A. J. Potter

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Archibald James (Archie) Potter (22 September 1918 – 5 July 1980) was an Irish composer and teacher, who wrote hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music.

Early years[edit]

Potter was born in Belfast to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lived on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father was a church organist and piano tuner who was blind since childhood. His mother was, in Potter's own words, "a raging alcoholic". The young Potter escaped a rather grim childhood when he went to live with an aunt in Kent, England.[1]

Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter was accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he was sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he went to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studied composition under Vaughan Williams.[1] While at the Royal College he won the Cobbett prize for chamber music.[2]

World War II interrupted Potter's music education, and he left college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East.[3] After the war Potter settled in Dublin, where he continued his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chose the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, showed that Potter had absorbed Vaughan Williams' pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces were awarded Radio Éireann's "Carolan Prize" for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax.[4] A year later Potter repeated this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also won the Carolan Prize.[5]

In 1955 Potter was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he became an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.[1]

In the 1960s, Potter turned to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, became the composer's own favourite of all his compositions.[1] Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he wrote what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia "de Profundis" (1969).[1] The première was given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on 23 March 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen.[6] The Irish Times referred to the concert as a "major national event". In December 1969, Potter received a Jacob's Award for the composition.

Potter's last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, received its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after the composer's death.


Potter died suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow at the age of 61. His body is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


  • Dreaming (features Nocturne in A Minor for piano), Anew NEWD 406 (CD, 1994)
  • Romantic Ireland (features Rhapsody under a High Sky), Marco Polo 8.223804 (CD, 1996)
  • Sinfonia "de Profundis", Finnegan's Wake, Fantasia Gaelach No. 1, Variations on a Popular Tune, Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, Marco Polo 8.225158 (CD, 2001)
  • Ceol Potter (features arrangements of traditional Irish tunes), Gael Linn CEFCD 034 (CD, 2006; re-issue of LP, 1973)


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Irish Times, "Dr. A. J. Potter - An Appreciation", July 17, 1980
  2. ^ Hourican, Bridget, 'Potter, Archibald James (‘Archie’)', in Dictionary of Irish Biography, retrieved 12 April 2012
  3. ^ The Irish Times, 23 February 1952, p. 4.
  4. ^ The Irish Times, "Carolan orchestral prize awarded", 14 February 1952.
  5. ^ The Irish Times, "Composer wins radio prize for second year", 7 March 1953.
  6. ^ Contemporary Music Centre web site

Further references[edit]