seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of A. J. Potter, Irish Composer & Teacher

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, dies suddenly in Greystones, County Wicklow, on July 5, 1980.

Potter is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918 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.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


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Birth of A. J. Potter, Composer & Teacher

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.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.