was adept at underlining humour and suspense with supportive sound. Avoiding 'modern' or 12-tone music, he wrote in a traditional style, often drawing on folk tunes for inspiration. He was the author of A Sense of Priority (Toronto l973), a study of musical resources in Metropolitan Toronto's Borough of York. In l978 the University of Calgary acquired all of Surdin's manuscripts, a collection said to contain more than 2000 incidental scores for radio dramas, films, and stage pieces. Surdin was a member of the CLComp; his status as an associate composer is maintained at the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

Stage, Film, Radio, and TV
The Remarkable Rocket, ballet. l96l. Ms. (Excerpts) Col MS-6763 (Toronto Philharmonia O, Susskind conductor)

Wild Rose, musical (W.O. Mitchell). l967. Ms. 'The Arithmetic of Love' Dom LP-l368 (Al Baculis Singers)

Over 2000 scores for radio, TV, and NFB films


'Agostini & Surdin,' CanComp, 38, Mar l969


Credo. l950. Ms

Two Symphonic Hoedowns from The Gallant Greenhorn. Ca l950. Ms

Eine Kleine Hammer-Klapper Music. l976. Ms

Several works for string orch, including Four X Strings (l947), Time (l966), Alteration (l970), Five for Four (l977), A Group of Six (l977), Who's on Bass? (l977), all manuscript; 3 works for band

Soloists with Orchestra

Softly as the Flute Blows. l947. Fl, string. Ms

A Spanish Tragedy (N. Newton). l955. Orch (soprano, orch). Ms

Five Shades of Brass. 1958. Tpt, orch. Ms

Concerto.Mand, strings. l96l-6. Ms

2 Concertos Acc, string orch. l966, l976. Ms. (No. l) RCI 238 (Macerollo)

Two Solitudes. l967. Hn (english horn), string. Ms

Berceuse. l977. Hn, orch. Ms

Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. l978. Ms

Six Pieces in Search of a Sequence. 1969-78. Str orch and soloists. Ms

3 works for TTBB and orch, Suite Canadienne (l970), Billy Carney-O (l97l), and Sea Song (l97l). Ms


Carol Fantasia for Brass. l955. Ms

Mandolin and Guitar. l96l. Ms

Elements. l965. 2 violin, contrabassoon, harpsichord. Ms

Matin. l965. Ww quartet. Ms

Quartet in G Minor. l966. Str quartet. Ms

Canadian Folk Songs. l968. Acc. B & H l970

Piece for Woodwind Quintet. l969. Ms

Serious I-VIII. l969. Acc. B & H l970. (No. I, II, V) RCI 385 (Macerollo)

Serious IX-XVI. l973. Acc. Self-publ l976

Trinitas in morte. l973. 3 oboe, bassoon, 3 horn, timpani, 8 violoncello, 2 contrabassoon. Ms

An Odd Couple. l975. Cl, double-bass. Ms

Heritage Suites I-IV. l975-9. Brass quartet. Ms

Sly-d Trombones. l975. Trb(s), bass trombone(s). Ms

Landscapes. l978. Solo harp. Ms

Deux Fabliaux pour violoncelle seul. l979. Ms


Prairie Boy (W.O. Mitchell). l964. V, piano. B & H l965. Cap ST 6087 (Agostini conductor)

4 works for voice, violoncello, harp. A Thought and Music Fair (M. Ray) (1975), Quartet for Trio (M. Waddington) (1976), Three Plus l for 3 (J. Wykes) (1976). All manuscript

Several works for piano, and for voice, piano. Some published by B & H. Also 3 choral works, 'A Big Bear,' Peg-Leg's Fiddle, 'Wonnerful Bad Luck Song'. (All l977). Ms except for 'A Big Bear' S.E.L (Surdin Enterprises Limited). 1977

Further Reading