John Petley










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 1980, it was to be the last advertised public performance of any of my compositions for almost 38 years.

During that time, music took a lower profile in my life generally but it was only in a dormant state, waiting for the right moment to spring back to life. That moment came in the autumn of 2017 when I decided to join the Wadhurst-based choir Polyphony who were performing Handel’s Messiah in December. Inspired by a fellow choir member who had also taken up composition, I started looking through two thick folders of the pieces I had written many years earlier. My earlier enthusiasm for composition was re-kindled and I not only started composing again but began what I know will be a long and laborious process of reviewing – and where necessary re-working or possibly in some cases discarding – my earlier compositions.

So at this stage, a detailed list of my compositions would not be appropriate as some sheets of manuscript paper in those two thick folders may end up on a bonfire! I have written quite a range of pieces, including choral works, some chamber music, a couple of songs and a few pieces for organ (which is my main instrument). I have also composed for orchestra, but very little.

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.