Choral composer Stephen Wilkinson has died aged 102. He served in the Navy in the Atlantic during World War Two before complete a music degree at Cambridge. In fact, he suffered all his life from injuries suffered when the ship he was on exploded, but he did earn mentions in dispatches for that one for “bravery”. As Kipling put it, if you can keep your head when the floating arsenal you stand on ceases to exist…
Wilkinson then conducted the Hertford Choir, which gave an early career break to Antony Hopkins – another composer, not Dr Lector, despite the images now created in your mind. He worked with the BBC music department for a quarter of a century, and helped mentor some of the bigger names in British TV and film composing from the latter half of the 20th Century, for example Richard Rodney Bennett (Murder on the Orient Express), Geoffrey Burgon (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and children’s author Peter Dickson (who wrote eerie societal collapse trilogy The Changes). Wilkinson outlived all three of these proteges.
Wilkinson had a long connection to the Proms and was a big fan of Holst. (Who isn’t? If Tchaikovsky gives you the urge to conquer neighbouring countries, Mars makes you want to go and invade another planet…) When not giving out his seal of approval to younger composers, or conducting (including a long involvement with the BBC Northern Singers), Wilkinson also wrote a series of choral music, including for his daughter Clare Wilkinson, a noted soprano.
Somehow he managed to do all of this and raise six children at the same time. It should be clear to all by now that modern classical is not my strongest area of front page obits. My knowledge there ends roughly around the time Prokofiev died on the same day as some world leader, and around the time period Rachmaninov’s estate successfully sued Eric Carmen for plagiarism, because the silly sod assumed the Russian composer was in the public domain for All by Myself. However all the public obits for Stephen Wilkinson acknowledge that among his discipline, he was the superior talent in his life time, and he spent nearly a century successfully furthering the art of chloral composition in the world, while remaining gregarious, charismatic and possessing “rare poetic vision”.
He was a unique pick for Obituarynotice.
29 April 1919 – 10 August 2021