Archibald James (Archie) Potter, Irish composer and teacher who writes hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music, is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918.
Potter is born to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lives on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father is a church organist and piano tuner who has been blind since childhood. His mother is, in Potter’s own words, “a raging alcoholic.” He escapes a rather grim childhood when he goes to live with an aunt in Kent, England.
Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter is accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he is sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he goes to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studies composition under Vaughan Williams. While at the Royal College he wins the Cobbett prize for chamber music.
World War II interrupts Potter’s music education, and he leaves college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East. After the war he settles in Dublin, where he continues his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.
Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chooses the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, show that he has absorbed Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces are awarded Radio Éireann‘s “Carolan Prize” for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax. A year later Potter repeats this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also wins the Carolan Prize.
In 1955 Potter is appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he becomes an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.
In the 1960s, Potter turns to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, becomes the composer’s own favourite of all his compositions. Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he writes what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia “de Profundis” (1969). The première is given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on March 23, 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen. The Irish Times refers to the concert as a “major national event.” In December 1969, he receives a Jacob’s Award for the composition.
Potter’s last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, receives its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after his death.