Obituary: John Wright

Ernest John Wright, commercial artist and composer, born the Curragh County Kildare 24 August 1911, married 1936 Grace Wright (died 1990), died Isleworth Middlesex 5 February 1993.

APPRENTICED as a commercial artist in the late 1920s, John Wright worked for London advertising agencies for many years. But he was a born composer. Like all genuine artists, he worked hard to master technique both as composer and clarinettist. Hearing him expound his orchestral music on the piano was a daunting experience. On clarinet his proficiency was evident. On the piano he often fumbled and slurred. Despite this, the ineffable charm of his melodic invention was unmistakable. The scores showed his mastery of form.

Genial, open-minded, thoughtful, affectionate, sincere, a good listener and talkative, Wright won many friends. He had some faults, usually observable in creative minds. He could be stubborn and egotistical; though to a lesser degree than any other talented artist I have known. Commercially he never made much money.

After secondment to the Ordnance Survey, Wright's main war service in the RAF was centred on mapping skills. He was a foundation member of staff at SHAEF HQ. His fragmentary autobiography, Just As It Happened: a composer's story, 1911 to 1947 (1992), was condensed from a much longer text. He wrote as he talked, with numerous parenthetical digressions. All are intrinsically interesting, but hard on the eye. He wouldn't admit merit in short sentences, although musically he was a master of them. He loved London. Pepys, Boswell, Hazlitt and Lamb were among his favourite authors. Wright's many vocal settings are memorably succinct.

Mainly self-educated in the fine arts, he had instinctive good taste and good judgement in selecting words for music. So his Six English Songs (1965/66) include poems by Robert Bridges, Dowson, Herbert Palmer and two forgotten poets, Edward Davison and Cecil Floerscheim. The Hesperus Songs (1973) to Beddoes, Byron and Shelley deserve a wide audience. His first symphony (in E flat: 1958) in its second movement includes stanzas 89, 90 and 97 from 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' for high soprano. His programme note for the symphony avers the need for a voice like Eva Turner's. The Vaughan Williams Trust paid for part-books to be copied for a projected performance in 1966.

Educationally and socially independent, John Wright had a keen critical intelligence. In 1950 he burned all his early music, plays and poems. His output since then comprises work for orchestra, for chorus, two operas to his own libretti (Phaedra, 1961) and a comic opera, The Spring Field Affair (1989). The Second Symphony (1972: F minor) was followed by a third (1990-93) on which the short score was completed. Full orchestration of the last movement was alone unfinished. There are four string quartets, one of which was played by the Kantrovitch Quartet, and many works for varied chamber ensembles. A sinfonietta for strings (1976) commemorates Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are at least three extant ballet scores.

Wright's dual existence, as commercial artist and composer, mirrored his mixed luck in musical performance. Ernest Harden during the 1930s and 1940s encouraged, guided and gave excellent performances of many early works by him with the West London Symphony Orchestra. Matyas Seiber conducted the first London performance of Wright's Divertimento for Oboe and Strings (1948) with the unforgettable Helen Gaskell as soloist. Later the BBC invited her to broadcast it and Evelyn Rothwell also broadcast the work superbly. Bernard Partridge premiered Wright's 1969 Violin Concerto under Joseph Vandernott in 1975. Vandernott also gave other superb performances of Wright's work. At Partridge's invitation Wright composed new cadenzas for the violin concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. Malcolm Arnold sponsored Wright's election to membership of the Composers Guild of Great Britain in 1959.

John Wright's equable temperament and inexhaustible physical and intellectual energy first stalled in 1973. An operation to remove a blood clot failed. Next day his left leg was amputated. His wife Grace's devoted support enabled him to continue a normal existence afterwards. Grace did everything for him domestically, leaving him free for composition. A man of wide cultural interests and resource, he continued to visit art exhibitions and museums, and read extensively on all matters of public moment concerned with the arts.

Richmond on Thames Arts Council was negotiating with John Wright to assume posthumous custodianship of all his musical scores and parts. This should facilitate study and further performances of his music.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links