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)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution