Jack’s Obituaries

John Wilson Duarte, Guitarist & Composer ~ 1919~2004

A Classical Guitarist who composed more than 200 works, wrote popular critiques and taught in more than 30 countries

JMinolta DSCOHN  W DUARTE was one of the most prolific 20thC Composers for the Guitar, but he was also an Author, a Music Critic and a Teacher. He instructed at summer schools, festivals and conservatories worldwide, as well as writing for all the major international guitar journals and many important music publications, including The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. His energy for creative activities and endless globetrotting remained seemingly inexhaustible right up to the last year of his life. Wherever in the world the leading Classical Guitarists and their students gathered, Duarte was a familiar presence. Duarte published more than 200 original works and arrangements, and his music was recorded by such recitalists as Andrés Segovia & John Williams. From the 1940s, he became a powerful and uncompromising writer on the classical guitar, establishing a new and vital critique of the instrument and its players in articles and correspondence columns.

Greatly in demand as a teacher of the Guitar both privately and at international summer schools, Duarte always acknowledged that in the pedagogic field he was something of an anomaly, never having undertaken a formal academic training in music nor possessing any aspirations of becoming a Concert player.  Nonetheless, through close observation of many leading Guitarists, Duarte acquired a unique insight into the essentials of both technique and interpretation. Thus he once described himself as “one who does not pretend to any status as a performer, a mere observer whose findings have been confirmed by sufficient virtuosi to set my conscience at rest”.  John Wilson Duarte was born in Sheffield, but lived in Manchester from the age of 6. After hearing a Banjo and becoming fascinated by fretted instruments, he acquired his 1st Guitar (at the cost of £1) in 1934. Initially he studied Jazz Guitar with the  though with no intention of becoming a professional musician.

Instead, Duarte graduated in Chemistry at Manchester University, where during his Student years he learnt Trumpet & double bass (playing the latter on occasion in the Company of Coleman Hawkins & Django Reinhardt).  During the war he was employed as chief chemist in a Ministry of Supply factory. When the War ended, Duarte, a founder member of the Manchester Guitar Circle, was 1st introduced to Andrés Segovia, who became a lifelong friend.  From the 1950s Duarte concentrated on the Classical Guitar, moving to London (though still working as an Industrial Chemist) to teach at the Spanish Guitar Centre. There, he increased his composing activities and establish creative links with a number of great players. He steadily built up a formidable international reputation and in 1973 he became a full-time Composer, Critic & Teacher.


The Manchester Guitar Circle was founded in 1946 by John Duarte (right) and Terry Usher (left) with the stated aim of – “increasing interest in the Classical Guitar”.

In 1977 Duarte was appointed Director of the Cannington Summer School, which attracted students from all over the world, and he continued there until the 1990s.  From 1978 until just a few months ago, he wrote regularly for Gramophone Magazine, where his brief soon developed to cover not only the Guitar but also the Harpsichord, Baroque music and interviews with distinguished Performers.

Over the years his musical output proliferated until his works had been recorded by some 60 Artists in more than 20 countries. His critical writing, a substantial contribution to British musical life, included about 250 compact disc liner notes, with a Grammy Award for his annotation to the reissue of Segovia’s early recordings. He became a familiar figure on international Juries for Guitar Competitions and taught in more than 30 countries.

His 60th, 70th & 80th birthdays were celebrated by Wigmore Hall & Bolivar Hall recitals of his music, performed by Artists from many countries. In 1990 he was presented with a Silver Medal by the Czech Ambassador for services to Anglo-Czech and Slovak cultural relations, and in 1999 he was honoured with the Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Guitar Foundation of America.  In 2001 the notes of a Naxos Recording of Duarte’s music provided his compositional credo: “As a Composer I have never given much thought to what posterity might think of me — I will not be here to know it! My aim is to write primarily for the living, and hopefully, to give pleasure.”

John W Duarte, composer, writer and teacher, was born on October 2, 1919. He died on December 23, 2004, aged 85.  He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1943, and by two sons and a daughter.

John W Duarte – Prolific composer for the Guitar
JackWDuarte2John Duarte abandoned his career as an Industrial Chemist when he became fascinated by the infinite possibilities of the Guitar, particularly its capacity for polyphony & harmony, and went on to become a prolific Composer for the instrument. John Wilson Duarte, composer, teacher, writer and chemist: born Sheffield 2 October 1919; married 1943 Dorothy Seddon (two sons, one daughter); died Barnet, Hertfordshire 23rd December 2004.

Duarte’s background was not a musical one, nor did he ever study music formally. Contact with music began as a child, with the banjo of an acquaintance. He progressed through the Ukulele to the Guitar, which he studied with Terry Usher. But Science was his main study, and, after gaining a BSc with Honours from Manchester University, he became Chief Chemist in a Ministry of Supply Factory.

