My interest in composition began shortly after winning a scholarship to Charterhouse School and starting piano lessons. Having loved the Baroque composers ever since I started attending concerts in the Dorking Halls with my mother (to whom I owe my love of classical music), my first attempts at composition were pastiches in this style.

After reluctantly facing the fact that I was living in the 20th century rather than the 17th or early 18th, I started to develop a more contemporary style. Following in the footsteps of Vaughan Williams, Hindemith and, more recently, Arvo Pärt, I made a detailed study of music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ending up writing pieces which belong stylistically to the present day but which nonetheless draw inspiration from the past – sometimes the very distant past.


I went on to study music at Oxford University, choosing composition as one of my options. With no doors opening for a career in music after I finished my degree, my composition ground to a halt, the process being aided and abetted by the harsh reality of needing to earn my keep! When my setting of Wilfred Owen’s poem Futility for tenor and piano was performed in Winchester in 1981, it was to be the last advertised public performance of any of my compositions for 37 years. This long silence was finally broken in June 2018, when the slow movement of my sonata for flute and piano received two performances in the space of a week – in Brighton and Wadhurst.
Here is a recording of the performance on 17th June by Rosie Bowker (Flute) and Clare Simmonds (piano) from the Duruflé Trio, as part of their farewell concert  in St Luke’s Church Brighton.

Sonata for flute and piano second movement Pastorale played by the Duruflé Trio

by John Petley

Having returned to composition in late 2017 after a long gap, I have revised a number of my earlier works and written several new pieces. It has been a real privilege to hear several of my pieces performed and indeed, to take part in three performances of my choral works, One particular highlight was the performance of my six-part motet O Vos Omnes during the sung Eucharist in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast in August 2019.

Here are recordings of my two chorale preludes for organ – O come, O come, Emmanuel  and O sacred Head sore wounded, recorded on the organ of Wadhurst Parish Church in October 2020. 

Here is Karen Kingsley performing my Toccata for piano at the Friends’ Meeting House, Brighton,
on 2nd October 2021

Below is a list of completed pieces, as at October 2020.

Missa Finis Terrae for SSATB.
Congregational Gloria  for unison voices and organ. .
The “New Forest” (or Phrygian Mode) Preces and Responses for SATB. .
Out of the Depths (Psalm 130) for SSATBarB. .
Save Me, O God (verses from Psalm 69) for SATB and three trombones.
The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23) for SSATB, solo flute, 2 violins, viola and cello.
This is the day (Psalm 118:24) for SSATTB.
O Vos Omnes (Lamentations  1:12) for SSATBarB.
Hosanna to the Son of David (Matthew 21:9, Luke 19:38) for SATB
Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14) for SSATB.
Hark, the glad sound (words by Philip Doddridge) for SATB.
Verbum Caro Factum Est (John 1:14) for SATB.
They that go down to the sea in ships (Psalm 107:23-26, 28-31 ) for SATB and organ
I heard a voice from Heaven (Rev 14:13) for SSATBarB

String Quartet.
Sonata for flute & piano.
Sonata for cello and piano.
Trio for flute, viola and harp

Chorale Prelude O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Chorale Prelude O Sacred Head sore wounded (Passion Chorale)
‘Phrygian’ Toccata and Fugue

Dorian Mode Fantasia for piano or harpsichord.
Springtime for violin and piano.


Futility for tenor and piano (words by Wilfred Owen).

Dance Suite in five movements.


John was born in Redhill, Surrey in 1958. He lives in a village near Heathfield, East Sussex. He and his wife are members of Mayfield Baptist Chapel, where he sometimes plays the organ. His other interests include railways, history, gardening and keeping guinea pigs.

Patrons: Michael Finnissy & Sally Beamish OBE