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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


GORDON JACOB (1895 – 1984)

By Dr Geoff Ogram

(Background: The author ‘discovered’ Gordon Jacob’s music in 1956 when, as an undergraduate reading Metallurgy at Birmingham University, he heard the first broadcast performance of Jacob’s Trombone Concerto. This sparked off an interest in Jacob’s music that developed into a major pursuit. Contact with the composer over the years developed into a valued friendship. Currently Dr Ogram is preparing a comprehensive book on Jacob’s music.

For further information there is an excellent biography by Eric Wetherell, entitled Gordon Jacob – a Centenary Biography published by Thames Publishing.)

Biographical details


Gordon Jacob at his desk (1978)

Gordon Jacob was born in Upper Norwood, south London, on July 5th, 1895, the youngest child of a large family, having three sisters and six brothers. His full name was Gordon Percival Septimus Jacob, the third name confirming his status as the seventh son. He tended in later life to drop his middle two names! The family was a very musical one; most of them played an instrument and two of them actually composed.

Gordon Jacob's musical interests were encouraged by his elder siblings and his mother. His father, an official in the Indian Civil Service, had died when Gordon was three. Later in life, however, his decision to pursue music as a career was "somewhat frowned upon" as he disclosed in a radio broadcast in the 1960s.

His early education was at the nearby Dulwich College, a public school with a memorable roll of honour of ex-pupils who have distinguished themselves in their subsequent careers. Musically, he certainly made an impact, because he was bitten early by the composing bug and wrote what would appear to be quite ambitious works, for orchestra no less. Clearly, he felt that these early compositions were significant because he gave them opus numbers, although he soon abandoned this practice. His obvious talent was rewarded by a sympathetic and respected music teacher, Herbert Doulton, who organised performances of some of these works in concerts performed by the school orchestra, Gordon himself conducting on occasions. This experience doubtless played a significant part in developing his very acute aural imagination and feeling for instrumental sounds and combinations that characterised his later compositions. Gordon was in fact grateful that his devotion to music was accepted without challenge by the school and "not considered effeminate, even in those far-off days," as he once expressed it. His other main interest, he admitted, was rugby football.

Jacob had to overcome two disadvantages. He was born with a cleft palate, which effectively ruled out the playing of wind instruments and caused speech difficulties. The second problem arose from an accident at the age of twelve, in which he severed a tendon in his left hand. This never healed properly and restricted his pianistic abilities, though a few years later he was still able to perform as soloist in part of a Mozart piano concerto with the school orchestra.

 

World War One

Almost as soon as he had left school, he volunteered for army service in August 1914 together with a favourite brother, Anstey. Two years later Anstey was killed at the Somme, a bitter blow that affected Gordon for the rest of his life.

Jacob was taken prisoner near Arras in 1917 and despatched to various camps. He was able to keep up his interest in music, notably at the end of the war at Bad Colberg, where he formed a "scratch little orchestra" as he called it. This comprised four string players and three wind players, complemented by Jacob on piano. He wrote both original music for the group and made arrangements "to suit, or so I hoped, its peculiar combination of instruments," as he explained.

Student Years

The war finally over, Jacob spent a year in a school of journalism. However, his love of music was still a priority and he took a correspondence course in harmony and counterpoint at the same time as his journalistic studies. When he discovered that he could obtain a grant, he applied to the Royal College of Music (RCM) and won a place to study composition and "as an also-ran, piano".

At the RCM he studied composition with Stanford, Howells and Vaughan Williams. Stanford was very much a traditionalist and rather scathing of ‘modernity’. Later, Jacob turned to Vaughan Williams as a less dyed-in–the-wool teacher but found him rather less help than he had originally hoped. However, he did gain a lot from studies with Herbert Howells. He also studied piano with George Thalben-Ball and conducting with Adrian Boult. His fellow students included Edmund Rubbra, E.J. Moeran, Patrick Hadley, Constant Lambert and Ivor Gurney amongst many others who later distinguished themselves as performers, composers or conductors.

During those student days, various pieces of his were included in RCM concerts and he was awarded the Arthur Sullivan Prize for composition, but his first major success was an arrangement for orchestra of pieces originally written for the virginals, which he was asked to make as part of the celebrations marking the death of Byrd three hundred years earlier. This became known as the William Byrd Suite. Later, a second version for symphonic wind band was made; in fact this has become the better-known arrangement.

