Obituary: John Wright
Saturday 20 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.
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado's stylist Luis Alfredo Garcia is found stabbed to death
Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Ed Miliband's 'north London set' must be demolished to save Labour, say critics
Green Party Caroline Lucas interview: 'We could be on the edge of something very big'
£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...
£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...
VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...