Born in Berlin in 1936, John White studied piano with Arthur Alexander and Eric Harrison, and composition with Bernard Stevens at the Royal College of Music. Since that time, he has been continually active as a composer, performer and teacher, and his career has involved a variety of activities including composing and directing music for the theatre and ballet, taking part in concerts of experimental music and in electronic ensembles, heading the music department at the Drama Centre, London, and performing as a solo pianist and accompanist.
His vast compositional output includes 3 operas, 26 symphonies (none for traditional orchestra), 29 ballets or "dance-works", a number of large-scale works involving brass, "the longest work ever written for cello and tuba", 173 piano sonatas and literally hundreds of pieces for ensembles he has initiated. These have included the Promenade Theatre Orchestra, Hobbs-White Duo, Garden Furniture Music Ensemble, Farewell Symphony Orchestra, Nordic Reverie Trio, Instant Dismissal Symphony Orchestra, Lower Edmonton Latin Lovers' Choral Society and Live Batts, in which unusual, even bizarre combinations of instruments and/or other sound sources have often featured. In the 1960s and 1970s he was closely associated with English experimental composers and invented the early British form of minimalism known as "systems music".
As a performer he has also played bass trombone with the Royal Ballet Touring Orchestra, tuba in the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble and has toured widely as a piano recitalist specialising in late Romantic music in addition to his own and, in particular, that of Erik Satie. His activities in the world of theatre music have included composing the scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Les Enfants du Paradis, many productions for the Royal National Theatre and various regional theatres as well as musical direction of the Western Theatre Ballet and numerous musicals in London's West End.
He has held a succession of teaching posts at the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) and the Drama Centre, London as well as fulfilling visiting lectureships in various foreign institutions and conducting workshops with CoMA (Contemporary music-making for amateurs) who have commissioned two works for large ensemble.