Teaching

From 1924 he began his long teaching career at the RCM in theory and composition, one that continued until 1966. Many who passed through his hands as students later became famous as instrumentalists, conductors or composers, names like (Sir) Malcolm Arnold, Ruth Gipps, William Waterhouse, Cyril Smith, (Sir) Alexander Gibson, Eric Wetherell, Imogen Holst, Alan Ridout, and Joseph Horovitz amongst many others. All his students have been complimentary about the way in which he helped them to develop as individuals in their chosen careers. Alongside Jacob's distinguished contribution to English music through this teaching and guidance was his need to supplement his earnings in order to allow him time for his "real work", composing. This he did by examining for the Associated Board. In earlier days he even took up work as a music copyist, converting manuscript scores written by others into orchestral parts. He learned what matters in the preparation of clearly annotated parts that can make life so much easier in rehearsal and actual performance. As an aside, his own manuscripts were always models of clarity.

It was in 1924 that he first married. His wife Sydney (née Gray) was herself very musical and she became a tower of strength to Gordon as he was starting to make his mark, as indeed she was throughout their life together. He valued her judgment and opinions highly and they had a happy marriage that lasted for thirty-four years until her death in 1958.

Jacob was able to write music virtually at any time, at the drop of a hat so to speak. An early work, which made a strong impression at the time, was his (first) Viola Concerto of 1926, which he conducted at a Promenade concert. The soloist was a former fellow student Bernard Shore, who was a lifelong friend and admirer of his music. This work marked the start of many important contributions that he made to the viola repertoire as well as being the first of the many concertos he wrote, one for virtually every orchestral instrument and beyond.

Books

Jacob’s facility in producing good orchestral sound, as demonstrated in the William Byrd Suite soon gave him a reputation in this field. It was no surprise, perhaps, that he decided to share his knowledge with others by writing his book in 1931, entitled Orchestral Technique. Though slender in size, it was packed to the brim with expert advice on scoring and written with great economy and clarity, traits that can be applied equally well to his own music. The book was extremely successful for over fifty years; it was revised and reprinted in a new edition in the 1980s.

Jacob wrote other books too: How to Read a Score (a basic booklet aimed at the listener), The Elements of Orchestration (containing much practical advice on scoring with limited resources), and The Composer and His Art. In the 1950s, Jacob also edited the Penguin Scores, a collection of classic symphonies, overtures etc, in which he contributed a succinct analysis of the relevant work. Always practical, he was responsible for having the parts for the transposing instruments (eg clarinets, trumpets and horns) printed at the actual pitch to make score reading easier for the listener.

His reputation in instrumentation led to many composers seeking his advice on scoring, which he gladly gave. He always tried to understand what a composer was trying to express musically, and to help him or her in a technical way. He never worked on the basis that there was always a 'right' answer or to impose his own ideas as a fait accompli. In the early days he assisted Vaughan Williams, who seemed somewhat unsure of his abilities in orchestration, but after a time Jacob felt rather unnecessarily used and opted out.

On one occasion when Gustav Holst (who in Jacob's own words was "a marvellous orchestrator") stepped down from the podium after conducting one of his own works, he said to Gordon, "well, what was wrong with that, then?" Gordon admitted to saying nothing!

Ballet Music

In the 1930s, as a result of the influence of Constant Lambert, a fellow student of Jacob at the RCM a decade before, Jacob became an important contributor to the development and success of the Sadlers Wells Ballet Company, formed in 1931, with Lambert as Musical Director. Jacob was one of several younger composers who created original scores or new compilations and arrangements for this vibrant company. Jacob composed one original ballet (Uncle Remus) during that period, but his major contribution was in his orchestral arrangements for new ballets based upon the works of such diverse composers as Liszt, Adam, Couperin, Lecocq and others, as well as new orchestrations for established works, like Les Sylphides. The latter more or less became the standard version for subsequent performances, but a later orchestration by Roy Douglas (who, coincidentally, but later than Jacob, had also helped Vaughan Williams with his scoring) has also become deservedly popular.

Wartime

In the early 1940s, his skills in orchestration reached an even wider public, through his witty arrangements for the comedy radio programme ITMA (It's That Man Again) starring Tommy Handley. This weekly programme was a great morale-booster during the war years. Each edition featured a musical interlude contributed by one of several, mainly "light music", composers. Jacob's offerings rather outshone the efforts of the other composers and arrangers, but some of the more pompous members of the musical establishment looked upon Jacob's ITMA activities with suspicion and disapproval, as if he were besmirching the name of "serious" music. This was hurtful to him. Nowadays, nobody would bat an eyelid.

