Thomas Wilson: Obituary Notices and Tributes


Last Modified September 1, 2001

Editor's Note:   Below are selections taken from a few of the obituary notices and tributes that appeared at the time of Thomas Wilson's passing this past June. They are offered here to give the reader a sense of how deeply loved and valued Thomas Wilson was to the musical life of Scotland. I wish to thank Mrs. Thomas Wilson for making these notices available to me.

Michael Tumelty (The Herald-June 13, 2001)

It would be an overstatement to say that I knew Thomas Wilson well, though over the years I had the pleasure of interviewing him many times, usually in relation to a new composition on the eve of its first performance. And unlike many routine interviews, it was a pleasure, always a pleasure, to speak with Tom. He was a tremendously considered thinker…he was a gentle, modest, wonderfully philosophical man who wore his wisdom lightly...

That he had become, in recent years, one of several generations of composer whose music is neglected in their own land, was a slight he appeared to bear without malice. As long as his ailing health allowed him, he always tried to turn out to support those whose music was lucky enough to see the light of day, even if - as he admitted, at the last concert I saw him attend - he no longer had the staying power to remain after the new piece was performed. It's ironic that in this, the year of his death, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has scheduled two performances of major works, his Touchstone for orchestra, and his Piano Concerto. He was known to be looking forward to regaining sufficient health to be able to attend the performances.

John Purser (Written Tribute)

Tom Wilson could be light hearted, even mischievous, but he was a true friend and it was rare to hear an unkind word from him. He was active in the support of his fellow composers, serving on advisory committees and as chairman of the Composer's Guild of Great Britain; but he was also ready to listen and help at a personal level, and I enjoyed the benefit of his acute and kindly criticism. It was a measure of his total lack of pretension that, master of the art as he was, he was also ready to listen to the opinions of younger composers about his own work. The abiding impressions from the man and his music are those of integrity, dedication and humanity and these qualities also informed his work as a teacher. His students adored him, whether he was expounding the musical clarity of Mozart or the spiritual clarity of Schutz - two of his favorite composers. But he was innovative as a teacher too, setting up joint lectures on music and fine art with his friend and colleague Martin Baillie. With Wilson's death the balance of opposing energies which was so much a part of his music has been reached.

Martin Dalby (Written Tribute)

Tom always claimed to be a composer first and a Scottish one second. Certainly his music sings with an international voice unfailingly informed by a rigorous knowledge of all that Western Music offers from its beginnings to its practices today. Wilson had a formidable technique, learnt the hard and disciplined way. He knew only too well that it is not enough simply to be lyrical. He had a perfect grasp of the relationships between pitches and how these relationships move and develop to form the whole; he understood with great precision the joy of rhythm and the exploration of colour; he new how to relate all these, one to another. The poet says: "music is all relative and the more beautiful the harmonies the more beautiful the relationships." You can hear so clearly in his music how well he understood this.

Tom was that gently vehement wind that passed through our nation and our lives. The physical wind is spent now but we should pray that the wind of the spirit should sigh over Tom's blessed repose.

Martin Baillie (The Herald June 16, 2001)

I heard John Geddes, at a performance of a new work by Tom, burst out with "It's such bloody marvelous music!" I can match the enthusiasm if not the authoritative voice, yet I can have no doubts at all that we had in Tom Wilson a composer of rare excellence, who down the years went from strength to strength in music that became increasingly disciplined as it scaled new heights of expressive force. We can only ask ourselves why, in Scotland, we can so sorely neglect a man of his eminence. Michael Tumelty quotes John Geddes as saying of Tom Wilson, "He was a national treasure. The nation has his music, now get on and play it!" Yes indeed, Get on and bloody well play it - a Scottish Opera production of The Confessions of a Justified Sinner would make a promising start.

Kenny Mathieson (The Scotsman June 14, 2001)

His music revealed an acute intelligence allied with a serious and single-minded determination not to be swayed by passing musical fashion, or lured astray by the ebb and flow of institutional favour. Wilson acknowledged his admiration for the verve and rhythmic drive of Bartok, Stravinsky and Berg, and that strongly-etched sense of purpose and intellectual discipline is continually evident in his own work. He was not a composer who liked to play with effects simply for the sake of it, or to clutter up a score with superfluous technical complexities, but aimed always at clarity of intention and expression…his best work is marked by its lucidity of structure, argument and purpose, and by his sharp ear for telling use of colouration, whether for orchestral or chamber forces. Wilson's overt use of contrapuntal forms grew less marked in his music, but his musical register moved increasingly toward a greater lyrical warmth, as in Introit (Towards the Light…)(1982), the St Kentigern Suite (1986), which is one of his most widely performed scores, or his Concertos for Piano (1984), Viola (1987) and Violin (1993). The last-named work became something of a memorial for the conductor Bryden Thomson, who had been involved in the planning stages of the work prior to his premature death

Back to Main Page