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Robert Turner (1920-2012)

Robert Turner (1920-2012)

March 22, 2012

CMC Associate Composer Robert Turner passed away on January 26, 2012. An icon of Canadian music, with more than 70 compositions to his name, including string quartets, symphonic works, opera, and commissions from the Canada Council, the Manitoba Arts Council, and CBC Radio, he will be missed greatly.

His ability to “compose attractive and popular pieces like the overture Opening Night or the concertino for jazz ensemble, Robbins’ Round, as naturally as his Symphony for Strings or his thoughtful chamber works,” as former CBC colleague Peter Garvie said, was truly something special. “He has not had to write below his style for one or screw it up to rhetoric for the other... Robert Turner's output is thoughtful and distinguished. His music has no dogmatic allegiance (he uses serial technique freely when it suits him), but nourishes its roots in human experience and its power to communicate directly.”

In addition to his contribution to the Canadian music repertoire, Turner had an illustrious teaching career, inspiring his composition students including Peter Allen, Glenn Buhr, Bruce Carlson, T. Patrick Carrabré, John Greer, Holly Harris, Rupert Lang, Diana McIntosh, Ron Paley, Robert Rogers, Linda Schwartz, David Scott, and John Winiarz.

Born in 1920 in Montreal, Turner studied piano from an early age, developing a keen interest in composition. His first works were written without any formal training. He went on to study music theory and composition with Claude Champagne and Douglas Clarke at McGill University, receiving his Bachelor of Music in 1943. In 1947, while at Colorado College working with Roy Harris, he met Sara Scott, also a composition student. They were married in 1949 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Turner majored in composition at Vanderbilt University’s’ George Peabody College. He graduated with a Master of Music degree in 1950.

He returned to Canada, and in 1952 joined the CBC as Music Producer in Vancouver. The next year he completed his Doctorate of Music from McGill University. He is known for programming performances of live music, both classical and contemporary, introducing new audiences to the finest works of Canadian and international composers. In 1968 he became professor at the University of Manitoba’s School of Music, where he worked until 1985. Upon retirement he produced many significant orchestral works. In 1990, in honour of Turner’s 70th birthday, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performed five of his major orchestral works under the direction of Bramwell Tovey.

Robert Turner is one of the 23 composers featured in the Centrediscs Recordings’ Canadian Composers Portrait series, which documents the emergence of a generation of pioneering professional composers who firmly established Canada’s place on the world’s musical map. His immense contribution to Canadian music and culture earned him the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 1993, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2003.


For further information please contact
John Reid
Prairie Regional Director
Canadian Music Centre
(403) 220-7403

Related Composers: Robert Turner