Throughout this period, however, Jacob continued to write his more "serious" music. In 1943, he was awarded the John Collard Fellowship of The Worshipful Company of Musicians, which carried with it an income of £300 per annum for three years, a significant amount at that time. In response, Jacob dedicated his Second Symphony of 1944 to the Company. He continued to write pieces especially for, and usually dedicated to past students or colleagues at the RCM who were top class performers, and he also benefited from many commissions.

Film Music

At about this time he was first asked to write music for a number of films. A few of the early ones were short semi-documentary propaganda films made during the Second World War. Half a dozen or so full-length feature films also benefited from Gordon Jacob's music even though none of them appears to have become a cinema classic. However, one cannot blame that on the music! All this took place at a time when the art of writing film music had not yet been fully developed or exploited; today it has become very sophisticated and almost a specialist subject.

Hampshire and the End of an Era

The Festival of Britain in 1951 was planned as a booster for the nation in the industrial and artistic fields, to provide something of a celebration for the general public during the rather lean post-war years of rationing and financial strictures. It mirrored in a way the Great Exhibition exactly one hundred years earlier. The Royal Festival Hall was built and many composers had works commissioned from them by the Arts Council and other bodies for performance at this new hall in London, or at many established venues around the country, and Gordon was amongst those involved. One such commission was what has become one of his most popular works, the Music for a Festival for symphonic wind band and brass ensemble.

In that year Jacob and his wife moved from their Surrey home to live in Brockenhurst, in the New Forest, overlooking one of the open grazing areas known as "lawns". The seven years he spent there, until his wife died in 1958, were both happy and inspirational ones, for he produced some notable works during that period, including A New Forest Suite, a work that portrayed various aspects of the Forest's scenery and life.

He always had time for amateurs and soon became integrated into his new surroundings by supporting his local music societies. On a professional level, the nearby Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of an Austrian pre-war emigré, Rudolf Schwarz, was a welcome bonus to his creativity. Schwarz was an admirer of Jacob's music and did much to promote it by including established works in his concerts and commissioning new ones. He continued this liaison when he moved to the Midlands to become principal conductor of the CBSO in Birmingham in the mid 1950s.

In 1952, the death of King George VI heralded the new Elizabethan age, and Gordon Jacob found his talents required yet again to provide arrangements for the coronation of the new Queen. For the second time Jacob would hear the fruits of his labours in Westminster Abbey at a coronation. One of his contributions was an exciting new arrangement of the National Anthem, which incorporated fanfare trumpets, notably in the opening Fanfare. This version has become established in the repertoire and is the one most widely used for royal and other special occasions.

Life is ever changing, however, and Gordon Jacob's life changed dramatically when his wife died in October 1958. Because she had been such a devoted companion and invaluable musical consultant for his creative work, he was utterly devastated by her passing. He almost lost the will to compose, but with the help of family and friends began to pick up the pieces and continue his work.

By early 1959 he was able to cope with a television team filming for a BBC documentary programme about his life and work that was later screened in the highly acclaimed Monitor series, devoted to the arts.

In the programme, Jacob outlined his approach to music by saying, "I write music first to please myself; if it also pleases others, then that is all to the good." He also stated that he regarded melody as all-important and expressed the view that music was moving forward too quickly. This is clearly a reference to some of the avant-garde composers who were becoming very fashionable in the eyes of the intellectual set. Gordon, who was very open-minded about serialism and other techniques, nevertheless had strong reservations about some of the trends, for he added in the TV film that he was "repelled by the intellectual snobbery of some artists - not only in music but in the other arts too."

Second Life

It was not long before Jacob found happiness again and started what he called his "second life" when he married his first wife's niece, Margaret, later in 1959. Gordon had long valued her friendship and had found her a sympathetic listener during his months of grief. There was a large age difference (he was 63 and she was 21), and this led to a certain amount of publicity, which they both hated. Because the house in Brockenhurst carried too many memories, the couple settled into a new home in Saffron Walden.

The marriage proved to be very successful and was blessed with two children, Ruth and David, born in the early 1960s. Jacob, whose first marriage had been childless, was delighted with fatherhood and these new circumstances and experiences restored his spirit of creativity.

His contribution to English musical life was finally recognised officially in 1968 when he was awarded the CBE.

