Former Argus music critic Nigel Jarrett pays tribute to a talented Gwent man who was also modesty personified.

MICHAEL Elliott, the Gwent musician and composer who has died at 91, always struck me as ageless, a man who had decided against music as a career but who continued to be creative throughout his life.

Essex-born, he came to Wales as a ‘Bevin Boy’ in January 1945, working underground at a Maesteg colliery as part of the war effort. Later he arrived in Newport a qualified librarian, making his home here and finally becoming chief librarian at the old borough library in Dock Street.

But his immediate background was unlikely, if not astonishing in the light of his later employment. He’d had piano lessons and worked through the grades. Six months after his wartime stint at Maesteg, he won entry to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied composition under the eminent British composer Lennox Berkeley.

Although composing full time might not have been considered possible, he soon became a fixture in Newport’s musical circles. He sang with the (now defunct) Newport Choral Society, the Dorothy Adams Singers, and the Newport Philharmonic Choir. In the last two he was joined by his daughter, Helen. He organised the music section of Newport U3A, where I had the privilege of being asked to give a talk on the world premiere in the 1920s at the old Newport Central Hall of a work called An Arabesque, by Frederick Delius. Mike knew a lot more about Delius than I did, though would never have said so. He also organised other musical events or was a keen supporter of them.

Much later in life – and he was writing music all the time – came commissions from the international piano duo Claire and Antoinette (Toni) Cann: the Cann twins. At aged 89, he had reached the 17th of a set of 24 Epilogues for piano. His keyboard writing was Gallic and sophisticated. He was certainly modest about his abilities. In 2010 the Priory Singers and others, including the Canns, gave the world premiere of his Newport Elegy, written to commemorate the victims of a terrible docks accident at Newport a century before.

In an article for the Lennox Berkeley Society, he said: “When I was leaving the Academy, Lennox asked me to keep in touch and let him know what I was writing. That was typical of his generous spirit and interest in those he had previously helped and motivated.

“I was not gifted enough to earn my living through music and so I trained as a librarian. I certainly could not have provided for a family as a piano teacher but I found a satisfying (if not exciting) way of life with books.”

In a pointer to what might have been, Berkeley asked him to write some music that he (Berkeley) didn’t have time for, and to submit the results to the composer’s publisher, Chester. “It was the first and only music I have ever had published,” he said.

Toni Cann said: “It’s such sad news. Michael was a wonderful person. We met him after a recital in Newport in 1995. He asked if we would like him to write a piece for us and two weeks later the delightful work Geminae arrived in the post. The theme was based on our initials CAC. Since then he has written so many beautiful works for us.”

The Canns are appearing at the Riverfront in Newport in November and hope to turn their recital into a Michael Elliott memorial. They are also due to appear at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, next year.

Michael Elliott survived his wife Mary, and is himself survived by a son, Maurice, daughters Helen, Catherine, and Margaret, and six grandchildren. His funeral is at St Mary’s Church, Stow Hill, on October 16, at 12.30pm, afterwards at the Belle Vue tea rooms, which he loved to visit.