John Barton Armstrong [1923–2010]

(nom de plume: Barry Armstrong)

I would like to see his music played as much as possible.
Edmund Rubbra

John Barton Armstrong was a child prodigy at playing by ear and improvising, and was hailed by his school headmaster, at age 12, as someone who could keep the entire school entertained by his improvising on the piano. At age 17, to great acclaim from his schoolteachers, he single-handedly composed an operetta, wrote all the verses and dialogues, produced it, and acted and sang in it.

After such a promising early start, the War intervened and Armstrong joined the Navy; the Admiralty sent him to Cambridge to study electronic engineering, which, besides music, was another passionate interest. At Cambridge he met Herbert Howells, who expressed amazement at how far Armstrong had progressed, musically, on a self-taught basis.

After the war, Armstrong read Law and was called to the Bar, but in 1951 went to work for Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd on aeronautical design (eventually ending up in the project design team of Concorde). However, he left Vickers-Armstrongs in 1964 to pursue a music degree at Durham University, from which point he stuck primarily to a musical career. Armstrong also took a great interest in politics, however, being chairman of the Yateley Young Conservatives in 1947 and putting up as a candidate for the House of Commons (but coming second) in the mid-1970s.

Armstrong was a remarkable polymath who wrote huge amounts of music throughout a life that encompassed several varied careers in a variety of fields, though he left many compositions unfinished. He wrote a great deal of piano music in particular, finding the task excessively straightforward: “It’s too easy: you sit down and improvise something, and you just write it down.”

Further information about John Barton Armstrong can be found on his Web page at Impulse Music.


FM147John Barton Armstrong24 Preludes
for piano
Forces: Piano
FM144John Barton ArmstrongA Celtic Chase
Horn Rhapsody
for horn and piano
Forces: French horn, Piano
FM001John Barton ArmstrongCurios
Six fantasy miniatures
for piano
Forces: Piano
FM002John Barton ArmstrongEverest
for piano
Forces: Piano
FM004John Barton ArmstrongKatynSound
Five mazurkas
for piano
15 mins1974£7.45
Forces: Piano
FM141John Barton ArmstrongLoss
for piano
Forces: Piano
FM179John Barton ArmstrongPinecroft Suite
for piano
67 mins10th January 2013£7.95
Forces: Piano
FM175John Barton ArmstrongSonataSound
for ’Cello and Piano
830 minsMay 2012£14.95
Forces: ’Cello, Piano
FM157John Barton ArmstrongThe Fand Grade 5 Piano Album
A selection of pieces to Grade 5 standard
Forces: Piano
FM024John Barton ArmstrongThe Wessex Piano Album
Nine Easy Pieces by The Wessex Composer Group
(John Barton Armstrong, David Llewellyn Green, Mark Andrews, Peter Thompson)
Forces: Piano
FM003John Barton ArmstrongUbiquitous Poodle
Eight piano pieces
3 to 51941£7.45
Forces: Piano
FM135John Barton ArmstrongWhy?
for piano
Forces: Piano


FM155John Barton ArmstrongComposer Interviews no 2
John Barton Armstrong, interviewed by Peter Thompson
ISBN 0-9535125-6-8
FM114Barry ArmstrongThe Missing Music Mystery
An unusual and provocative enquiry into the present state of British Music
ISBN 0-9535125-5-X
April 2003£7.00
FM088Barry ArmstrongThe Riddle of Schoenberg
An Open Letter
ISBN 0-9535125-0-9