 

 

Adaptability

In the mid twentieth century, Gordon Jacob's music was played frequently in broadcast concerts and in the concert hall and many new works were premiered in London and around the country. In 1965, to mark his 70th birthday, the BBC put on two or three programmes of his music, and Jacob himself conducted his Festival Overture (written in 1963) at the Proms that year. His music was regularly included in the Promenade concerts, but that overture was to prove the last of his pieces to appear, apart from his masterly orchestration of Elgar's first Organ Sonata, which was played in the 1995 series to mark the centenary of those concerts, and, half-heartedly, the centenary of Jacob's birth.

In the 1960s, then, his music became less frequently heard on radio as a result of new BBC policy that was directed at encouraging the younger composers, mostly of the avant-garde or experimentalist persuasion. Whilst this in itself was laudable, the policy was pursued to the detriment of the more traditionalist composers like Jacob, Bax, Bliss, Rawsthorne and others, who found their music becoming more and more neglected. The malaise spread also to the concert hall. The many who found themselves in this situation have, nearly forty years later, been referred to as "the forgotten composers." Now, at last, there are some signs of a revival of interest in their work.

So Jacob, with a young family, and having retired in 1966 from teaching part-time at the RCM, was conscious of the need to continue earning a living. He adapted to the new circumstances. His reputation had not, of course, diminished amongst those who knew him, and commissions continued to come in, but predominantly from amateur groups. He also turned more to writing for instrumental combinations like wind bands, for example, rather than the orchestra because there was a better market for such pieces.

All was not doom and gloom, however. Amongst a lot of what we might call "practical music" that he wrote during this period, short pieces and minor works, occasionally he would have something meatier to work on. One such is the Concerto for Three Hands written for the three-handed team of Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith (whose left hand had been paralysed in a stroke); others include the Mini Concerto for Clarinet written for Thea King, and the Viola Concerto No 2 composed as a test piece for the first Lionel Tertis Viola Competition held in the Isle of Man in 1980. All three are examples of attractive and important works written in later life.

Jacob as Arranger

Jacob’s skills as an arranger are exemplified by his work on the William Byrd Suite, (arranged for orchestra and also concert band), and the orchestral versions of Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite (originally written for band) and Elgar’s Organ Sonata No 1. He also arranged some concert band suites by Holst for orchestra. As always, he respected the source of the particular work and the finished piece was scored in an appropriate manner. The Elgar Sonata cited above, for example, sounds like Elgar in its orchestral colours.


Gordon Jacob in his Garden with Geoff Ogram (1976)

The last years

To Jacob, music was his life. Never did he consider retiring and so he worked on into his late eighties producing a stream of works, many from commissions. Some, in his own words, were "unpretentious little pieces" but he was ever able to come up with a musical gem of true substance. Though he enjoyed good health throughout his life, he was troubled in later years with failing eyesight, and his written hand became shakier as he struggled to set down his ideas, but he remained cheerful and optimistic. In a letter to me in the early 1980s, he wrote: "I'm still note-spinning despite advancing years, deafness and blindness!" A few years earlier, when I visited him, he showed me the manuscript score, just completed, of his Symphonic Study: The Line of Life for wind band. He pointed to a few notes on high leger lines and explained that when he could not see clearly enough to confirm the accuracy of the notes on them he would write "C"' or "E flat" (or whatever) against them, in red pen!

Always willing to try out something new, it is hardly surprising that he chose to write, even at the age of eighty-eight, a Concerto for Timpani, with wind band accompaniment, but he did not live to hear it. His last work was a Mini Concerto for Orchestra written for a Youth Orchestra Festival, which took place at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1984. Gordon had hoped to attend the concert but became ill in May, suffering a severe stroke. He died on June 8th, just a month short of his 89th birthday. The Youth Music Festival made a special dedication of the event to his memory.

Gordon Jacob – the man behind the music

Gordon was a charming and friendly person, although at a first meeting he might seem a little aloof. There was, I think, a certain shyness about him. The composer and former pupil, Alan Ridout, put his finger on it when he described his first meeting with Gordon at the RCM: "When Gordon Jacob appeared at the top of the stairs and approached us down the corridor with the light modesty of step of the sensitive, I warmed to him instantly. I was unprepared for his shyness and the far-away look in his eyes."

He was always modest about his own work and appreciative of the talents of others. His students all had great affection for him as a person as well as a teacher. And as a teacher he was a highly successful one.

My own impression is that once a person had gained his friendship, there was a remarkable openness in the ensuing relationship. I can speak with experience. In my case I had started as a complete stranger, not a pupil, and it was I who initiated the contact by writing to Gordon in 1958. Communication from then on was casual and irregular, but I suppose my persistence eventually led to Gordon remembering my existence! I was always conscious of intruding where I might not be welcome. But as we met more frequently and exchanged correspondence, it was not long before we were able to discuss things of a more personal nature, with the ease enjoyed by long-standing friends. In one letter to me, Gordon chatted quite happily about how much in royalties the Performing Rights Society had forwarded in the last year and how much the fees for his son's education had gone up. And he was sympathetic at a time when I had some personal problems.

Throughout life he possessed a great sense of wit and humour. Much of his music can be described as witty and a sense of fun is evident in a few pieces written for special occasions. I have in mind here his contribution to the Royal College of Organists Centenary Concert, the hilarious Humpty Dumpty and his False Relations, in which the old nursery tune finds itself combined with many well-known traditional airs and themes from great works by composers as diverse as Dukas and Beethoven. Even the title of the piece is a gem. Gordon Jacob, though never flippant, was blessed with a complete lack of pomposity.


Gordon Jacob with one of his collection of pigs (1978)

Musical Works

Jacob was one of England’s most prolific composers, with a list of some 450 works ranging from large scale compositions for orchestra to short simple pieces aimed at the beginner. They cover a wide range of forms and instrumental combinations. Apart from a youthful offering entitled "Red Riding Hood", an operetta for children performed in 1913, the opera format did not generally appeal to him and is the one musical genre not represented in his catalogue of works.

His musical style is firmly based upon the traditions of his earlier years. Traditional musical forms (suites, sonatas etc) suited his purposes adequately. His harmonic style, too, is broadly traditional but makes use of harmonic devices that are of the twentieth century. He was a strong believer in melody and had a knack or flair for writing memorable tunes. Much of his music is very easy on the ear, but some is distinctly "tougher" and requires more effort in its interpretation. Nowadays, his tunefulness might be regarded as old-fashioned but the avant-garde school seems to have had its day to some extent and several contemporary composers are adopting a more obviously ‘melodic’ approach to their work.

Overall, Jacob’s music can best be described as neo-classical, like many other composers of his generation, who form a significant part of the English musical renaissance that began with Parry and Stanford. Some of Jacob’s contemporaries later moved to a more romantic inclination. Indeed one can detect a whiff of romanticism in some of Jacob’s earlier works (and even in later compositions) but he stuck to the neo-classicist path for the most part.

His music can be best characterised by such words and phrases as conservative, direct, traditional, tonal, diatonic (but taking into account twentieth century harmonic trends), melodious, terse, acerbic, witty, neo-classical, piquancy, and clarity of texture. Frank Howes, in his book The English Musical Renaissance (published by Secker and Warburg, 1966) describes Jacob’s music in the following way: "Ingenuity rather than sentiment is the driving force of his music – ingenuity of counterpoint, ingenuity of invention, ingenuity of scoring. This ingenuity is not to be despised – it is an ingredient in wit and the light touches with which his works abound.

"His Englishness is in line with Holst’s, derives from him back to Purcell, and is manifest in economy, clarity, and, if the oxymoron be allowed, a reticent pungency.

Orchestral

Most important amongst his orchestral works are the two symphonies, both of which have connections with wartime. The Symphony No 1 of 1928 is in five movements and is dedicated to the composer’s brother Anstey, who fell at the Somme. Only one of its five movements has been performed in public (Jacob conducting the slow movement at the Three Choirs Festival in 1934, though Sir Henry Wood did conduct a studio play-through in 1932 which did not, however, lead to a Prom performance.

Symphony No 2, written in 1943, is described by the composer as "a meditation on war, suffering and victory". This has fared better than the first symphony in terms of performances and has appeared on CD. With its chilling opening long held note followed by great flurries of activity, the first movement seems to express the unrest and confusion of war, both at home and on the battlefield. The slow movement is achingly poignant and depicts the agonies and suffering of conflict, though there is more than a hint of camaraderie, fighting spirit and optimism. The scherzo recognises that a cheery attitude in hard times can be beneficial but something ominous is never far away. The final movement, in the form of a ground bass, seems to express the dedication and drive needed for victory, which comes at last, on a long-held note, as at the beginning of the work, though now the bells ring and the mood is no longer sinister but triumphant.

