Sadness: A fine Scots composer has died

Sadness: A fine Scots composer has died


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2022

We regret to report the death of John McLeod, a wondrously gifted composer and unfailingly courteous man whose music is performed with respect and affection in many countries. John was 88 and we will not see his like again.

He outlived his dear wife Margaret by just six months.

Their son Andy posted last night:
It’s with a great deal of sadness that I have to announce the death of my father, John McLeod, today at The Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, at 12:45pm, just shortly after his 88th birthday. He had been in hospital for a month after being diagnosed with motor-neurons disease.
He touched the lives of many people through his music, as well as being father to Elspeth and me, husband to Margaret, and grandad to Joel and Alba. He had many great friends from all over the world. We will all miss him. I will post news of his funeral as soon as possible. Everybody will be welcome.

I came late to his music and loved it on first hearing. The critic Conrad Wilson accurately dubbed him ‘a Nordic composer par excellence.’

His music was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Halle Orchestra, the RSNO, the SCO (who made McLeod their Associate Composer from 1980-82), the Orchestra of the Staatstheater, Saarbrücken and the Nashville Symphony (USA). The BBC SSO has broadcast 12 of his major orchestral works over the years and in 2015 the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland achieved the 22nd performance of a McLeod work by featuring his Piano Concerto (conducted by the composer and with James Willshire as soloist) in concerts in Glasgow and Dundee. In 1994 he travelled to Poland to conduct the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow in a CD of his orchestral music entitled Visions from the North.

John was Director of Music at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh for eleven years before holding Lectureships at the RSAMD, RAM and Edinburgh Napier University. Latterly he was Head of Composing for Film and TV at the London College of Music (University of West London) and the Ida Carroll Research Fellow at the Royal Northern College of Music where he specialised in the works of Messiaen, Boulez and Birtwistle.


  • Una says:

    A great loss, and underestimated composer – as many from Britain are. Remember him particularly warmly as a person whom I happened to meet whilst at Scottish Opera in the 80s. May he rest in peace.

  • Donald Maxwell says:

    A memorable contributor to the musical life of Scotland.
    A very fine composer and also an inspiring conductor . Remembered with gratitude and affection.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here is McLeod’s brilliant & colourful ‘The Sun Dances’:

  • fflambeau says:

    88 is a long and full life. Me he rest in peace.

  • Ian Watt says:

    Thank you for your kind words about John and his music. ‘Nordic composer par excellence’ is a wonderful description of music which is always thrilling, modern and, yet, accessible. He and Margaret – a superb musician in her own right – were wonderful people and a beautiful couple who always seemed so much younger than they actually were (it is for this reason that, despite both being well into their 80s, I was shocked to learn first of Margaret’s death and then John’s). John was very good to me and it was a privilege to know and work with him. Already well into his 70s when he started to write for guitar, he produced a series of splendid pieces, sacrificing nothing of his unique and wonderful musical language. These works are truly a gift to the repertoire.

  • Peter says:

    Does anyone know how to contact. his son Andy?

  • Brian York says:

    I can relate to what Una says. Too many people from Britain do not receive sufficient recognition in their own country.
    Both John and Margaret were wonderful musicians, and lovely people.
    I am still awaiting an appreciation of Margaret in “The Scotsman” newspaper.

  • ACL says:

    I remember performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland on their Scandanvian Tour in 1982 and Playing John’s Composition, ”The Gokstad Ship”. It was great music to play and I have vivid memories of John conducting the orchestra in performances.