Date: Sat, 18 Apr 1998 23:48:16 +0100
Subject: John Wilbraham

The following obituary appeared in the Daily Telegraph ( London) on the 16 April.

John Wilbraham

Classical trumpet player who delighted in the baroque, set a standard for a generation and taught a technique that could become a philosophy of life

John Wilbraham, who has died aged 53, was among the best classical trumpet players of his generation.

He pioneered in Britain the playing of the small or piccolo trumpet, which he had studied under the great French trumpeter Maurice André. Wilbraham made the instrument his own, especially in the playing of Bach, producing on it a sound that was not shrill, but open and distinctively English.

He was as adept on more conventional trumpets. He was not merely capable of fetching the right notes but, rare in a trumpet player, he could produce them with flair.

When he later turned to teaching, he treated his method of playing as a philosophy, almost a system for living. Increasingly hampered in his own life by illness, he concentrated less on taking his pupils through pieces than on instilling in them the principles of trumpet play.

John Wilbraham was born at Bournemouth on April 15 1944. His father was an army officer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In 1966 he joined the New Philharmonic Orchestra and two years later became principal trumpet of the Royal Philharmonic, under Rudolf Kempe.

In 1972, Wilbraham moved to the BBC Symphony Orchestra as principal trumpet, remaining there for nine years. During this time he also played with most of the other major London orchestras, as a guest principal with the Vienna Philharmonic, and with the Munich Bach Orchestra under Karl Richter.

He often played with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner. He recorded all the solo repertoire. His favourite composers were Bach, especially the Brandenburg Concertos, Handel and Leopold Mozart, the father of Wolfgang.

Wilbraham was as happy playing a dashing Bach solo in Munich as leading the BBC trumpets in Bruckner at the Proms. He was equally ready to back Shirley Bassey in the recording studio, and featured on numerous film scores, including Diamonds Are Forever (1971). In 1981 he played the trumpet melody in the theme for Brideshead Revisited.

His lack of musical snobbery did not mean he was indifferent to artistic merit. In 1971 Wilbraham withdrew from a concert that was to be given jointly by the Royal Philharmonic and Frank Zappa's group, the Mothers of Invention. Wilbraham and another trumpeter left the Albert Hall after the first rehearsal, complaining that the lyrics were obscene.

"Some of the words could be found on any normal lavatory wall," observed Wilbraham. "It was all rather silly and childish and I failed to see any artistic motive." The concert was cancelled.

Wilbraham's career unexpectedly changed course in the 1980s. He developed diabetes, which caused him lasting pain. For a time he stopped playing, and although in the late 1980s he briefly returned to the Philharmonia, he had thereafter to concentrate on teaching.

He had for some years taught at the Royal Academy, as well as tutoring the National Youth Orchestra, and now went on to work at the Birmingham School of Music and the Royal Military School of Music. He later moved to Wells, Somerset, and taught at the Cathedral School. Many of the best young trumpeters sought him out for tuition.

John Wilbraham was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

His marriage to the harpist Susan Drake was dissolved.

Matthew Booth writes: John Wilbraham was much more than a teacher: he gave you strength and a philosophy to deal with life. A lesson with John was often unconventional; you might play only two or three notes, yet you would leave the room feeling more positive about yourself and armed with knowledge to apply to your trumpet playing.

I had my first lesson with him in the summer of 1987, in the basement of a London instrument shop where John ran an ad-hoc teaching practice. I emerged from its depths clutching a scrap of manuscript paper (which I still have) on which John had written his method. It was very simple, very logical and if you listened and applied yourself, it worked.

Ten years later, almost to the day, John and his friends played at my wedding in a village church in Wiltshire. They played Britten's Fanfare for St Edmundsbury and the Concerto for Seven Trumpets and Timpani by Altenburg. Ever the stickler for detail, John had supplied baroque drum sticks - obscure items which looked like wooden chair legs from his kitchen.

The sound of the trumpets in the small church was unforgettable - they were a physical presence filling the space with splendour and expectation.

Another evening we travelled back from Birmingham to London on the train together. Through the clouds of Cuban cigar smoke I asked John which records he would take if he was asked on to Desert Island Discs. Two of his choices go some way towards capturing this complex man - the final chorus from Bach's Christmas Oratorio (played by Maurice André), and The Laughing Policeman.

Earlier this year, I wrote an account of John's teaching method, and since then we had spent many hours finalising (in truth, him telling me) the text. Now that knowledge, humour, warmth and musicianship is gone.