A Little Symphony was written in 1957 and also appears on the same CD. This is for chamber orchestra and is a delightful Haydnesque work, in that it is the kind of symphony that Papa Haydn might well have composed had he been alive in the twentieth century. In a sense it is Jacob’s equivalent of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, though more serious in tone with its Grave opening movement. But that lightness of touch, so characteristic of Jacob, soon appears with the rhythmic second movement (Scherzo) and delicately precise final movement marked Allegro molto, quasi presto, which span a gentler and melodious Adagio movement. The scoring makes the most of the available forces ( strings, I flute, 2 each oboes, bassoons and horns ) with some delightful tone colours.

Certainly a major work is his Variations on an Original Theme, which dates from 1936. It fully deserves its description by Robin Hull as "one of the finest sets (of variations) written by a British composer since Elgar’s day." (British Music of our Time – A Pelican Book, published 1951 by Penguin Books.)

The two-part theme is memorable in itself and it leads to nine distinctly different variations. From the confident first variation, the sprightly second, the gracious third, the poignant fifth and so on to the final fugue, the listener is treated to a feast of sounds and musical ingenuity.

His many Suites are more than just light-hearted romps. The Suite No 1 for small orchestra (1941) is light, charming, short and sweet, but his Suite No 3 is more expansive and displays more ingenuity (that word again!) in its five movements. One of his popular pieces is the Passacaglia on a Well-known Theme (Oranges and Lemons). This is not as flippant as its title might suggest, but a clever creation that shows skilful working of musical ideas on a simple theme.

More serious in tone is the lovely Pro Corda Suite for string quartet and string orchestra, composed in 1977 for Pro Corda, the National Association for young chamber music players. This has a wonderfully intense slow movement (the third) as well as a delicate Allegretto second movement. The outer movements are both vigorous and exhilarating.

His New Forest Suite completed at around the time that his first wife died is one of the rare works with a "non-musical" title, and it depicts various aspects of he area in which he lived at the time. Some of the titles of the six movements, Primeval Oaks, The Queen’s Bower, Butts Lawn, Pannage (the autumnal right to allow pigs free access in the forest to forage for acorns) give an idea of the work’s structure. Colourfully orchestrated, this suite provided a background for the 1959 BBC ‘Monitor’ film about the composer.

Strings alone feature in two other major works, the Sinfonietta No 2 (The Cearne) and the Symphony for Strings. Both pieces show Jacob’s mastery of string writing. The Symphony in particular has a distinct pastoral quality in its slow movement in which a solo violin is featured prominently.

Concertos

The concertos form a significant and important part of Jacob’s output. He wrote concertos for virtually all of the common orchestral instruments and a few others as well. His first major work that got him public recognition was his single movement Viola Concerto (No 1) of 1925. This has certain romantic leanings and forms an interesting contrast with his much later (1980) Viola Concerto No 2, a slightly shorter four-movement work with string accompaniment. This was commissioned and used as a test piece for the first International Viola Competition in the Isle of Man in 1980, the winner performing the work at a public concert in London in 1981. This is a beautifully honed work, which allows the soloist to express various moods from the thoughtful first movement in 5/4 time, through the fast-moving Scherzo and a meditative Intermezzo-like third movement to the finale, which is energetic and exhilarating.

Jacob also wrote a Concert-Piece for Viola and Orchestra in 1977 for the violist John White. This is a set of variations played as a continuous piece, in effect another concerto, and it represents yet another major work for the instrument from Jacob’s pen.

The Violin Concerto (1953) and Violoncello Concerto (1955) are quite serious in nature, especially the latter, which is a tougher nut to crack than much of Jacob’s music. As always, these need great sensitivity of performance to bring out the best. On occasions his music receives a cursory treatment hat does not do it justice. Slow movements are often taken too quickly, and these two works are good examples where such advice is relevant. To round off the string section, there is even a Little Concerto for Double Bass!

There are two Flute Concertos, dating from 1951 and 1981, both in four movements and with string accompaniment. Number one is the more substantial work and has a certain Gallic air about some of the movements. It is very lyrical and meditative, in contrast to the second concerto, which is lighter and chirpier, apart from a short pensive third movement.

The two Oboe Concertos are well worth exploring, too. The first (1933), with string orchestra, is very pastoral in nature and has recently been recorded on CD by the young oboist Ruth Bolister. It is a work which is full of delightful invention and the overall pastoral quality runs through all of its three movements. The second concerto (1956), with full orchestral accompaniment, also has a pastoral feel about it, mainly in the central slow movement, but the outer movements seem to show off the oboe’s more capricious nature. Once again, there are many interesting musical ideas for the listener to savour.

