Death of a prolific British composer, 75

Death of a prolific British composer, 75


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2017

The death has been reported of Derek Bourgeois, composer of a dazzling variety of scores.

Derek was head of the National Youth Orchestra from 1984 to 1993 and subsequently director of music at St Paul’s School for Girls, where he was proud to number Holst and Howells among his predecessors.

He wrote no fewer than 114 symphonies* but was probably best known for his TV scores, which included The Barchester Chronicles and Mansfield Park. He also wrote copiously for brass and wind bands.

*Alan Rusbridger, his former student, says the final tally is 116.


  • John Groves says:

    An underrated composer: his brass music especially is imaginative and fun to play. 116 symphonies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Catherine Rose says:

    Very sad to hear of Derek’s passing. I was lucky enough to be tutored by him at Bristol University. All his former students are now sharing their memories of a great teacher, wonderful musician and witty, warm and friendly man.

  • Julie Ryan says:

    Sad news. Derek was my boss at St. Paul’s Girls’ School and I was in total awe of him as a composer and musician. He was also a genuinely delightful man. RIP boss.

  • Nicholas Dakin says:

    We were colleagues at St Paul’s Girls’ School (where I taught English). We collaborated occasionally, I providing libretti for various school works. I have such happy memories of his (and Jean’s) irrepressible conviviality and generosity. I thought Derek and Jean on Mallorca the most blessed of couples. How terribly, terribly sad.

    • Daniel Webb says:

      Nick, I’ve just heard this very sad news. My five years at SPGS, four of them as his Assistant Director of Music, were the happiest of my professional life. Derek was unswervingly loyal and had to bail me out of several scrapes. His lamentable puns will be much missed. I had some great times with him, especially in Mallorca. He taught me a lot, even though I was certain I knew it all!

  • Gillian Stevens says:

    He was a music student when I was at school and played through my first ‘symphony ‘ for me on piano. I was 13 and the symphony lasted about 4 minutes but he was very encouraging!

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    Sad, he was a lovely man – I met him in Majorca for gin and tonic halfway up the hills with a lovely sunset.

  • Liz May says:

    He lectured at Bristol Uni whilst I was studying Music there. I remember his wonderful sense of humour. We had a department photo taken one year and he insisted on wearing a gorilla mask! Very saddened to hear of his passing.

    • Paul Stanley says:

      I remember seeing that photo Liz, it was probably taken in 1974 just before I came up to Bristol.

    • Alyson Lewin says:

      Wasn’t it Derek who set our orchestration class the job of scoring the Rimsky-Korsakov trombone concerto (in sections!) so that Paul Stanley could perform it with Orchestral Society?

      • Paul Stanley says:

        It certainly was Alyson. I remember it well. I am pretty sure the concert took place on March 1 1975. Dvorak symphony 8 was also on the programme.

  • Paul Stanley says:

    DDB was one of my tutors at Bristol University in the mid 70’s. He was a man of rare wit, intelligence and humour. I had the pleasure to spend a couple of occasions enjoying Derek and Jean’s hospitality at their beautiful house in St Briavels while working on the University Music Festival. Derek’s knowledge of the world of wine was unsurpassed in my experience and he certainly fostered my lifelong enjoyment of the fruit of the vine. So sad to hear of the passing of a great man.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “As we know, the trombone is a rather offensive instrument and should be kept as much as possible in the background.” (Pope John XXII in his ‘Docta sanctorum patrum’, 1324)