Robert Turner | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robert Turner

Robert Turner (Comrie). Composer, radio producer, teacher, b Montreal 6 Jun 1920, died Winnipeg 26 Jan 2012; B MUS (McGill) 1943, M MUS (Peabody College) 1950, D MUS (McGill) 1953.

Robert Turner

Robert Turner (Comrie). Composer, radio producer, teacher, b Montreal 6 Jun 1920, died Winnipeg 26 Jan 2012; B MUS (McGill) 1943, M MUS (Peabody College) 1950, D MUS (McGill) 1953. As a teenager Turner studied piano with Frank Hanson and Walter Hungerford, as well as composition with Irvin Cooper at the McGill Conservatory of Music. He continued studies with Douglas Clarke and Claude Champagne at McGill University, then with Roy Harris at Colorado College in 1947 (where he met his wife, percussionist Sara Scott; they married in 1949). His other teachers included Herbert Howells and Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music 1947-8, Roy Harris again at the George Peabody College of Teachers in Nashville, Tenn, 1947-50, and Olivier Messiaen at Tanglewood 1949.

Turner worked as a CBC Vancouver music producer 1952-68, where his responsibilities included the broadcasts of the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. He taught at the University of British Columbia 1955-7, at Acadia University 1968-9, and at the University of Manitoba 1969-85. He was appointed professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba upon his retirement in 1985. Among his students who have had successful careers are Patrick Carrabré, Jim Hiscott, Diana McIntosh and Glenn Buhr.

Turner's Compositions

Turner's earliest success was his String Quartet No. 1, premiered at Tanglewood in 1949. His first large commission was Opening Night:Theatre Overture, premiered by Irwin Hoffman and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1955. This led to a string of early successes including Nocturne (1956, orchestrated 1965), A Children's Overture (1958), Symphony for Strings (1960), and Three Episodes (1963). He wrote his first opera, The Brideship (for which George Woodcock provided the libretto), during a sojourn in Italy in 1968. It was a CBC commission for Canada's centenary and was premiered on radio 12 Dec 1967 under the direction of Hugh McLean, with a cast that included Audrey Farnell, Steven Henrikson, Phyllis Mailing, Patricia Rideout, and Garnet Brooks. Turner was awarded a major arts grant by the Manitoba Arts Council in 1982, which resulted in the opera Vile Shadows (libretto by Norman Newton), and Symphony in One Movement. In 1987 Turner was a resident of the Macdowell Colony (New Hampshire), where he wrote Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Shades of Autumn, and Vestiges. After retiring Turner composed, among other works, his Third Symphony (1990), which was nominated for a Juno and won a Western Canadian Music Award, both in 2005; Manitoba Memoir (1991) and Diverti-Memento (1999), both premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra; and House of Shadows, premiered by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under Andrey Boreyko in February 2006.

A confessed eclectic, Turner had a variety of influences, including jazz harmony, folk music and dance, as well as postmodern references and quotations. He described his own music as "tonal" and "lyrical" and he maintained these characteristics with exemplary craftsmanship, being able to marry contemporary techniques with a strong command of mood and evocation - especially of place - in order to write music that engages the audience. He was also a noted orchestrator. Most of his compositions have been written on commission or for particular occasions and reflect his belief that music should be 'precisely notated, emotional in content and listener-oriented' (Musicanada, May 1970).

Turner was a member of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and the Canadian League of Composers, and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. He received the Canada 125 Medal in 1993 and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003, and became a member of the Order of Canada also in 2003. His archives were deposited at Library and Archives Canada. He won a Western Canadian Music Heritage Award in 2009.


Stage, Radio, and TV
The Brideship, lyric drama (Woodcock). 1967. 8 solo voices, orch. Peer (rental)

Vile Shadows, opera (Newton). 1982-3. 6 solo voices, dancer, speaker, SSA chorus, orch. Ms

A few works for radio and TV, plays and documentaries


'Barbara Pentland,' CMJ, vol 2, Summer 1958


Eidolons (Twelve Images for Chamber Orchestra). Contemporary Canadian Compositions for Orchestra. CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, John Avison conductor. 1973. CBC/Radio Canada SM-265

Variations on "The Prairie Settler's Song." CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra , John Avison conductor. 1977. CBC/SRC SM331

Anthology of Canadian Music Vol. 15. Various artists. 1983. RCI 7-ACM 15

Canadian Composer Portraits. Various artists. 2004. Centrediscs CMCCD 9704

Ovation Volume 4. Various artists. 2005. CBC 2029-4


Opening Night, theatre overture. 1955. Full orch. BMIC 1960. CBC SM-163 (CBC Winnipeg Orchestra)/RCI 179/7-ACM 15 (CBC Symphony Orchestra)

Lyric Interlude. 1956. Full orch. Ber (rental)

