Peter Charles Arthur Wishart (1921 – 1984)

Wishart Tree No. 023

Born: 25 June 1921 – Crowborough, England

Peter Charles Arthur Wishart studied at Birmingham University for his B.Mus degree and later with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He first taught at Birmingham University, moving on to Kings College London and then to the Guildhall School of Music. In 1977 he was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Reading.

Wishart composed opera, orchestral and chamber ensembles. His most famous, popular work is his carol “Alleluya! A New Work is Come on Hand”, a rich cascading setting of a 15th-century English verse (reproduced below).

His principal operatic works are “Two in the Bush” a 1 Act comedy which has a tango sequence influenced by American musicals. “The Captive”, a tragedy in 1 Act, is one of his masterworks. This was followed by “The Clandestine Marriage”. The fourth, a tragedy “Clytemnestra”, is the only one to employ chorus. His last opera, “The Lady of the Inn”, is a rich comedy. None of these has yet been recorded, but “Two in the Bush” and “The Captive” have been broadcast.

Wishart wrote “Concerto for Orchestra” during the Hungarian Uprising, and the clues to his sympathies are in the music. He also wrote three quartets, two symphonies and many songs. His second symphony was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. He relished composing for unusual instrumental combinations, such as “Aquarelles” a quartet for saxophones; the “Profane Concerto” for harpsichord, flute and oboe; and a specially commissioned Violin Concerto. He also wrote incidental music for several plays, his finest being a delightful score for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Comedy of Errors”.

Of his orchestral works, recordings are available of his Third Quartet (TREM102-2) and the English motet “Jesu, dulcis memoria” (REGCD106). However, his carol “Alleluya!” is by far his most popular piece, having been recorded by many choirs throughout the world. We reproduce the 15th century verse below, and you can hear it sung by the Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne from their 1997 carol service here.

Peter Wishart married three times, and had two sons and a daughter. In 1966 he was married to his third wife, the mezzo-soprano Maureen Lehane. She had a special affinity for Wishart’s work and they collaborated on various pieces, such as “Songs of Henry Purcell” which she sang to Wishart’s realizations. In 1974 she sang the title role in Wishart’s “Clytemnestra” at the London Camden Festival and in 1984 “The Lady of the Inn” at the University of Reading.

Peter was a passionate gardener and virtually created the garden at Jackdaws. He was also an excellent cook.

After Peter Wishart’s death on 14 August 1984, Maureen Lehane Wishart launched an annual festival dedicated to his memory and this continued until 1998. In 1993 the Jackdaws Educational Trust, a natural development of the festival, was founded and continues very successfully – details here A Peter Wishart Memorial Prize is awarded annually to a final year undergraduate student in the Department of Music at the University of Reading.