Wilson, John Whitridge

Composer

b Bournville, Warwicks (W Midlands) 1905, d Guildford, Surrey 1992. Manchester Grammar Sch, Dulwich Coll, and Sidney Sussex Coll Cambridge (Physics and Maths; later MusB). At 23 he decided on a career in music and studied at RCM, taught by Vaughan Williams and encouraged by his uncle Walford Davies. He taught music at Tonbridge Sch, then (with some science) at Charterhouse 1932–65; taught at RCM until 1980. Organist at Guildford Methodist Ch; co-edited several hymn collections including The Clarendon Hymn Book 1936, Hymns for Church and School 1964, Hymns and Songs 1969, Hymns for Celebration 1974, Broadcast Praise 1981, and Hymns and Psalms 1983, which contains many of his tunes and arrangements. For many years an active member (and treasurer) of the Hymn Society, where his wit and erudition enriched his frequent contributions, expert yet self-effacing, to its annual conference and quarterly Bulletin. For many years from 1967 onwards he organised the Society’s annual ‘Act of Praise’ as well as Westminster Abbey’s long-running ‘Come and Sing’ series. He compiled 2 collections of hymns for use as anthems (1978, 1985), and frequently collaborated with Fred Pratt Green and other writers, but although he wrote a classic booklet on hymn tunes, his perfectionism may have prevented him producing the major books of which he was capable. He did however edit the previously unpublished music of Roger North, composed c1695–1728. A Congregationalist who became an Anglican communicant, he was equally at home among Methodists and others. His friend Erik Routley called him ‘our generation’s most devoted encourager of fine hymnody’; Robin Leaver says that his ‘energies, insight and dogged persistence influenced many poets and composers of hymns, informed numerous hymnal editors, and goaded hymnologists to get their facts straight…[but] he worked in the background in ways in which many people in the wider world of hymnody were almost completely unaware’. His innocent-seeming questions could sometimes prick a bubble; of one contemporary name he asked, ‘Do you think he will ever write a real hymn?’, and of some texts starting ‘God of…’ and ‘Lord of…’ he would enquire, ‘What exactly does “of

Tunes and arrangements by Wilson, John Whitridge

Tune Name
Ben Johnson’s Carol