Robert J. Lurtsema

The legendary host of Morning Pro Musica

Robert J. Lurtsema (November 14, 1931–June 12, 2000) was a public radio broadcaster.

Lurtsema hosted the classical music show Morning pro musica on WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts, from 1971 until his death from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was known among public radio listeners throughout New England for his sonorous voice and his phrasing, which frequently included long pauses.

The long pauses, anathema to mainstream radio, were either tolerated or loved by his loyal listeners. “I’m not afraid of dead air,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a quiet spot once in a while. When I pause I’m visualizing my audience, the person I’m speaking to. I always imagine I’m speaking to someone in particular.”

47 thoughts on “Robert J. Lurtsema

  1. WGBH Folks:

    I was recently going through a collection of my old cassette tapes to transfer some of them to MP3 and came across a tape I did in September 1980 of each one of Robert J.’s morning birds and music introductions to his Morning Pro Musica show (Monday through Friday and the Weekend). My wife and I were in grad school at the time and knew we’d be leaving Boston when we finished, so she thought it would be nice to have the tape to remember Robert J, with whom we started each day on WGBH. I’ve converted the tape to separate MP3 tracks and then to video and posted each day as a separate video on YouTube with the names of the pieces, which I had not recalled until finding this blog. You can find them by searching “Robert J. Lurtsema” on YouTube.



  2. May I add another note to recognize another way Robert J. Lurtsema, his associate producer and colleague Leslie Warshaw, and Morning Pro Musica continue to ding the universe? We are about to open a new hospital here in Massachusetts that will open each day with birdsong morphing into music and close each day with music morphing into night sounds, carried over every speaker in the facility. This tradition will mark a few moments of shared peace each day for our patients, our visitors and and every member of our staff. This tradition comes directly from my memory of Wednesday mornings at 7:00 AM–birdsong, Respighi, a few seconds of silence, and then that sonorous voice.

  3. The snip from Wikipedia seems rather small for such a large presence.

    Here are a couple of links with a bit more depth.

    I’ve heard of off-air recordings of MPM; it would be nice if some were put on-line.

    I’ll add one story. In the mid 70’s I was developing a system for the FAA that would allow pilots to obtain weather information for their flights by telephone. The then state-of-the-art allowed the computer to deliver its responses by stringing together digitized snippets of words and phrases. Things like “6” “0” “hundred” “feet”, “Thunderstorm” … Quite a lot of random-seeming words that had to fit on the small disks of the day. We hid in a closet to produce these during development, but needed a professional voice for the product.

    There were several fans of MPM in the office, and one had the idea of having Robert J. record the necessary vocabulary.

    He agreed, and produced a tape for us. We had a special use for his oft-noted pauses; our software used them to delimit the words. We (including one private pilot) were very pleased with the result.

    When the system was presented to the FAA for production, it was accepted on the condition that the vocabulary be re-recorded by a commercial announcer. The FAA felt that Robert J. was “too soothing for this application”. Apparently “Thunderstorm”, “Tornado” and “ceiling” needed to be delivered with the punch of an aspirin commercial.

    We were disappointed in the FAA’s low opinion of pilots that led to the rejection of the voice that we wanted.

  4. While studying at Oberlin College, friends and I were faithful listeners to RJL’s “Saturday Night,” a diverse and delightful potpourri (always including an episode of the BBC “Goon Show”). The theme song was an uplifting way to end this unusual program. Does anyone know which version of “Everybody Loves Saturday Night” was used for the show? Much obliged for an answer to this 40-year-old question of mine!

  5. (Monday)
    GABRIELI: Canzon septimi toni #2
    [Cleveland & Philadelphia Orch. Brass] Sony 62353

    TELEMANN: Suite in a for flute & stgs: 3rd mvmt, Air à l’Italien
    [Maxence Larrieu, fl; Pailliard CO/Jean-François Pailliard]
    LP MHS 822 (original)

    [used in later “Themes” programs: Julius Baker, fl; I Solisti di Zagreb/
    Antonio Janigro} Vanguard 5011

    RESPIGHI: Ancient Airs & Dances Suite #2: Bergamasca
    [Philharmonia Hungarica/Antal Dorati] Mercury 416 496

    BESARD: Allegro Marcato
    [Vienna Mandolin & Guitar Ens./Vinzenz Hladky] LP Turnabout 34239

    BACH: Concerto in c for 2 pfs, BWV 1060: 2nd mvt
    [Robert & Gaby Casadesus, pfs; Zurich CO/Edmond de Stoutz] Sony 67179

