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Richard Stoker obituary

·2-min read

My husband, Richard Stoker, who has died aged 82, was a composer, teacher and actor, and a colourful figure in British musical life for the past 60 years.

Richard was born in Castleford, Yorkshire, to Bower Morrell Stoker, an engineer and inventor, and Winifred (nee Harling). He went to Breadalbane House school and then Castleford boys’ modern school.

His family, especially on the Stoker side, had a strong musical tradition, and Richard showed an early aptitude, intrigued by the piano keyboard as soon as he was tall enough to reach it. He had piano lessons with an uncle and started to compose at the age of seven.

On leaving school at 15, Richard went to Huddersfield Technical College, where he studied music with the composer Harold Truscott and the organist Winifred Smith. The Yorkshire-based composer Eric Fenby encouraged him to go to London, and he entered the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in 1958 to study with Lennox Berkeley. Richard said that Berkeley taught him to be himself, to develop his ideas, to write economically and to analyse the masters. Michael Berkeley says that his father was enormously fond of Richard, and of “the mix of innocence and curiosity which made both him and his music so idiosyncratic”.

Richard won several prizes at the RAM, including the Mendelssohn scholarship in 1962, which enabled him to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Returning to London in 1963, he was offered a teaching post at the RAM, and was professor of composition there for more than two decades. Several of his former students have spoken with appreciation of his sensitive and generous guidance.

He wrote many works, including an opera, Johnson Preserv’d, a piano concerto, string quartets, piano trios, song cycles, choral works, orchestral works and organ music; works available online include his Piano Sonata No 1, Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano and Chorale for Strings. He also wrote for films, TV and theatre productions.

The style of his music is modern but accessible, full of his cheerful, joie de vivre outlook. As his organist friend Richard Townend said: “His soft voice and lilting Yorkshire accent are reflected in his music, which, while modern, is full of rich, melodic invention without any harsh dissonances.”

Richard edited Composer magazine from 1969 to 1980. He wrote entries on eight musicians for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published poetry and prose fiction, and an autobiography, Open Window – Open Door (1985).

In later years he enjoyed taking part in more than 100 films, including Hercules (as body double for John Hurt), Maleficent, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Dark Shadows and Last Christmas, and, on TV, MotherFatherSon.

Richard’s marriage to Jacqueline (nee Trelfer) in 1962 ended in divorce in 1985. We met in 1984 through our shared interest in music, and were married in 1986.