New York mourns shock death of eminent English organist

New York mourns shock death of eminent English organist


norman lebrecht

August 13, 2015

John Scott, Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, died of a heart attack on Wednesday, August 12. He was 59 and expecting to become a father in the weeks ahead.

As a teenager, John was the youngest organist ever to perform at the BBC Proms. Our sympathies to his family and community. His compositions are widely performed.

Official announcement follows.

john scott

Saint Thomas Church is heartbroken by the sudden death of John Scott, Organist and Director of Music, on Wednesday, August 12.

John returned to New York on August 11 after a very successful European tour. He was not feeling well the next morning and suffered a sudden cardiac episode. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital but never regained consciousness. His wife, Lily, was by his side when he died. John and Lily are expecting their first child in September.

The Rector, Headmaster, Wardens, Vestry, and Staff are shocked by John’s untimely death. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lily and John’s family. John and Lily are at the very heart of the Saint Thomas Church family and its mission.

John was appointed Organist and Director of Music of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School in 2004. He previously served at Saint Paul’s Cathedral for 26 years. He was born in 1956 and is a graduate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. In addition to his beloved wife, Lily, he is survived by two children, Emma and Alex, and two sisters, Judith and Helen.

John’s contribution to music is a lasting legacy to the Church and to the world. He was a man of great faith; the words of J.S. Bach, Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone) inspired his ministry.

A Requiem Mass will be offered for the repose of his soul at Saint Thomas Church on Thursday, August 13, at 5:30pm. Funeral arrangements will be posted here in due course.

May choirs of angels receive him and may he have eternal rest.


The composer Nico Muhly writes of his Facebook page (reproduced with permission):

So, I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon driving around Santa Cruz listening to every recording of John Scott in his various guises as conductor and organist I could find on my phone and other devices. It turns out there are LOADS there: hours, days, even? His recording of the chant for psalm 37 on volume ninety-seven-jillion of the Psalms from St Paul’s series remains one of my favorite things in the world.

I emailed him this fact five days ago, and he wrote back from Sweden (his first trip, apparently!) seconds later, “Oh those divine Howells chants!” with his typical enthusiasm and joy. This was a man deeply devoted to the tradition of music and the music of tradition, to his service to the church, and to his ability to transmit the possibility of the divine to friends and strangers.

It is insane to me that he died – like, actively unbelievable. There are so many of us whom he touched as a recording artist, as a conductor, organist, educator, mentor, hero, husband, father, martini partner and interlocutor. He loved plainchant — Lent has never been so austere! — but could throw down a Howells Coll Reg with the lashings of cream and coulis required by such music.

Any of the choristers — now grown — with whom he recorded in 2003, I’m sure, remember his insistence on the distance between repeated notes in Tallis’s Salvator Mundi; when he played my music at the organ in 2013, I was consistently humbled by the freakish connection between his technical abilities and expressive musicianship; to watch him conduct the choir for a random Thursday’s evensong was to watch an essay on simultaneous restraint and spontaneity: centuries of performance practice reanimated, stylised, and tightened. I think of his influence as a form of epidemic: a great choirmaster infects everybody near him with an evangelical love for the music, the tradition, and the rigor required to get it done correctly but in the (liturgical) background: music for use, but music for the only use worth using. Even though the world feels dimmer without him in it, I am excited to spend tomorrow, the rest of the summer, and the rest of my life listening to his recordings, thinking about his influence on all of us, and thinking about the subtle magnificence of his contribution to the world in which we all live. We are all better musicians because of John.



john scott st paul's

The organist Cameron Carpenter adds:

IN MEMORIAM JOHN SCOTT: He was an important colleague and friend to me and to all of us in the world of the organ, so I am sad to have to speak of the death of organist John Scott (1956-2015). He died yesterday of a heart attack in New York City (August 12, 2015), and by far too young a man. As a high school freshman at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I used his recording of “Grande Choeur Dialogue” by Gigout to wake up every morning; his steely control and ceremonial delivery still remains with me in startling contrast to the ribald power and easy-to-get-out-of-hand excitement of the huge brass-type stops he was using on the big organ at Saint Paul’s in London. John could easily have been one of the large number of accomplished organists who cross the street even at the mention of my name, but he was too good. Despite we being at opposite ends of the spectrums of style, belief, and musical performance, he was always so warm and supportive. I wish I could have thanked him again. Be reminded: death is always in the room. 


