Born into a Jewish family in London's East End, he joined the British Army at the age of 14 as a band boy, and as a result of his natural ability was sponsored by the Army to study at the Royal College of Music. He is the younger brother of Terry Burns (born Mark Sager) the medical inventor and picture restorer. There is also a half-brother, Edward Tunnicliff (born Edward Sager), who now lives in North Norfolk.
Sidney Sager's musical career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he fought with the British Expeditionary Force in France and was evacuated from Dunkirk. Following a brief spell in England he was transferred to North Africa, where he served from 1941 to 1945.
He left the army in 1945 and returned to civilian life as a musician, playing brass for some time for the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. During the 1950s he studied composition and conducting in Geneva, and shortly after his return to the UK moved to Bristol, where he conducted the BBC West of England Light Orchestra and founded the Paragon, the City of Bristol's first symphony orchestra, which subsequently reformed as Bristol Sinfonia.
He has perhaps become best known for his music for television and radio. He was involved for many years with the BBC wildlife unit at Bristol and also wrote the music for many programmes for HTV West.
- Succubus (1986) TV series
- The Sin Doctor (1983) radio series
- Into the Labyrinth (1981) TV series
- The Clifton House Mystery (1978) TV series
- Children of the Stones (1977) TV series
- "King of the Castle" (1977) (TV)
- Play for Today (3 episodes, 1972-1974)
- "Three for the Fancy" (1974) TV episode
- "Shakespeare or Bust" (1973) TV episode
- "The Fishing Party" (1972) TV episode
- Expedition ins Unbekannte (1958) TV series
One of the most well-remembered programmes he scored was The Best of Friends, starring John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, and Patrick McGoohan as Sydney Cockerell, Laurentia McLachlan, and George Bernard Shaw respectively. This work was scored for string quintet modelled after Schubert.
He also composed orchestral, band and choral works for festivals, often with children's themes (much like his television scores). In 1960 he wrote the score for Delilah The Sensitive Cow, a story written and narrated by his friend Johnny Morris, the television presenter, which was released as a record by Decca.
Children of the Stones
The 25th anniversary release of Children of the Stones on DVD by Second Sight Films has perhaps more than any other created new interest in the work of this underrated composer. The combination of a cappella vocalizations fixated on a single, repeated Icelandic word ("Hadave"), along with its dissonant wordless counterpoint, makes this score unique among children's programming. The vocals were provided by the Ambrosian Singers, featuring Lynda Richardson on the solo soprano line. The vocals were supplemented by electric guitar, bass guitar and percussion.
The main theme of Children of the Stones is written on the acoustic scale, ambiguously fluctuating between a tonality of C and D major. A signature two-chord harmonic progression, Em9 to G/C, is heard throughout the seven-part series at key dramatic points. A secondary theme is treated in canon and is diegetic music, representing a hymn sung by the spellbound villagers in the story. This theme is later echoed in the guitar and bass when the main child protagonist, Matt, uses his latent psychometric abilities. The secondary theme also concludes the series in a light jazz arrangement, establishing a lighter tone before the final twist is revealed.
- The Times obituary, 18 Dec 2002. Accessed 27 Oct 2014
- BFI. Accessed 27 Oct 2014
- Scowcroft, Philip L. "A 167th garland of British light music composers". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 2009-11-03.