Composer Gerard Schurmann Has Died
March 24, 2020
R.I.P. Gerard Schurmann – a Look Back at his Hammer Score THE LOST CONTINENT
– Randall D. Larson
In respect and sorrow over the death of Gerard Schurmann today at the age of 96, I offer this slightly edited and updated excerpt from my book “Music from the House of Hammer,” published by Scarecrow Press. [by Randall D. Larson © 1996. All quotes from Gerard Schurmann are from the author’s interview, received on January 21, 1993]
GERARD SCHURMANN (1924-2020)
Gerard Schurmann provided two effective textural scores for Hammer, their low-budget 1958 war film, THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND, and the far more lavishly budgeted THE LOST CONTINENT a decade later.
Schurmann had received considerable experience improvising music for silent films due to an association with the British Film Society at London’s Scala Theatre. He eventually received the opportunity to score films through his friendship with composer Alan Rawsthorne, with whom he had studied composition. Schurmann’s first film score was a 1948 Anglo-Dutch co-production called NOT IN VAIN, recorded in Amsterdam at Cinetone Studios. “In England, major feature films represented an impenetrably closed shop to a young composer,” Schurmann recalled. “It was Rawsthorne who in the end devised an effective, altruistic plan which led to my first opportunity at Ealing Studios, with the music for THE LONG ARM and MAN IN THE SKY [called DECISION AGAINST TIME in America.” This launched Schurmann on an impressive career of film composition. Noted or his work on suspense and action films, Schurmann was recruited by John Hollingsworth in 1958 to score THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND.
That Anthony Hinds film had a small budget and by the time Schurmann came onto the scene there was little money left for music. But Schurmann was impressed by the script and agreed to score the film, providing an excellent militaristic score for a small ensemble that emphasized winds and percussion. “The action was set in a couple of Japanese internment camps during the war,” Schurmann said. “The fact that my mother had suffered similar internment by the Japanese in the former Dutch East Indies helped to make the subject a very poignant one for me.” Post production on the film took place at Anvil Studios in Beaconsfield, where the music scoring stage was very small, accomodating no more than thirty players or so. “I therefore concentrated on using woodwind, horns and brass with a smallish string section, and a battery of percussion used mostly a’la Stravinsky’s ‘Soldier’s Tale’.”
Listen to excerpts from Schurmann’s score to THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND:
Schurmann was busy with other projects in the ten years between THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND and THE LOST CONTINENT, gaining some notice for his music for such films as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959), THE HEADLESS GHOST (1959), TROUBLE IN THE SKY (1960; aka CONE OF SILENCE), KONGA (1961), DR. SYN ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963), and THE BEDFORD INCIDENT (1965). He was also an in-demand conductor and orchestrator, being the credited orchestrator on David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) and Sam Peckinpah’s CROSS OF FIRE (1977), as well as an uncredited orchestrator on Otto Preminger’s EXODUS (1960).
When Hammer’s new music director, Philip Martell, asked Schurmann to score THE LOST CONTINENT, the composer was tied up with another project. “Hammer paid me the compliment of waiting until I became available a few months later,” said Schurmann. Initially, composer Benjamin Frankel, who had scored Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF in 1960, was engaged to score the film. Frankel composed music for THE LOST CONTINENT but, for one reason or another, his work had been rejected by the producers. Martell turned to Schurmann to replace the discarded Frankel score. At the time of its production in 1968, THE LOST CONTINENT was Hammer’s most expensive and lavishly budgeted film to date.
Schurmann provides plenty of horrific shock music, including a repeated motif for hysterical brass and strings used to complement the attacks by sharks and the Tentacled Rubber Seaweed Monster (the film’s budget did not encompass extremely provocative special effects). The composer’s use of broad orchestral strokes and furious instrumental interplay was particularly evident in the climactic scenes, where the ship’s crew and the natives confront each other in a raging fray. Schurmann supplied an effectively grim romantic theme for Lansen (Eric Porter) and Eva (Hildegard Knef) — a brief respite from the horrors of the Sargasso Sea. Beyond this melodic theme, Schurmann’s score is characterized by its wild orchestral dissonance.