    (Weekday closing theme)
    MOZART: Sinfonia concertante in Eb for winds, K.297B: finale
    [Joseph Bopp, fl; Hans Kull, ob; André Fournier, hn; Henri Bouhcet, bsn;
    Chamber Orch. of the Saar/Karl Ristenpart] LP Nonesuch 71068

    (Weekend theme)
    HANDEL: Solomon: Entry of the Queen of Sheba
    [E. Power Biggs, organ; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Charles Groves] LP Columbia 30058 [original]

    [other versions later used:
    [English CO / Richard Bonynge LP London 2247
    Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon Reference 2101]

    Dawn Chorus: The Birds of Morning Pro Musica Sine Qua Non LP 79106

    (On any given day RJL would mix several sources, depending on weather, season, etc., but most are represented on this LP. Don’t know if it is still in print.)

    • Leslie, Is there any chance of any of Robert J’s morning intro’s being recreated, or a re-release of the Dawn Chorus at very least? I find myself (and so many others) longing to hear them again. I tried reaching out to the station but they were not helpful. I wish someone would try to do the other days as John Lester has done.

      • Here you go:

        0705 (Monday) GABRIELI: Canzon septimi toni #2 Sony 62353
        [Cleveland & Philadelphia Orch. Brass]
        0709 (Tuesday) TELEMANN: Suite in a for flute & stgs Vanguard 5011
        [Julius Baker, fl; I Solisti di Zagreb/Antonio Janigro} (Not the version used on MPM)
        0734 (Wednesday) RESPIGHI: Ancient Airs & Dances Suite #2: Bergamasca Mercury 416 496
        [Philharmonia Hungarica/Antal Dorati]
        0741 (Thursday) BESARD: Allegro Marcato LP Turnabout 34239
        [Vienna Mandolin & Guitar Ens./Vinzenz Hladky]
        0747 (Friday) BACH: Concerto in c for 2 pfs, BWV 1060 Sony 67179
        [Robert & Gaby Casadesus, pfs; Zurich CO/Edmond de Stoutz]
        0808 (Weekend theme) HANDEL: Solomon: Entry of the Queen of Sheba LP Columbia 30058
        [E. Power Biggs, organ; Royal PO / Charles Groves]
        0814 (Weekday closing theme) MOZART: Sinfonia concertante in Eb for LP Nonesuch 71068
        for winds, K.297B [Joseph Bopp, fl; Hans Kull, ob; André Fournier, hn;

    • May I ask if you know what recording Robert J. used when he played Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto? I am pretty sure it was Sir Neville Marriner of the Academy of St. Martin in-the-fields. Usually there was a recording company listed and a number of the piece by that company. Thank you.

  6. Another WGBH alum and MIT alum now living in Mumbai for whom every day began with WGBH’s signature tune since the late 1960s and heralded a pleasant beginning to the day!

  7. Robert J’s series ‘Learning About Raga’ was many hours of taped interviews with the top musicians and teachers in India. I keep hoping that WGBH will re-broadcast these. Or if anyone else has these tapes, i they would be made available.

  8. Like so many others, I grew up in New England waking up to Robert J.’s birds. I was happy to discover that WXXI in Rochester, NY begins their broadcast day (when they leave the “Classical Music Through the Night” and begin their own programming with bird song. Alas, they segue from that into NPR News, but it still brings back memories.

  9. When I think of Robert J I remember Reading aloud which helped me keep some semblence of sanity while raising three children on a farm in NH

  10. Wayne, I share your dismay over several losses on Boston radio and know the limitations you mention about WHRB. However, there are others in radio who are also aware of the needs resulting from the gaps you mention. Most are within signal range – via internet. Exploration may reward you.

  11. Music education on the radio with carefully selected performances and recordings. I feel that music education on the radio began and ended with Robert J. I think there was a continuation of M.P.M. on the weekends for a while that was very well done.

    The Boston areas broadcast of the academic music genre (I hate calling it “classical” for obvious reasons) died when the profits of “news and noise” trumped music. One couold say WHRB has filled that gap but a) Its signal does not reach me and b) It lacks the involvement of world renown contributors and c) does not have the quality and power of the intentionally under modulated signal of WGBH in the Robert J. era.

    The Boston area broadcast of all genre of music has lost the differentiators that made Boston radio unique.

  12. As I read of the death of Jean Redpath, I remember Robert J. How he adored and appreciated her. Of course, they were both remarkable, one-of-a-kind beings. We are lucky that they passed our way.

  13. Robert J. must be spinning in his grave if he knows that anyone referred to him as “Lurtz.” He would tolerate nothing but “Robert J.” or at least “Robert” (and “Bob” from a VERY few VERY close old friends). I know because I worked with him from 1978 till he died.