JackDuarteIn the 1940s he began to write for BMG magazine, which featured him on its cover in 1948. A year later he published a guitar composition in the New York quarterly Guitar Review and thus already had a considerable reputation when, during a visit to a music shop, he met Len Williams, who was already established as a leading Teacher of the Guitar. Williams, returning from Australia in the early 1950s and seeking to enlarge the musical education of his talented young son John, persuaded Duarte to give up his career in Science and move to London, which he did in the early 1950s.

By that time, Duarte had also given up the Trumpet, with which he had once publicly performed a Trumpet Concerto, and the Double-bass. Duarte taught at the Spanish Guitar Centre, which Williams senior had founded. John Williams, already hailed as a young virtuoso of outstanding talent, acknowledged the early influence of Duarte by including his transcriptions of Bach (two of the Cello Suites) in his first recordings, along with Variations on a Catalan Folk Song Op 25, one of the most enduring and most recorded of Duarte’s compositions.

IdaPrestiIn 1947 Duarte had met Andrés Segovia, the foremost pioneer of the Guitar’s 20thC revival, and Segovia later recorded the 1st English Suite Op 31 (there were to be 6 “English Suites” in all, following the example of J S Bach). It was seldom that the great Spanish Guitarist looked towards English Music until he was attracted by Duarte’s music. Duarte’s perception of what the Guitar was capable of was further enlarged when he met Ida Presti, a Guitarist of unsurpassed brilliance who died far too early. For her & her husband Alexandre Lagoya he wrote Variations on a French Nursery Song Op 32 (J’ai du bon tabac”), a difficult work that tested even that Legendary Duo’s abilities.

The list of John Duarte’s Compositions (about 150 in all, most of them published) shows an exceptionally wide range of styles. The variations form, well suited to the Guitar’s capacity for colour and mood, features prominently, but other challenges were met with an imaginative and professional skill. In Dreams Op 91, written for the Amsterdam Guitar Trio, the language alternates between aleatory, atonal & graphic, contained within a conventionally notated framework and allowing spontaneous reaction between the performers. The work was later performed by the Zagreb Guitar Trio, another high-powered ensemble with the required brilliance of technique. Much of his commissioned work was written with the performers’ particular circumstances in mind, including Nationality. He would happily turn his hand to a set of Greek Dances or a collection of Moravian Folk Tunes, or grapple with the cross-rhythms of a traditional Venezuelan Waltz. Like his Jazz-based pieces, the results invariably revealed an unerring ear for the essence. Works that included the Flute and, notably, the human voice brought out a lyric warmth that tended to take a back seat to harmony in the solo guitar pieces. The songs contained humour too, and his settings of verses by Spike Milligan, Hark Hark, the Ark Op 103, revealed yet another facet of his nature.

His own sense of fun came to the fore in a tercentenary tribute to Henry Purcell, Henry’s Purple Parcel Op 118, written for 6 Guitars & drums. The title is explained by the treatment given to the name Purcell by 2 different but equally uninformed computer ‘spell-check’ programs.  This versatility puzzled some Commentators, who found difficulty in perceiving the true Duarte. But this was, in fact, the true Duarte, never easy to categorise, always unpredictable, his agile & fertile mind able and willing to leap without apparent effort from one area of music to another. One of his last Commissions was for a set of variations for Solo Guitar on Purcell’s Round O, the theme that Britten used for his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It was performed in April 2004 at the International Guitar Festival of Rust, Austria, which not only commissioned it, but also instituted the annual John Duarte International Guitar Competition.

Duarte never held an appointment in a British Music Academy, but for many years he directed a very successful Summer School in Somerset. There were other compensations, including a stream of invitations to teach and lecture abroad, all accepted with enthusiasm. He produced several books, mainly about guitar technique, and was a practising journalist throughout his musical career. Last October – on his 85th birthday, as it happened – he was awarded the prized Chitarra d’Oro (golden guitar) by the International Guitar Festival of Alessandria, Italy, for “Una vita per la chitarra” (“A Life for the Guitar”). He could not be present, but it was a good note on which to end a long career spent in the service of music. Colin Cooper

Remembering ‘Jack’ Duarte (1919-2004)
The British Guitar Composer, Critic & Teacher John W. Duarte (known to his friends and colleagues as ‘Jack’) died on 23rd December last year, aged 85. While possibly best known for his English Suite, Op 31, written for Segovia, he wrote some 200 Guitar works and was a prominent personality in the Guitar world for several decades.  TerryUsherAcousticBorn in Sheffield in 1919, he grew up in Manchester where he studied Jazz Guitar with Terry Usher (his only formal Music Tuition) and later Founded the Manchester Guitar Circle. His early experience with Jazz Improvisation stood him in good stead for Composing. He started writing for the Classical guitar in 1939 and later taught at Len William’s Spanish Guitar Centre in London, however, he was around 50 when he finally became a full-time Composer & Teacher.

I first met him in London in the late seventies when fresh off a plane from Sydney, I approached him about lessons. He inquired whether I played any modern repertoire. Yes, mostly modern, I replied enthusiastically, pulling out Spanish Dance No 5. He pointed out that Granados had been torpedoed in 1915 and I was sent away to ‘renovate’ my repertoire with some Frank Martin & Poulenc. Since he liked to give 2-hr lessons and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Guitar, I learnt a lot about the Guitar world and about his opinions. One thing I soon discovered was that if after a Guitar Concert at London’s Wigmore Hall he was headed straight for a Ruddles at the Local rather than to the Green Room the performer could expect a negative write-up. Certainly, he was a harsh Critic and his reviews could be caustic. But he insisted plain speaking was in the interests of the guitar’s future as a serious instrument since a situation in which the guitar was propped up by uncritical tribal fervour was not a healthy one. Concerned not only about musical & technical standards but about poor programming, he railed against the incessant regurgitation of ‘potboilers’ (Sor Op 9, Asturias, Recuerdos and Villa-Lobos preludes were all sources of irritation) and he implored Performers to explore new Repertoire. As well as being an advocate for Contemporary Music, he was passionate about the baroque and the renaissance and also about Jazz, Wes Montgomery being a particular favourite.

His own music was accessible, idiomatic and largely tonal though often peppered with dissonance. Most of his works were written with a particular performer in mind. The popular Variations on a Catalan Folk Song, op 25, were written for John Williams and are a formidable test of virtuosity.   Suite Piemontese, op 46 was written for the Italian Guitarist Angelo Gilardino and Sonatinette, op 35 for the American guitarist Alice Artzt.   Toute on Ronde, Op 57, had its genesis in an 8-bar sight-reading test he wrote for a Paris Guitar competition and apparently the only contestant who could make sense of it was placed 4th. A particular favourite of mine is the Quartet Americana, op 96a which like Sua Cosa Op 52, has a strong Jazz flavour. His own favourite was Variations on a French Nursery Song, op 32 for the prominent French duo of Presti-Lagoya. He venerated Ida Presti and regarded her as the greatest of all Guitarists. Five Quiet Songs, op 37 were written in the wake of her tragically premature death. In addition to Guitar Solos, Duets, Trios & Quartets, he also composed for Guitar & other instruments and published numerous arrangements & transcriptions. He continued to compose into his 70s and 80s, with Commissions such as Musikones Op 107, 1991 for Eleftheria Kotzia. That work can be heard along with other major Solo works on a recent CD from young Italian Guitarist Antigoni Goni (Naxos 8.554554).In addition to his composing activities, Duarte was a prolific reviewer and author of award-winning sleeve & liner notes. He moved from Guitar magazines into reviewing ‘plucked strings’ (notably the Harpsichord) for mainstream music publications such as Gramophone and he also wrote for the prestigious New Grove Dictionary. For many years he directed the Cannington Summer School and was in demand as a lecturer & juror at international festivals. Admittedly his own role as a Teacher attracted some controversy, as he had no aspirations to be a Virtuoso and confessed that he didn’t practice. He nevertheless insisted that his technical & musical advice & knowledge was sound, is based on his extensive observations of leading players. His pedagogical books include The Bases of Classic Guitar Technique (1975), Melody & Harmony for Guitarists (1980) and The Guitarists Hands (with Luis Zea 1978). Duarte visited Australia on more than one occasion and ‘renovated’ the AMEB syllabus in the mid-70s, introducing a healthy dose of contemporary & early music. The following works of his are currently in the syllabus: English Suite, Tout en Ronde, Suite Piemontese (all A.Mus) and Variations on a Catalan Folk Song (L.Mus), plus selections from his Six Easy Pieces feature in Grades 2 and 3. An undoubtedly colourful character, who often provoked strong reactions from people, Duarte had his detractors and some infamous falling-outs. Nevertheless, he had many loyal supporters and was acknowledged as one of the leading 20thC authorities on the Guitar. He maintained a passionate commitment to the instrument’s future over many decades and nothing made him happier than hearing inspired Guitar playing. I last saw him in 2001 after a Concert by the Katona twins at his beloved Wigmore Hall. Happily, for the Duo, he was headed purposefully towards the Green Room to deliver a verdict of ‘marvellous’ – Sue McCreadie

Jack Duarte – A brief memoir
As the Guitar world laments the passing of one of its stalwarts, I would like to add a little of my own recollection to the record. Some 20 years ago when I was involved in the classical guitar scene in New Zealand, at both playing and organisational levels, there was a thriving community of classical Guitar Societies – sufficient of a community for there to be a national federation of these societies. Their main business was the organisation of an annual Summer School, which for several years was residential, lasted at least a full week, was usually held in a Camp location and these locations could be seriously remote. Ask John Mills sometime about Waiotapu Springs and its erstwhile Prison Camp in the forest, or Vladimir Mikulka about the experience of Gunn’s Bush. At one point, in the mid-80s, the Federation was faced with a split in the Guitar ranks, with a rebellion against the emphasis on imported talent, and without going into the minutiae of the struggle, the unthinkable occurred – 2 Summer Schools. Hardly something we would consider in our current circumstances in Australia, yet a reality in a little country with a population the size of Sydney’s.

