The Danish-born pianist and music educator left his mark on several Australian music institutions.

John Winther, a prominent pianist and the former director of Canberra School of Music (ANU), has died in Denmark at the age of 78.

He was born on August 20, 1933 in Copenhagen. Although he did not grow up in a musical family, he showed talent at an early age, playing saxophone for four years in a boys’ band in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and oboe in a local orchestra.

Winther studied piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and made his professional debut in 1954 at the age of 23. He was director of opera at the Royal Danish Theatre for a number of years before moving to Sydney in 1971 to serve as director of the Australian Opera.

Winther left a significant legacy at various music institutions in Australia. He took up the post of director at the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music in 1977; three years later he commenced his tenure as director of the School of Music in Canberra. He left Australia in 1985 to take up a position as professor at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He retired to Lohals, Denmark, where he had been in ill health for several years.

In 1960, Winther married Danish opera singer Ellen Lembourn – most famous for her performance in the Eurovision Song Contest – and divorced her in 1966. He then married opera singer Lone Koppel in 1969; they divorced 10 years later.

He leaves behind six children from five marriages, including Canberra-born Kristian Winther, first violinist with the Australian String Quartet, and Thomas Winther, director of the Danish Aarhus Conservatorium.