Fagan, Gideon


b. Somerset West, 3 November, 1904

d. Cape Town, 20 March, 1980


South African composer. Fagan’s musical education began under the supervision of his brother, Johannes Fagan, who arranged private tutors in piano, theory and harmony. From 1916 to 1922, he attended the South African College of Music, not taking a degree course, but specializing in counterpoint, harmony, composition, score-reading and orchestration, all under the guidance of W. H. Bell. Fagan then studied for a further four years at the Royal College of Music in London. With conducting as his principal subject, Fagan obtained the highest degree (seven star) and was at the time the youngest student to conduct in the Parry Opera Theatre, and the first to conduct professional orchestras at the Trinity College of Music Patrons’ Fund concerts: the Royal Philharmonic, the Royal Albert Hall, the Queen’s Hall and the London Symphony Orchestras. Fagan returned to South African in 1926, but left again for London a year later on account of there being only limited opportunities in his chosen profession in South Africa. His second stay in England lasted until 1949.


During this time he undertook a variety of work - conducting, making musical arrangements, orchestrating and composing incidental music for film and theatre productions. Music publishers were eager to make use of Fagan’s services. Using the pseudonym ‘Albert Diggenhof’, he made arrangements of traditional Afrikaans folk songs for HMV as well as for the BBC. After 1936, he enjoyed a firm reputation as a guest conductor, as a popular composer of incidental music for films and documentaries and as musical director during recordings, also of his own music. The two bouquets, The glass slipper by H. and E. Farjeon and the successful Song of Norway are a few of the works that were performed under his direction. He was then appointed conductor of the Northern Orchestra of the BBC in Manchester, a post he resigned after three years. He signed a contract with the Johannesburg City Council in 1949 to conduct the City Orchestra for two years, as second conductor to Frits Schuurman. His contract was extended to three and a half years. Fagan often had the opportunity of conducting concerts, operas, school concerts and tours of the orchestra to the outlying areas. When the Voortrekker Monument was inaugurated in 1949, he conducted the combined SABC and City orchestras, and also the massed choirs that sang in the amphitheatre at the Monument. Fagan founded the popular lunch-hour concerts and Saturday concerts in Johannesburg. Later he organized the music at the Golden Jubilee Festival of African Consolidated Theatres. The SABC appointed Fagan as manager of their music department in Johannesburg in 1954. He was in succession manager, then music advisor, and manager of music planning, acting Head of Music and after 1964, Head of Music. During his thirteen years with the SABC, Fagan consistently strived to promote South African music. He commissioned the first South African radio opera, The coming of the butterflies by Stephen O’Reilly to a libretto by Cecil Jubber, he founded the SABC Junior Orchestra, and he conducted on occasion the National Symphony Orchestra of the SABC and other South African orchestras. In 1967, he became a senior lecturer at the South African College of Music, chiefly for orchestration and composition, and remained in this position until the end of 1972. He then retired to his seaside home at Betty’s Bay where he devoted himself to his creative work. In 1973 and again in 1976, the National Education Department awarded Fagan their triennial prize for ‘the best concert work written in South Africa’. His achievement and his services to music were acknowledged in 1963, when the Swiss International Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him a life Fellowship.





(Songs with pianoforte accompaniment) 


I had a dove (Keats) (1929) 


Die nag (Fagan) (1929) 


Klein sonneskyn (A.G.Visser) (1930)


Lied van die Wonderboom (A.G.Visser) (1930) 


Omdat die dood (A.G.Visser) (1930) 


Die bergblommetjie (Fagan) (1935) 


She walks in beauty (Byron) (1935) 


Elegy (Byron) (1937)


Slampamperliedjie No. 2: Eis van die vonk (C.Leipoldt) (1941) 


Ek sal opstaan (W.E.G.Louw) (1972)


Songs with orchestral accompaniment:

Wagter op die toring (Fagan) (1926) 


Slampamperliedjie No. 1: Wys my die plek (C.L. Leipoldt) (1941) 


Solo voices, chorus and orchestra: 


Tears (Walt Whitman), a symphonic poem based on an incomplete work by Johannes Fagan (1954) 


Een Vaderland, oratorio commissioned by the National Education Department (1977-1978)






Nocturne, for woodwind and strings (1926) 


Jungle music, pastoral and lion hunt, from the film music for David Livingstone, subsequently superseded by the tone poem Ilala, written on the same thematic material (1937) 


South African folk-tune suite, commissioned by the BBC (1942 


Five orchestral pieces, mood music commissioned by the Chappell Library, London (1948-1949) 


Pastoral montage 

The haunted house 

Playtime waltz 

Motif for murder 

Kampala kraal-dance 

Concert overture in D, commissioned by the SABC (1954) 


Huiwelkruin, suite for piano and orchestra (1954) 


SABC anniversary overture, commissioned by the SABC for its 21st birthday celebrations (1957) 


Fanfare for Radio South Africa, commissioned by the SABC for use as opening to its services (1966) 


Albany, overture dedicated to the British Settlers in South Africa, commissioned by the SABC for the 150th Settlers’ anniversary (1970) 


Ex unitate vires, symphonic sketch, commissioned by the Republic Festival Committee for the 10th anniversary of the Republic (1970) 


R-10 march, as Ex unitate vires above (1971) 


Suite for strings, commissioned by the Brussels Chamber Orchestra, awarded the National Education Department’s triennial award in 1976 (1974) 


Miniature overture – fanfare for a festival, for 22 brass, 8 percussion and 6 harps, commissioned by the SABC for the 10th anniversary of the SABC Junior Symphony Orchestra. (1976) 


Karoo-simfonie, commissioned by the SABC (1976)


Chamber music:


Nocturne, transcription of the work for woodwind and strings, for violin and piano (1930) 


Nonet, commissioned by the Czech Nonet (1958) 


My lewe, a continuous work based on six poems by Totius, for baritone and chamber music ensemble, awarded the National Education Department’s triennial prize in 1973 (1970) 


Little suite – memories of Jojo’s visit, for violin and piano (1973): 


Happy meeting 

Fond greeting 



Quintics, “a five minute frolic for brass” (1975)




Danse des harpies (1929) 


Two mood sketches, commissioned by the Kingsmead College for the inauguration of the extention to the building for Music (1968) 


Children’s pieces, six little pieces for Jojo (1973): 


Prelude for Button-nose 

G.P.P. (Guppy, Puppy, Pluto) 

Cheeky aristobrats 

Pawns and pieces 


Minoff’s march 


Film music:


British Films: David Livingstone, The captain’s table, The last rose of summer, Auld lang syne 


Shorts and documentaries: The music-master series, Quaint Quebec, Highlights of Cape Town, Irish interlude, Dangerous journey, Mrs. Worth goes to Westminster 


South African documentaries: Vaal River story, Fishermen of Skeleton Coast, They came to stay, South African mosaic.

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