John Maughan Barnett

John Maughan Barnett, known as Maughan Barnett, was born in Leamington, England in 1867.  Educated at a private school, Barnett learned the organ from the local parish church organist.  He studied piano and composition at the Crystal Palace School, London and in 1884 was appointed the Organist and Choirmaster at Tunbridge Wells; in 1889 he moved to St Mary Magdalen, St Leonards, Sussex. 

Never robust, Barnett’s demanding schedule led to a breakdown of health, and following a farewell recital he and his wife embarked on the Tainui for Tasmania.  Intending to return within 12 months, Barnett was not to see England again for 37 years.

He was appointed Organist and Choirmaster at Hobart Cathedral.  Wishing to visit New Zealand, he availed himself of an opportunity to tour with a lecturer. This led to the Barnetts settling in Napier in 1893.  Barnett was appointed Cathedral Organist and conductor of the Napier Liedertafel.

In 1895 he moved to Wellington and, in 1908, became the first Wellington City Organist. He conducted the Wellington Choral Society in the first New Zealand performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, and was appointed conductor to the society when it amalgamated with the Wellington Musical Union.  His very popular organ recitals led to an invitation to inaugurate the new city organ in the Auckland Town Hall in December 1911, and to his appointment in 1912 as Auckland City Organist, a position he took up the following year and held until his retirement in 1932.

Following Harriett Barnett's death at Auckland in 1925, Barnett revisited London, presenting organ recitals there and at Leamington. He married again. In the two years prior to his death at Christchurch on 31 July 1938 he served as Organist at Christchurch Cathedral.

Maughan Barnett was an authoritative musician with virtuoso keyboard skills.  He published A short course of pianoforte technique in London in 1904.  Throughout his career he performed as organist, piano soloist, accompanist, and participant in chamber ensembles.  During his years in Auckland he played the complete organ works of J. S. Bach in recital.  His repertoire included little-known works as well as the principal composers of his day, and many of his own transcriptions.  He drew up specifications for the organs at both the Wellington and Auckland Town Halls and was generous with his knowledge of organ construction.

Several works were published in London.  Large-scale works include a concert overture, two commemorative odes for soloists, chorus and orchestra, and a piano trio. He also wrote a number of compositions for carillon and organ.  Barnett's most successful works demonstrate the instrumental mastery and accomplished musicianship for which all his musical involvement was noted.

From an article by Ashley Heenan, published in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography,