Arthur Wilson: Trombonist hailed as the most important of his generation

Arthur Wilson was a master of the trombone and a mainstay of British orchestral brass in the second half of the 20th century, both through his playing and his teaching. Seldom in the orchestral spotlight, he none the less made audiences aware of the trombone in the quality of his playing in the Philharmonia, which he joined as second trombone in 1951, becoming principal in 1962 until leaving the orchestra in 1979. During this time he played regularly under Karajan, Klemperer, Giulini, Muti, Maazel and Frubeck de Burgos, all of whom appreciated his musicianship and the skill with which he brought the orchestra's trombone section to such a high standard. He was Professor of Trombone at the Royal College of Music from 1967 until 1999, seven years beyond professorial retirement age, and many trombonists in British orchestras today owe the development and honing of their skills to his inspiration and care.

Arthur Wilson was born in London with a father and grandfather who were both professional trombonists of the dance-band and theatre-pit world. When he was 16 his father lent him his spare trombone and let him get on with it, and Arthur modelled his playing on the records of Tommy Dorsey. He remained largely self-taught until National Service, when he joined the band of the Coldstream Guards, and from there went to the Royal College of Music on one of the exhibitions offered at that time to military bandsmen. This set him on the path of orchestral trombone playing, contact with other young players – many of whom would later become colleagues – and training at the hands of Morris Smith.

A variety of post-war work kept him busy until 1950, when the position of second trombone in the London Symphony Orchestra fell vacant. After one year there he was successful in gaining the same position in the newly formed and high-powered Philharmonia Orchestra, later becoming principal. It was during this period that he decided that the first trombone parts written by Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann and others in the 19th century for the alto trombone should be again played on that instrument and not the tenor trombone in general use. At first this caused comment but the tonal difference was increasingly appreciated by conductors, to the extent that other principal trombones also took up the alto instrument.

After leaving the Philharmonia, Wilson joined the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as co-principal trombone until 1981. In 1967 Morris Smith died and Arthur was the obvious choice to succeed him as professor of the instrument at the Royal College of Music, being elected a Fellow in 1995. He was active in other areas, being a founder member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and principal trombone of the English Chamber Orchestra whenever it expanded to play large-scale works, particularly for Britten and Barenboim.

His diary was ever full. His wisdom was also imparted to younger players when he was appointed trombone coach to the National Youth Orchestra and he went on giving advice to players who called upon him in his busy years of retirement.

For trombonists today, the name Arthur Wilson brings immediate, pleasurable reminiscences coupled with a deep sense of gratitude for all that he did for them individually and for their instrument generally. They remember a gentle man, always correctly dressed, ready with a humorous tale or generous with words of trombone wisdom, acts of kindness and warm hospitality.

I had the good fortune to know Arthur from his Philharmonia days and from 1986 as a near-neighbour in north London. His later years were beset by the onset of Parkinson's Disease and as this progressed he was sustained by his wife, Fiona, who ensured that he was able to get to the Wigmore Hall or Glyndebourne, while carers enabled him also to go to Lords – he was a great cricket lover – and Wimbledon. He retained his gentle manner, welcoming mien and enquiring mind, and the house was ever-full of friends and professional musicians.

Arthur John Wilson, trombonist: born London 21 June 1927; married 1949 Edna Violet Snelling (marriage dissolved 1977), 1991 Fiona Margaret Grant; died London 10 July 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Order Processor

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Graphic Designer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot