John Simon (1944) studied to be an economist. However, he gave up his intended career and studied musical composition at Trinity College of Music and the Royal College of Music, London, where his teachers included James Patten and John Lambert. His works have been widely performed and broadcast in South Africa, as well as performances and broadcasts of his work in the UK and Europe. His activities in the UK, where he now lives, have included significant work with the BBC. He has written extensively for piano -an area of his work that has been neglected in more recent times in favour of other types of composition- having five piano sonatas to his credit. His orchestral output includes a Symphony; two Piano Concertos; a Violin Concerto (a BBC premiere); a ‘Requiem for Orchestra’ -BBC premiere given by Edward Downes, the work having been recommended by Simon Rattle (‘Not only is it extremely professionally and intelligently written, but also deeply felt. I was very struck by the piece.’); the symphonic suite ‘Children of the Sun’ (premiered by the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra under Omri Hadari), and the much broadcast orchestral song cycle ‘Portrait of Emily’ -settings of Emily Dickinson for soprano and orchestra (first sung by Andrea Catzel). 

A number of his more important works were written in response to the situation that prevailed in South Africa during the apartheid years when his work was almost completely ignored. His Threnody 2 for strings, clarinet and timpani, which was composed in 1981 and dedicated to Steve Biko, was under embargo at the SABC until as late as 1993 (it was the first work ever to include the South African national anthem as a theme). Threnody 2 has since been widely broadcast and performed, including performances at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Besides his Emily Dickinson settings his vocal output includes settings of John Masefield, Wilfred Owen, Shelley and Byron. He has written two a cappella choral works -a setting of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Justus Quidem Tu Es, Domine’.

Until mid 2005 John Simon was Composer in Residence to the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (the first such appointment in South Africa) and lecturer in orchestration at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Music. He was charged with the KZNPO’s New Music Initiative, which has the aim of bringing orchestral skills to KwaZulu-Natal-based composers and arrangers.

He was more recently engaged in orchestrating the cantata ‘Zizi Lethu’ (‘Our Hope’) by the South African choral composer Phelelani Mnomiya. These orchestral realisations, which he completed with the help of the late Christopher James, featured in the ‘Ten Years of Democracy’ concert at the Barbican given by two major South African choirs with the London Symphony Orchestra and members of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece was performed elsewhere Europe, and led to a new orchestral piece of his own entitled ‘Dance to Freedom’, which was premiered at the Cape Town International Festival in November 2007. This work is an orchestral realisation of the freedom songs that were sung during the years of struggle in South Africa.

A number of significant works have followed, including a String Quartet and a large-scale concert work around the legend of Tristan and Isolde ‘Fanfares for Tristan’.

John Simon is also a poet, and many of his poems have been published in leading poetry magazines in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Some of his music is published by Accolade Musikverlag, Warngau, Germany.

Scores of most works may be obtained from SAMRO Ltd, P.O. Box 31609, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa.

List of Musical Compositions

Orchestral Works

Piano Concerto No 1 (in 3 movements   4 versions – concerto commenced in 1969, final version completed 2003)

Premiere: Nina Schumann with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Scarr (18.11.04) City Hall, Cape Town

Piano Concerto No 2   (in 3 movements) (1977-79)

First Public Performance: Thomas Rajna with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique García Asensio

(10.2.85) City Hall, Cape Town

Little Suite for Orchestra (originally entitled ‘Divertimento for Orchestra’) (in 4 movements) (1978-2006)

South African Premiere: Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra conducted by Alexander Fokkens

(27.9.08) Gordon High School, Somerset West

Threnody 1 for String Orchestra (originally entitled ‘Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Light’) (1980)

Premiere: Stellenbosch String Ensemble conducted by Eric Rycroft

(17.5.92) Endler Hall, Stellenbosch

New Azania Overture (also known as ‘An Antipodean Overture’) (1980)

First Professional Performance: National Symphony Orchestra of the SABC conducted by Louis Lane (18.6.97) Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg

Threnody 2 for Strings, Clarinet and Timpani (originally entitled ‘Steve Biko in Heaven’) (1981) Premiere: Cape Town Symphony Orchestra with Jimmy Reinders (clarinet) and Marc Silverberg (timpani) conducted by Brian Priestman

(20.1.83) City Hall, Cape Town

Violin Concerto (in 5 movements) (1981-1990)

Premiere: Vanya Milanova with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christopher Gay

(17.1.92) Studio 7, BBC Broadcasting House, Manchester

Requiem for Orchestra (orchestral requiem in 4 movements -originally entitled ‘Requiem of 1984’) (1983-1985)

Premiere: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Edward Downes

(13.12.88) Studio 7, BBC Broadcasting House, Manchester

Portrait of Emily (settings of five Poems of Emily Dickinson for soprano and orchestra/ or ensemble) (1987)

First Public Performance: Sally Silver with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jeremy Silver

(24.8.05) City Hall, Cape Town

Children of the Sun   (symphonic poem in 4 movements) (1989)

First Performance of Full Work: Cape Town Symphony Orchestra conducted by Omri Hadari (16.1.92) City Hall, Cape Town 



Symphony   (in 4 movements)(1993-1997)

Movement 1 premiere: National Symphony Orchestra of the SABC conducted by Vladimir Simkine (27.5.98) Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg

Movement 2 premiere: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Gueller  (14.1.99) Nico Malan Opera House, Cape Town

Movements 3 & 4 premiere: New Arts Philharmonic Orchestra of Pretoria conducted by David Scarr (5.11.99) University of Pretoria

Late Gothic Overture (also known as ‘Concert Overture) (1996-1997)

