Robert Turner's exhilarating and profound music stems, in part, from his minute analysis of the music of fellow international composers. In Europe and the U.S., through study, travel and personal discourse, he has shared ideas and learned from Messiaen, Britten, Berio, Andriessen, Stockhausen, Britten, Copland, William Schuman, Elliot Carter and Roy Harris as well as the many conductors and performers who have played his music.
Turner's "undoctrinaire openness of response seems to be the key to his work", wrote Peter Garvie (former CBC colleague) in 1969. "His...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. It can be gay without being slick, and deeply felt without losing balance and clarity."
In 2006, composer Sid Robinovitch wrote, "One of the features of Dr. Turner's music that is most apparent to me is its distinctively North American quality. I believe that his music has achieved what is characteristic of the great composers of this continent such as Copland, Harris, and Ives: it has absorbed the concrete realities of the world around us and, through wide-ranging artistic reflection, presents a mature vision of what we are all about."
Suite for Harp (1957)
Vestiges (1987) "traces left by something vanished or lost"
The three epigrammatic pieces making up VESTIGES are an attempt to relect this defnition through a sequence of original musical ideas in a conservative and eclectic contemporaneous idiom. The tonal centres of the three are B, A, and A flat, respectively.
The first piece is slow and somewhat melancholy. A right-hand melody with triplet accompaniment is heard against a descending whole-tone scale in the left hand. A more sonorous middle section rises to a climax, bringing a return of the first section but with the hands reversed. The second is a fast "Dance Macabre". Loud, marked chords using all twelve tones introduce a facetious theme in polka rhythm. This is repeated following a contrasting jazzy bit, and ends with a forceful coda.
The third piece begins with a slow, expressive melody over a series of rolled chords. This is repeated with the melody varied in eighths. The eighth-note movement slides into sixteenths softly in both hands, three octaves apart through all twelve keys "una corda" throughout, suggesting a sudden ghostly breeze. The opening section returns in reverse order and finally fades away to nothing.
The whole work employs a number of keyboard and pedal techniques to effectively project its themes and moods.
Fantasy and Festivity (1970)
Before completing this work, Robert Turner studies Calos Salzedo's modern harp techniques, incorporating many exciting colouristic effects. The work is based on the Southern shape-mate hymn "Wondrous Love", the use of the themem varying between traditional and more contemporary styles.
The work is in two movements entitled "Fantasy" and "Festivity", separated by a cadenza-like transition.
Sonata Lyrica (1955-1963)
I - a lyrical 13-bar theme provides the material for nine continuous variations.
II - wistful and wayward in character, approximating 'scherzo and trio' form.
III - in ternary form, with a chorale-like first and third part, and a more dramatic middle section.
IV - a playful, 12-tone main theme alternates with episodes based on themes from the previous movements.
Six Voluntaries (1959)
These works are all based on the same twelve-tone theme, although not treated in a strict serial manner. In fact, they might be considered to be in the nature of sketches or improvisations. The first is a Prelude constructed in two halves: the second being the exact retrograde of the first. The second work is a three-part Fugue in the style of Bach's Trio Sonatas. The third is an Aria for manuals only in simple ABA form and the fourth is a Toccata for pedals only. The fifth is a Chorale and the last, a Capriccio, also in tripartite form.
Dr. Robert Turner - In 2010
Listing of Dr. Turner's Complete Works (pdf)
Robert Turner's Solo Works for Harp, Organ & Piano
Amoroso Canto: Choral Music of Robert Turner
performed by Canzona