Auctorial Reflections on Recent Compositions

  • I was once a composer.
  • I am no longer a composer.
  • [and] learned to play the recorder and piano [and] was contented until I was 16.
  • I studied afterwards to be an economist.
  • I [thus] chose the wrong road as career.
  • I left Cape Town, my hometown, in 1965 because of apartheid.
  • I was in self-imposed exile for 14 years in the UK and studied music at the RCM [Royal College of Music] and Trinity College part-time.
  • I returned to Cape Town in 1980, but went once more into exile in 2006, this time because of the deterioration in the arts in SA [South Africa].
  • There was one happy, fruitful period in my adult life – between 1977-1993.
  • These are the years I shall dwell on today.

These are the words of the renowned composer, John Simon, during a departmental colloquium on 2 February 2009.

John Simon was born in Cape Town in 1944. He studied composition at the Trinity College of Music and the Royal College of Music in London under James Patten and John Lambert. His works have been performed and broadcast in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe. Until 2005 he was Composer in Residence to the KwaZulu-Natal Phiharmonic Orchestra (the first of its kind in South Africa) and lecturer in orchestration at the School of Music, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Recent engagements include the orchestration of KwaZulu-Natal composer Phelelani Mnomiya’s ‘Zizi Lethu’ (‘Our Hope’), which led to a new composition for concert orchestra, ‘Dance to Freedom’ (premiered at the Cape Town International Festival, November 2007), as well as to the composition of his most recent work, ‘A Peal of Bells’ for string orchestra, tubular bells and celesta, together with an alternative version for cello and piano.

During a visit to DOMUS on 2 February 2009 a number of valuable and rare recordings were donated by the composer to DOMUS. These recordings include amongst others, a Symphony, Dover Beach (a cappella setting of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’), two Piano Concerti, a Violin Concerto, a Requiem for orchestra, a symphonic suite (Children of the Sun) and song cycle, ‘Portrait of Emily’. Notable also is his Threnody 2 for strings (dedicated to Steve Biko), which was a response to the situation in apartheid South Africa. This work was under embargo at the SABC until 1993.


(February 2009)



Composer John Simon has placed his autographs and sketches into the care of DOMUS. During a visit on 24th March Simon brought the bulk of his compositions to the archive with the prospect of future donation of the material. The music now kept at DOMUS includes Sea Fever, Op. 3; The pity of war: Three poems of Wilfred Owen, for voice and piano, Op. 7; Sonatina for flute, Op. 14 and Op. 14a; Piano concerti No. 1 and 2, Portrait of Emily, for soprano and chamber ensemble, Op. 43; Children of the sun, Op. 44 and his Symphony, Op. 45.

John Simon: Requiem of 1984

(June 2010)

Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 June 2011 )
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