CD release for composer who died last year, aged 34

CD release for composer who died last year, aged 34


norman lebrecht

March 27, 2017

William Petter, director of several London choirs and a rising composer, was diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma in 2013. He died in October last year, aged 34, leaving a wife and young daughter.

Throughout his stays in hospital he continued to compose. An album of his works will be released this week, in time for Easter. You can listen to samples here.


From the sleeve notes:

William Petter, born in 1982, was a chorister in New College Choir under Edward Higginbottom. He sang with The Sixteen, the Choir of the Enlightenment, London Voices, Philharmonia Voices, Westminster Abbey Choir and Westminster Cathedral Choir, and directed the choir of St Magnus the Martyr, where he worked for 10 years as Director of Music .

The body of sacred choral works left at his death reveals a distinctive personal idiom influenced by a deep connection with the European choral tradition and his natural tendency towards romantic intensity and a deeply expressive performance style. The St. Magnus Mass for six unaccompanied voices calls to mind stylistic traits of Frank Martin and Durufle, via Walton and, in its rhythmic vitality, Leonard Bernstein; while the Vigil Mass places the plainsong Missa de Angelis alongside a richly-varied organ texture. The three motets show further aspects of Petter’s aesthetic in writing both for exuberantly large-scale choral forces (The Good Shepherd is Risen; Come Down O Love Divine) and for a more intimate dynamic (The Lord’s Prayer). The disc is particularly appropriate for Eastertide, setting texts that follow the Easter story from the Resurrection to Pentecost.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Beautiful music concerned with musical quality, and not with oldfashioned forms of progressiveness. Real progress is that something that is not so good, gets better, and that has always been like that.

    These are the real contributions to musical culture….. condoleances to his family. It is just too awful a story. Thinking of the fragility of life, why would so many people be bothered to contribute to its misery? Even in the field of culture? But people like this William Petter represent all that is good about human life.

    • Alexander Davidson says:

      The samples that I heard seemed to stand very much in the tradition of the Anglican choral tradition of the middle and late 20th century. I think that one could also detect French influences, e.g. Langlais and Vierne. I am sure that this music will enjoy a future as part of the standard choral repertoire alongside composers such as Herbert Howells and Francis Jackson. It is, of course, unimaginably sad that its composer will not live to see that, and I doubt that posthumous success as a composer will be of much comfort to those he leaves behind.

  • Jeremy Cook says:

    This page does not record that William Petter studied for a degree in Neuroscience at UCL before deciding to return to full-time music. I was his degree-programme tutor there, and as an amateur musician myself I encouraged him to continue to sing throughout his degree course, and followed his subsequent career with great interest. We last met in December 2013, when he sang Evangelist in Part V of JS Bach’s so-called Christmas Oratorio with the Queens Park Singers and Nonesuch Orchestra (in which I play) and he told me then about the tumour in his foot for which he had only recently had treatment at UCL Hospital. I knew from my medical training just how nasty sarcomas can be so I was quite concerned for him, but in an email exchange the following June about a possible future performance of Finzi’s ‘Dies Natalis’ he said that his scans to that point had all come back clear, so I was shocked to learn of his death. Truly a fine and multi-talented young man, and a great loss. Condolences and all best wishes to his family.