    • Dear David W—
      you are not the only one who still misses this kind soul. I will likely remember his beloved voice just as I will likely never forget the -to me- equally beloved Charles Kuralt.
      May you, Sir, be in at least relatively good health & spirits, wherever you are.
      I am an almost 74-year old geezer in Spokane,WA, the state’s ‘Hinterland’.
      Michael L.

  14. I listened to Robert J for years and years, using my clock radio and him to wake up every morning, until, that is, until ‘GBH had the besotted notion to begin the day with a spoken news show, which meant my radio did not turn on to the lovely silence of the carrier signal, but the raucous cacophony of a news reader. Ouch. At that moment, I quit listening and also quit giving money to the station.

    I met Robert J one night at an event on the Charles- he was standing on the Boston side near the business school and I was just taking a walk around the area. I recognized him and started a brief conversation. He was amazingly gracious, but I can’t remember what we talked about, although I’m sure it was about music. I was very sad to hear of his leaving the radio, and even sadder to learn of his death not that long afterwards.

  15. Back in the early 1980s, I was a volunteer “air control engineer/board operator/dj” for Vermont Public Radio, WVPR. Listeners often called and asked us about Lurtz’s theme music. Digging through some of my old files and notes, I found these:

    Lurtz’s Monday through Friday opening themes:

    Monday: Gabrieli – Canzon Septimi Toni #2 – the brass of the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; Columbia MS 7209

    Tuesday: Telemann – Air a L’Italienne, from the Suite in A for flute and strings – Ensemble of Cologne; Nonesuch H 71078

    Wednesday: Respighi, Bergamasque from “Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute” – Hungarian Philharmonica, Antal Dorati conducting; Mercury SRI 75009

    Thursday: Jean Baptiste Besard, Allegro Marcato – Vienna Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble; Turnabout TV 34239

    Friday: Bach, Concerto #1 in C for 2 pianos, BWV 1060 – Robert and Gaby Casadessus; Odyssey 32 16 0382

    Closing Theme, Monday through Friday:
    Mozart, Andantino con Variazioni from Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and orchestra in E flat, K297b; Chamber Orchestra of the Saar; Nonesuch H 71068

    Saturday and Sunday, Opening and Closing Theme:
    Handel, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from “Solomon”

    • Wow, thanks! That one had me stumped.
      So to complete the set of Youtube links I posted up-thread (2/17/2013 — almost a year ago!), here’s a Youtube-available performance of the Telemann a minor flute suite, by the Cologne Soloists Ensemble. The Air a l’Italienne starts at 8:27:

      I couldn’t find a performance of the Jean-Baptiste Besard Allegro Marcato on Youtube, so the Ozawa+BSO performance of the corresponding Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances movement I linked to up-thread will have to do :-).

    • Thank you both! I kept thinking of Robert J over that past few weeks, and I feel fortunate to have found this site through referral by John “Pathfinder” Lester’s WordPress blog. Now, as for so many, one of the small holes in my heart can be patched a bit.

    • I have a recollection of Telemann: Fantasia In A Minor, TWV 40/11 – 1 being used and then it went into a second piece. Is this possible?

      • I notice that you have Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K.364 listed as the weekday closing music. I’m pretty certain that is not correct. It was Mozart’s other Sinfonia Concertante, K.297b. (which some consider not to be by Mozart). I don’t think Heifetz ever recorded that one!

  16. I was at Phillips Exeter in the early 80’s, and Robert J’s voice and perfect New England autumns are forever linked. Re Wednesday’s opening: If memory serves, it wasn’t a full orchestra; rather it was all strings. I searched for years and found it: the album is an old Vox/Turnabout LP “Music for Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble: Works By Galilei, Molinaro, Caroso, Gianoncelli and Besard” by the Vienna Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble. The track is Allegretto Moderato by Besard and, yes, …………………….…. (Lutzeman pause)…………………………………… it’s on iTunes!

    The entire album is really the source for Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, and Thursday’s piece, “Danza Rustica”,” is represented by Gianoncelli’s Allegro.

    As for Tuesday’s, I seem to remember reading somewhere it was by Telemann. Will keep looking, TDM


    Here you’ll find the original Dawn Chorus clip used each day by Robert J. followed by The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

    I found it while also searching for a list of the intro pieces he used each day. I recently moved to a new home (in CA) and rehung my two MPM posters that I’ve saved and moved across the country, despite their being faded. This morning I woke up to the posters for the first time and shortly thereafter, Handel’s music played on the radio! The flood of memories sent me straight to Google!