One group organised around Sue Court, now an important figure in music at the University of Otago, who led the Tutoring at the School held in Auckland. The other, around one Edrick Banks, then a touring performer & teacher at Taradale Community College in Hawkes Bay, who brought out the venerable John Duarte to lead the Tutoring at the rival camp. I chose to attend this summer school – I really felt I wouldn’t get this opportunity often.  I listened while Duarte tapped his pipe, chuckled and remembered at length this or that trip to Caracas or some other place of Guitar pilgrimage, and practised my rear end off getting his arrangement of Bach’s 1st Cello Suite Prelude ready for what was a huge moment for me. He politely listened while I played it through then blithely informed me that he’d redone it and taken out all the slurs. I wasn’t exactly crushed, and he did go through several points in that Class but to this day I still play it with many of the slurs. That was my brief encounter with Jack Duarte, the poor guy who got caught up in a storm in a teacup ‘stoush’ in the South Seas.  – Bernard Hickey

John (Jack) Duarte was born in Sheffield on 2nd October 1919. He is 100% English despite his name, his father being Scottish and mother English. He was educated at the Manchester Central High School (1931-35) and obtained an Honours Degree in Science at Manchester University, Faculty of Technology (1936-40). He worked as a professional scientist until 1969 when he abandoned science in favour of full-time music. His formal musical education was 6 Lessons with Terence Usher (1934-36) in Jazz-guitar playing; the rest was by self-instruction. He also worked professionally as a player of the trumpet & double-bass in music of many kinds, and regularly as a Jazz musician until 1953.

His many friendships with great Artists have included one of 39 years with Andrés Segovia and a shorter one with Ida Presti, who died in 1967. Among those who have died, he can count as colleagues or collaborators in various ways, many other prominent figures in the 20thC Guitar scene: Laurindo Almeida, Alexandre Lagoya, Antonio Ruiz-Pipó, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco & Alexandre Tansman, and in the field of the lute, the great Diana Poulton.

John Duarte has composed over 130 works for the guitar and lute, many commissioned with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and other sources, private & official, both domestic & overseas. Most have been published; 57 have been recorded, some several times, by 58 Artists and ensembles from 24 countries. He is also the Author of many arrangements and didactic works.

He was a prolific writer, contributing to the American journal Soundboard, specialist reviewer of baroque, early and plucked-string music for Gramophone, reviewer for Music Teacher and contributor to Classical Guitar. As an annotator, he has written countless concert programme notes and liner notes for over 250 recordings of music of many kinds, including those for the reissue of Julian Bream’s recordings with RCA (28 CDs). In 1980 he received a Grammy Award for his annotation of the reissue of Segovia’s recordings made for EMI (1927-39). Other magazines for which he has written regularly in the past include BMG, Music in Education, Guitar Review, Guitar International, Guitar Player, Music & Musicians, Records & Recording, Classical Music Fortnightly and Performance. He is a contributor to the new edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

As a Teacher, he has prepared many international students for successful careers and he was Director of the Cannington International Guitar Summer School and Festival (1974-93). In 1994-95 he was Course Director of the Bath International Guitar Festival and since 1996 he has taught at the Oatridge International Guitar Summer School and Festival (Edinburgh), for which he wrote a yearly Guitar-orchestral work. In addition, he enjoyed teaching, lecturing & adjudicating in competitions in 29 countries outside Great Britain.

In 1990 he received a decoration for his contributions to Anglo-Czech & Slovak cultural relations. On 20 February 1999 he was honoured to receive a plaque, presented by the Fullerton campus of California State University “In recognition of his extraordinary contribution to students worldwide through his teaching, writing & composition.” On 20th August 1999 he was accorded a virtuosic tribute concert at the VIIth International Guitar Festival in Brno (Czech Republic), and at the Convention of the Guitar Foundation of America in October 1999 he received an Award for Lifetime Achievement.

John Duarte’s 60th and 70th birthdays were celebrated with Concerts of his music in London, played by artists from England, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Germany, the USA and Venezuela. That on his 80th birthday was given by Artists from Brazil, Croatia, England, Greece, Ireland, Italy & Scotland.