Te composer Lera Auerbach (on Fb):

I was shocked to learn about the sudden death of John Scott – a brilliant musician and a very kind man. I worked with John on one of my largest and most important works: he prepared the Saint Thomas Boys Choir in NYC to perform the world premiere of my “Requiem – Ode to Peace” with Dresden Staatskapelle at the Dresden’s Semper Opera and at the Frauenkirche couple of years ago. This was one of the most memorable and profound premieres I have experienced and the highlight of my residency with the Dresden Staatskapelle. I worked with John for several years from the very initial conception of this work. We have also planned several projects for future collaborations. I always thought how fortunate are the boys of St. Thomas to have him as their teacher and conductor! He will be greatly missed.


St Paul’s Cathedral has issued this statement:

The entire St Paul’s community is shocked and sincerely dismayed at news that John Scott, a ‘musical genius’ regarded as one of the world’s finest organists and who led the music at St Paul’s Cathedral for 14 years, has died suddenly aged just 59.

St Thomas Church in New York, where John worked since leaving St Paul’s in 2004 reported his death from a heart attack on Wednesday, 12 August 2015.

John’s career at St Paul’s spanned more than a quarter of a century, with the last 14 years as Organist, leading the vast and varied musical output of the Cathedral including directing the world-famous choir of men and boys.



  • sixtus says:

    I have fond memories of hearing his performances of the complete organ works of both Buxtehude and Messiaen at StThomas. What a musical range! What a gap now in the musical life of NYC.

  • Timothy Zimmerman says:

    I am shocked and very much saddened by the sudden death of this beautiful person and musician of extraordinary proportions. I have heard many performances of his in London and some in NYC. My prayers for the repose of his soul and for his family.

  • Robert King and members of The King's Consort says:

    John was one of the giants of the organ world, a great character, a brilliant musician, a joy and a delight to work with – a wonderful and truly unique man. A shining light in the musical firmament has gone out, far too soon. Huge sympathy to his family and friends. Requiescat in pace.

  • Una says:

    I knew John for many years at St Paul’s, and he always had time. Lovely guy, and then met him at St Thomas Church in New York in January 2012 when I was over there singing.

    Yes, John’s wife is expecting a baby in September, but John already had children from his first marriage, who are now grown up. So it’s important to know that they have also lost their Dad.

  • Father Paul Brophy MA Cantab says:

    John played for my choral scholarship auditions at St. John’s Cambridge in 1976. I gained a place at Gonville and Caius College. Our paths crossed musically many times since then and after ordination as Minor Canon Succentor at Hereford Cathedral. He was a very approachable, humble and gifted musician and organist. His humour and candour belied his temerament as a ‘genius’ of the organ and as an accomplished choir trainer and director. Heaven will be a richer place with him there alongside the greats, Bach, Buxtehude, Couperin and, of course, the great French players of our time. Requiescat in Pace + In Paradisum deducant te angelis.
    I will offer a Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul.

    • Edward Gill says:

      I was surprised and saddened at hearing the news on the BBC of the sudden death of John Scott. The music from the magnificent St.Thomas’ Choir was always inspirational. He was a warm and accessible human being who always generously responded. I count myself privileged to have met John and his wife Lilly when they came to St.Mary Redcliffe two years ago. We shall miss him immensely and our thoughts are with his wife and his family at this saddest of times. RIP

  • Jon H says:

    Remembering his Spem in alium at Washington National Cathedral, which included the boys and men of Washington National, St Thomas, and New College, Oxford. RIP


    Absolutely shocked and stunned at the death of John Scott whom I first met when he arrived at St. Johns College, Cambridge. His renderings of Max Reger’s major works on the college chapel organ left me stunned at his young age.
    Such a nice guy, and his parents.
    He will I’m sure be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.