Listen to Schurmann’s cue”Abandon Ship” from THE LOST CONTINENT:
Thematically, the score contrasts a modern, popular theme that emphasized the film’s contemporary exoticness, with a darker, more primitive agitated allegro for the mysterious island dwellers who are encountered by the luckless sailors. The pop tune, credited to Roy Phillips, was in fact, the choice of Michael Carreras. The vocal music underneath the Main Titles was recorded months prior to Schurmann’s involvement with the film by an established pop group. “I had absolutely nothing to do with the choice of the ‘jazzy-pop bossa-nova’ music or where it was to go in the film,” said Schurmann. “This was entirely decided, prior to my involvement, by Michael Carreras. For reasons best known to him, he wanted it somehow to be associated with the character played by Hildegard Knef.” Philip Martell hired composer Howard Blake to provide this element, and Blake incorporated several of Schurmann’s orchestral tunes into his arrangements. Regrettably, this bossa-nova pop music was much to the detriment of the film score, which shines only in those moments where Schurmann is allowed to bring his own musical intentions to the fore. “Where the large orchestral score and dramatic organ music was concerned, I was totally free to do what I liked, without anyone else’s input.”
Unfortunately, much of Schurmann’s musical intentions were annihilated during the dubbing. Themes were scattered about by the editors and used in places they weren’t meant for. The jazzy-pop bossa-nova music was used over and over in such a way that its snappy fluff tends to contradict the pace of the film and the actions on screen. Sound effects were emphasized and usurped the effectiveness of the score in most places. The result was a disjointed score that frequently played against its film; rather than support its moods, the score sometimes contradicted them.
“Our carefully laid musical schemes and preparations were in the end totally undone by the most ruinous final dub it has ever been my misfortune to encounter,” Schurmann said. “The man in charge was, I believe, the supervising editor, who had impressed me before I even started to write the music by his arrogant and patronizing manner. So utterly appalled was I by this gentleman’s demeanor, that I refused to go to any of the dubbing sessions. I now admit that had I been there I might perhaps have been able to prevent some of the very worst from happening, but it just seemed to be a lost cause at the time.”
A fine, horrific moment occurs when the ship’s compartment containing the explosives is flooded. Non-melodic brass figures over rapidly bowed strings suggests the fury and peril of this event — but in the midst of this dramatic sequence the music unaccountably reverts to jazzy bongo drums, the result is a strange mixture of traditional horror music and percussive jazz which doesn’t really work, and the scene suffers as a result.
Once the lifeboats enter the seaweed area, strident shouts from the brass accompany the vines that reach up for the passengers and crew onboard. Mysterious woodwind phrases dabble below the crew’s discussion that follows. until a wild, hysterical version of the seaweed dweller’s motif is heard as the tentacled creature rears out of the water to attack the group on deck. A momentary monk-like reverberated chant is heard as the survivors find the old galleon and its cathedral-like interior. This prompts the use of church organ in climactic battle music where the lost seaweed civilization is forever destroyed by the steamship passengers — and here Schurmann creates an interesting contrast — churchlike music for a scene of terrible destruction and battle. The organ music is played harshly, dissonantly — as if the organ were being played with the palms instead of the fingers — and the resultant cacophony, mixed with the fury of the brass, strings and percussion, lends a horrific drama to the battle scene. The score ends with a contrastingly pretty melody for full orchestra. Seemingly unconnected with the prior music, the theme is, in fact, a variation of the more subdued music supporting the Porter-Knef romance, here opened up into a broad symphonic resolution. “The idea behind a fresh-sounding end was to signify an optimistic new beginning in the lives of everyone who survived the ordeals of THE LOST CONTINENT,” Schurmann said.
Despite the overall wreckage of his LOST CONTINENT score, Schurmann’s music does manage to shine during its darker moments, the horrific crescendos and monstrous dissonances which build an effective mood of terror and contrast with the lighter, more intimate moments. It is regrettable that what could have been one of the composer’s best scores — particularly in view of the large orchestra he was able to use — was carelessly disfigured by elements beyond his control.
As it turned out, THE LOST CONTINENT was one of Schurmann’s last scores — his unpleasant experiences apparently directing him away from film scoring and back to numerous works for the concert stage. It wouldn’t be until sixteen years later that Schurmann would return to film scoring with 1984’s CLARETTA, a World War II epic about Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci, which he wrote and recorded over a lavish five months in Rome. Schurmann’s final score was for the 1997 film THE GAMBLER, directed by Karoly Makk and based on Dostoevsky’s novel.
For more information on Gerard Schurmann, see his website at http://www.gerard-schurmann.com/