The Mini-concerto for Clarinet and Strings of 1980 is another winner. It was written for Thea King and represents all that is best in the composer’s ability to charm, to bring a lump to the throat and to entertain with a high degree of wit. Four short movements are packed into 10½ minutes, with a jaunty opening theme, a poignant slow movement, a wistful third and a rousing finale.

The Bassoon Concerto (1948) for soloist, strings and optional percussion is another neo-classical work, full of charm and invention and a haunting slow movement for the bassoon in its high register. Two jaunty movements either side of this make up the rest of the work in which the bassoon is now playful, now serious, but never portrayed as "the clown of the orchestra" as it has been described, unfairly.

Probably one of his best-known and popular concertos, and one of the few with full orchestra, is that for Trombone. At the time it was composed (1956) there were few concertos for the instrument and this work is almost certainly the most performed of all that have been written, before and since it appeared. The nobility of the instrument is prominent at the very start of the work with its opening and closing Maestoso recitative-like passages, between which a syncopated Allegro molto forms the main part of the first movement. In the second movement the trombone sings its plaintive song, at one point in a higher register than an accompanying flute. The final movement with its March theme rounds off the work in rousing style. The trombone in this work has to be very flexible and agile as well as powerful and regal.

The Horn Concerto of 1951 was a favourite of its dedicatee, Dennis Brain, who loved its "woodpecker-like" repeated notes that appear in the first and last movements, though in different forms. But it is not all to do with rapid passage work, for the horn also has some beautifully mellifluous tunes to play that melt the heart.

Another early work is the Piano Concerto No 1 (1927), with string orchestra, which is very florid and has romantic overtones and is well worth exploring. The later (1957) Concerto No 2, is more measured and has an unusual slow movement in the form of a theme and variations with some arresting moments. The finale is bubbly and highly syncopated with a notable sequence involving repeated notes.

The pianist Cyril Smith had a stroke in 1957 and lost the use of his left arm. His four-handed partnership with his wife Phyllis Sellick had to be modified to a three-handed one. Jacob not only rearranged music for them but composed his Concerto for Three Hands and Orchestra in 1969, which is a most attractive work. Bold and percussive in the first movement, it gives way to a second movement Nocturne with just strings and horn in the accompaniment, very "Delian" as the composer remarked to me at a run-through concert prior to the work being recorded for an LP by the soloists. A gently running Minuet with a contrasting Slavonic style Trio section, followed by the last movement in the form of a boisterous Tarantella, brings the concerto to a spirited finish.

A couple of years later, the Rhapsody for Three hands and Brass appeared. Essentially another concerto for the same soloists, the accompaniment was for brass band and the piece was in one continuous movement, though there are three clearly defined sections

Another delightful miniature is the Concertino for Piano and Strings. This was composed in 1954 and its three movements are quite captivating in a clear neo-classical style. In the first movement the piano seems to wander from key to key, the strings doing their best to steer it back home. The slow movement has an eerie opening sequence for the piano, which plays an extended passage in simple octaves. The mood eventually warms up, however, and prepares the way for the final movement, a witty Scherzo, with a crisp, dry texture. A recent CD has confirmed the worth of this little piece.

One of Jacob’s last works, and one he never heard, is the 1984 Concerto for Timpani and Band. First performed in Germany by the young soloist Klaus Huber, it was brought to England later the same year for a performance in Kent. Though there is plenty of rhythmic work for the soloist, Jacob has concentrated on the melodic capabilities of the timpani, by writing for four pedal tuned instruments. The soloist is expected to display subtlety as well as demonstrating prowess with more complex rhythmic work.

Mention should also be made of Jacob’s Concerto for Accordion and strings, and his Double Concerto for Clarinet, Trumpet and Band, if only to underline his versatility.

Brass Band and Concert Band

The general term "concert band" is used here to cover various forms of symphonic wind band, such as the military band, the American symphonic band which differ slightly in the instrumental line up.

Jacob produced what has become one of the classics of the band repertoire in his 1928
An Original Suite for Military Band. He was always amused by the title of the piece for it was the publishers who insisted on inserting the word "original"! It reflects the age in which it was written, for there was little for such bands to play apart from arrangements of popular works. In this piece Jacob helped to establish the wind band as a vehicle for serious music. Typical of his band music it is painted in broad strokes as befits outdoor music but still contains subtleties. The energetic first movement gives way to the slower second movement entitled Intermezzo featuring a melody for saxophone. Finally a kind of frenzied country dance emerges as the third movement.