Premiere: KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Chris Russman

(28.10.04) City Hall, Durban

Dance to Freedom (2004-2005)

Premiere: Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Kern

(18.11.07) City Hall, Cape Town

A Peal of Bells for D.B.Cooper for strings, tubular bells and celesta (2006)

Premiere: Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes


A Cry from a World Aflame for strings, trumpets and percussion (2009-2010)


Fanfares for Tristan (2010-2011)

Premiere: KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lykele Temmingh  (15.9.11)


Zizi Lethu by Phelelani Mnomiya (2004) edited and orchestrated by John Simon and Christopher James

Premiere:  London Symphony Orchestra with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra with the Durban Serenade Choral Society and Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society conducted by François- Xavier Roth

(11.11.04) Barbican, London


Adulations! by Christopher James (2005)



Sonatina for Solo Flute(1967)

Premiere: Petula Watson

(1976) London Borough of Hillingdon

Sonatina for Flute arranged for two Flutes (1967-79)

Premiere:  Petula Watson and Adele Warman

(3.7.79) London Borough of Hillingdon

Wind Quintet (for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn) (1973)

Premiere: Vega Wind Quintet, BBC Radio 3

(November 1987) BBC Broadcast House, London

Scena for solo Flute (1974)

Premiere: Evelien Ballantine

(9.5.05) University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Music, Durban

Elegy and Capriccio for Violin and Piano (1976)

Premiere: Isaac Melamed (violin) and Liesl Jacobs (piano)

(9.5.05) University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Music, Durban

Elegy for Oboe and Piano (1978)

Premiere:  Petula Watson (arrangement for flute) and John Simon (piano)

(14.7.77) London Borough of Hillingdon

Lamentation for Seven Instruments (movement 2 of ‘Little Suite’) (1978)

Premiere:  members of the London Borough of Hillingdon Youth Orchestra directed by John Simon

(1979) London Borough of Hillingdon

Allegro for Flute and Piano (1978) 

South African Premiere: Christopher Nicholls (flute) and Thomas Rajna (piano)

(1987) Graham Sound and Electronics Studio, Cape Town

Sonata for Bassoon and Piano (1978)

Premiere: Ingo Holland (bassoon) and Lamar Crowson (piano)

(June 1980) SABC, Broadcasting Studio, Sea Point, Cape Town

A Peal of Bells for cello and piano (2006-2010)


String Quartet (2011)



Sea Fever (setting of John Masefield’s Poem for tenor and piano) (1965)


The Pity of War (settings of three war poems by Wilfred Owen for tenor or soprano and piano) (1967-2002)

Premiere:  Lauren da Sappa (soprano) and Andrew Warburton (piano)

(9.5.05) University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Music, Durban

Five Romantic Songs (settings of Byron and Shelley for tenor and piano) (1967)

Premiere: Tembelani Luwaka (tenor) and Bobby Mills (piano)

(15.11.03) University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Music, Durban

Noël Ahoy! (Settings of 3 medieval English Christmas texts for trebles, children’s choir, piano and percussion, originally entitled ‘Three songs for Christmas’) (1978-9)

Premiere: choir of Bishop Ramsay School and percussionists from the Bishop Ramsey School Orchestra conducted by John Simon

(3.7.79) London Borough of Hillingdon


Dover Beach (setting of Matthew Arnold’s poem for a cappella choir) (1983)

Premiere: St George’s Singers conducted by Barry Smith

(25.4.84) St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town

Justus Quidem Tu Es, Domine (setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem for a cappella choir) (2011)



Salon Fantasy with Bel Canto Old Time Waltz (op. 1) (1965 revised 2014)

Thirteen Preludes and a Postlude (op.2) (1965 revised 2014)

Aspirations and Dreams: Ballet Music for Solo Piano (op.4) (1965 revised 2014)

The Triumph and the Lament (with Albert Camus in mind) (op.5) (1965 revised 2012)

Piano Sonata No 1 (op.6) (in 4 Movements) (1965-1966 revised 1971, 1975, 2014)

Rondo in C (‘the old curiosity shop’) (op.8) (March 1960-1967 revised 2014)

Piano Sonata No 2 (op.10) (in 4 Movements) (1967 revised 2012)

Six Aphorisms for Piano (op.11) (1967 revised 1972, 2014)

Chanson de la Nuit (op.12) (based on a theme from Verdi’s La Traviata) (1967 revised 2014)

Piano Sonata No 3 (op.13) (in 4 Movements) (1968 revised 2011)

A Calendar of Twelve Piano Miniatures (op.16) (1971 revised 2014)

Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell (op.17) (1971 revised 2014)

Piano Sonatina No 1 (op.18) (in 4 Movements) (1972 revised 2014)

Piano Sonatina No 2 (op.19) (in one continuous movement) (1972 revised 2012)

Two Nocturnes for Piano (op.20) (1972 revised 2014)

Nocturne for a Dead Soldier (op.21) (1972 revised 2014)

Piano Sonata No 4 (op.22) (in one continuous movement) (1972 revised 2010)

Piano Sonata No 5 (op.24) (in 3 Movements) (1973 revised 2009)

Miniature Woodcut for Piano (op.25) (1974 revised 2004)

Five Parody Preludes for Piano (op.27) (1975 revised 2014)

Mad Study/Etude Folle for Piano (op.28) (1975 revised 2004)

Waters of the Cape (op.29) (1975 revised 2014)

Farewell to Music (op.51) (2011)


Poetry Collections

Miscellaneous Poems (1968-1981)

Triple Poetry (1970)

Spanish Poems of Regret (1986)

Late Poems (2003)

Poems of 2007

Poems published in a variety of literary magazines

Official website:



(b Cape Town,

12 March 1944)