Nocturne. 1956. Med orch. Ber 1972. CBC SM-63/RCI-334/A of D SDD-2121/7-ACM 15 (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

A Children's Overture. 1958. Med orch. Ber (rental). CBC SM-63/RCI-334/A of D SDD-2121/7-ACM 15 (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

The Pemberton Valley. 1958. Med orch. manuscript

Symphony for Strings. 1960. Str orch. Ber (rental). RCI-214/RCA CCS-1008/7-ACM 15 (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

Three Episodes. 1963. Full orch. Ms. CBC SM-4/7-ACM 15 (TSO)

Eidolons '12 Images for Chamber Orchestra.' 1972. Wat 1977. CBC SM-265/7-ACM 15 (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

Variations on 'The Prairie Settler's Song.' 1974. Ms. CBC SM-331/7-ACM 15 (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

Manitoba Memories. 1981. Str orch. Ms

Symphony in One Movement: 'Gift from the Sea'. 1983. Ms

Playhouse Music. 1986. Ms

Shades of Autumn. 1987. Large orch. Ms

Symphony No. 3. 1990. Ms

Manitoba Memoir. 1991. Chamber orch

Diverti-Memento. 1999. Chamber orch

House of Shadows. 1994

River of Time. 1994

Soloist(s) with Orchestra

Four Songs (Wilfred Watson). 1959. Sop (tenor), orch (piano). Ms

The Third Day, cantata (medieval and renaissance sources, adapt Peter Haworth). 1962. Soli, SATB, medium orch. Ms

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. 1971. Ms

Johann's Gift to Christmas (Jack Richards). 1972. Narr, full orch. Ms

Chamber Concerto for Bassoon and Seventeen Instruments. 1973. Wat 1977

Capriccio Concertante. 1975. Vc, piano, full orch. Ms

Encounters (Pickthall). 1985. 9 soloists, orch. Ms

Concerto for Viola. 1987. Va, orch. Ms


Lament. 1951. Fl, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, piano. Ms

Sonata. 1956. Vn, piano. Ms. RCI-194/7-ACM 15 (Pratz A. violin)/Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation EGF-200 (CD) (Glatzer violin, Keahey piano)

Little Suite for Harp. 1957. Peer 1971

Robbins' Round. 1959. Jazz band. Ms

Variations and Toccata. 1959. Ww quintet, string quintet. Ber (rental). RCI-215/RCA CCS-1009/7-ACM 15 (Chamb Ens of Winnipeg, Feldbrill conductor)

Mobile (Elder Olson). 1960. SATB, 7 percussion. Ms

Serenade for Woodwind Quintet. 1960. Ms. CBC SM-139/7-ACM 15 (Van WW Quin)

Four Fragments. 1961. Brass quintet. Peer 1972

Fantasia. 1962. Org, brass quintet, timpani. Ms

The Phoenix and the Turtle (Shakespeare). 1964. Mezzo, fl, bass clarinet, clarinet, string trio, celesta, harp. Ms

Suite in Homage to Melville (Melville). 1966. Sop, alto, viola, piano. Ms

Diversities. 1967. Vn, bassoon, piano. Ms. CBC EXPO-37/RCI-239/7-ACM 15 (Cassenti Players)

Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. 1969. Ms

Fantasy and Festivity. 1970. Hp. Ms. CBC SM-188/7-ACM 15 ( J. Loman)

Nostalgia. 1972. Sop saxophone, piano. Ms

Lament for Linos (Rilke). 1978. Fl (piccolo), clarinet (E flat clarinet), piano (celesta), tape, slide projector. Ms

Shadow Pieces. 1981. Fl, bassoon, violin, violoncello, piano. Ms. (1983). 7-ACM 15 (Spencer fl, Ellin bassoon, Tolson-Riccardo violoncello, McIntosh piano)

Time for Three (Milton, Pickthall, anonymous). 1986. Mezzo, viola, piano. Ms

Others, including 3 string quartets (1949, 1954, 1975) No. 2 BMIC 1963, others manuscript. No. 3 recorded on RCI 476/7-ACM 15 (Purcell Str Quart)

Piano and Organ

Sonata Lyrica. 1955 (rev 1963). Pf. Ms

Six Voluntaries. 1959. Org. BMIC 1968. RCI-226/RCA CCS-1020/7-ACM 15 (H. McLean)

Vestiges. 1987. Pf. Ms

And others

Choir and Voice

Two Choral Pieces (Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings). 1952. SATB. RCI-70/('Anyone Lives in a Little How Town') RCI-206 (Montreal Bach Choir)

Prophetic Song (Shelley). 1961. SSAA. Peer 1971

Amoroso Canto (Stevens, Verlaine, Dudek, Apollinaire, Hardy). 1978. SATB. Ms

A few other works for choir and voice(s), including several arr of Canadian folk songs

Further Reading