    I’m hoping that when I unpack my garage boxes, I’ll still have my LP of Dawn Chorus :-)

  18. I think I remember all of the themes *except* Tuesday’s opening theme…

    These aren’t the exact performances he used, but they’re what a little searching on YouTube came up with:

    Monday opening theme: Gabrieli, Canzon Septimi Toni a 8 No.2 (beautiful rendition by the Chicago Symphony brass — Dale Clevenger et al. — at

    Tuesday opening theme: ==> Anyone know??? <==

    Wednesday opening theme: Respighi, Bergamasca from the 2nd Ancient Airs and Dances suite (rendition by Marriner & St-Martin-in-the-Fields at

    Thursday opening theme: Danza Rustica from the same suite (Ozawa+BSO at, starting at 4:19)

    Friday opening theme: slow movement of Bach concerto BWV1060 arranged for two pianos (Christoph Eschenbach + Justus Frantz + Hamburg Philharmonic at

    Weekday closing theme: 3rd movement of Mozart sinfonia concertante K364 (Heifetz + Primrose + RCA Victor symphony at

    Weekend opening and closing theme: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel's "Solomon" (Marriner and St-Martin-in-the-Fields at

    My favorite reminiscence about the latter: early on in the life of Brian O'Donovan's "A Celtic Sojourn", he followed Robert J. immediately at 12 noon on Saturdays. Soon after its release, Brian opened one broadcast of "Sojourn" — immediately after Robert J. had signed off with Handel's "Sheba" — with DeDannan's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway Bay)", a transcription of "Sheba" for Irish instruments: :-)

    So… anybody remember what Robert J. opened with on Tuesdays?

    • Tuesday’s theme was a flute concerto. I’m pretty sure it was from J.S. Bach. If I am not mistaken, he would start with a lively solo movement from the middle of the piece. Assuming the time signature was 4/4, and key of A (3 sharps), the opening phrase started with an upbeat with an eighth note (high A?), then two quads of sixteenth notes, alternating between F? and A? going down to an eighth note (E?) followed by a C?-D? pair of sixteenth notes and finally an eighth note on E?.

      I have looked in vain on YouTube for this pleasant piece with its bird-like “opening”. Maybe a baroque flutist can help track this one down. Are all the flute concertos together in the BWV?

  19. I wish someone could tell me what the music was for each day…after the birds, each day had a signature piece…on monday it was “Queen of Sheba” but that is the only one I know. I wish I could find the others…

    • All are available on Youtube if you search Lurtsema and Scott MacKay. My son made them into an alarm app for me!

      Lurtz’s Monday through Friday opening themes:

      Monday: Gabrieli – Canzon Septimi Toni #2 – the brass of the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; Columbia MS 7209 2:51

      Tuesday: Telemann – Air a L’Italienne, from the Suite in A for flute and strings – Ensemble of Cologne; Nonesuch H 71078

      Wednesday: Respighi, Bergamasque from “Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute” – Hungarian Philharmonica, Antal Dorati conducting; Mercury SRI 75009

      Thursday: Jean Baptiste Besard, Allegro Marcato – Vienna Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble; Turnabout TV 34239

      Friday: Bach, Concerto #1 in C for 2 pianos, BWV 1060 – Robert and Gaby Casadessus; Odyssey 32 16 0382 Closing Theme, Monday through Friday:Mozart, Andantino cn Variazioni from Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and orchestra in E flat, K297b; Chamber Orchestra of the Saar; Nonesuch H 71068

      Saturday: Queen of Sheba

  20. As I search the web, I keep finding more and more people that are on the hunt for this segment. WGBH would make a lot of people VERY happy. :-)

  21. Please keep looking, Jay! There are so many of us out here that grew up with Robert J. and his cathartic voice. I’d love to start my day with the sounds of chirping birds, fading into Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and then if I could just hear an intro from Robert J….I would be in 7th heaven. Please keep looking.

  22. Dear WGBH Friends-

    Heard a snippet of a piece on my car radio that was one of the intro pieces Mr. Lurtsema used. My heart jumped with happiness and my memory overlaid his bird chirpings. Then my eyes welled up at the memories of those by-gone days and fact that he has left us.

    Is there a recording available of his intro segments with the birds chirping? I think I need it.

    Best regards,
    Lars Peterson
    Washington, DC

    • Thanks for asking, Lars. I would like to hear a clip of that morning tradition, too.

      I’ll forward your inquiry to several folks who might be able to provide an answer.

      • I, too, would love to find a recording of the introduction/opening of a typical MPM show from back in the day. Can there be a better way to start the day, or to wake up, than to hear morning birdsong for a minute or two, and then hear the chamber music join in? I don’t think so. I haven’t found it on youtube, or out there on the web. If you do, please let me know; I want to set it as the sound for the alarm clock an app on my Droid. Thanks, Jay.

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