By far his longest work for band is the Music for a Festival written for the Festival of Britain in 1951, commissioned for he occasion. Originally intended to be performed in barges on the river Thames, it was actually performed in the newly- built Festival Hall. Its eleven movements alternate between a fanfare brass group (4 trumpets and 3 trombones) and the symphonic band itself. This had practical implications in that each group could rest while the other group played, so the whole work would be more comfortable to play. The two groups combined in the final movement, a grand Fugue. The earlier movements include an Overture, Air, March, Scherzo, and Minuet and Trio for Band, with Intrada, Round of Seven parts, Interlude, Saraband and Madrigal for the Brass group. These latter Interludes for brass are often performed as a separate work in concerts. This is a most attractive work with some delightful tunes. The Interludes hark back to Tudor times in mood and remind one of the Italian masters such as Gabrieli.

A Symphony AD 78 was written for the Arthur Doyle (hence AD!) Concert Band in 1978 and performed in Birmingham in December of that year. A powerful work, it lay dormant until resurrected by the conductor Geoffrey Brand who has recorded the work, available on CD. An opening fanfare –like Maestoso leads directly to an Allegro risoluto, which exudes determination and forthrightness. The second movement follows without a break and is a continuous plaint in which the melody seems for ever to seeking for resolution like a troubled soul searching for respite. Only in the closing bars does peace seem to take over. The final movement, marked Allegro non troppo starts with a cheering fanfare that leads to a bright and breezy romp, with a rustic feel about it. When the fanfare reappears we are suddenly immersed in exaltations of joy that really give a feeling of optimism as we proceed to the end of the piece via a short Coda.

For brass band Jacob has written a number of works, including two Suites, the first of which was commissioned as a test piece for the Brass Band Championship in 195 and is the better known piece. The first movement, March, is followed by the slow movement marked Solemn Music, probably linked in the composer’s mind to Remembrance Day and the fallen of two wars. The final movement is typically Jacob in festive mood, jaunty and occasionally turbulent, with a triumphal ending.

His York Symphony was part of the 900th Anniversary celebrations of that city, commissioned for the occasion and performed in York Minster. A four movement work, it was in the composer’s mind to be a tribute to the county and its people. It ends with a March for the Men of York. The slow movement depicts the beauty of the landscape, though there is no attempt to portray specific features or locations. Jacob’s music is basically abstract but such "pure" music is perfectly capable of arousing emotions and moods.

There are many shorter pieces for brass and wind bands too numerous to list here.

Chamber Music

Only a small selection can be discussed as there is such a lot of good music in this category. One has to start with the Clarinet Quintet which dates from 1940. Written for Frederick Thurston it is a beautifully wrought work in four movements. A mellifluous and flowing first movement allows the clarinet to be lyrical. In the rhythmic second movement, very contrapuntal in nature, the clarinet can show its agility. The third movement is more expansive and meditative, entitled Rhapsody, paves the way for the final movement, Introduction, theme and variations, a form in which Jacob excels, providing the listener with a variety of effects and moods.

On the website http://www.musicweb.co.uk.net/classrev/2002/apr02/jacob-clarinet.htm, Rob Barnett, reviewing a CD of this work, made the following comment:

"This admirable work has more than its share of moments when the composer stills the heartbeat and holds the passage of time in the cup of his hands."

That gem of a sentence perfectly expresses what occurs not only in the Clarinet Quintet, but in most of Jacob’s music.

An earlier Quartet for Oboe and Strings is a most attractive work, light-hearted, and an ideal introduction to his music. Full of catchy tunes, it bubbles away merrily without too many demands on the listener.

His two String Quartets have not been much to the fore and deserve further investigation. His Six Shakespearian Sketches for string trio are little masterpieces. Based upon short quotations from the bard, including a stage direction, they are as varied as one could imagine – beautifully finished cameos. How sweet the moonlight sleeps on yonder bank is dreamy and evocative of the night. Foot it featly is expressed as a kind of rustic dance. In Sad Cypress lives up to the tempo marking of Molto adagio ed elegiaco. A graceful minuet expresses Grace in all Simplicity. The poignancy of And A’ Babbled of Green Fields is appropriate for the reporting of Falstaff’s death and the highly rhythmical and syncopated final offering represents here a Dance of Clowns.

Much later in life Jacob wrote a superb Suite for Eight Violas, an inspired piece. Its first movement is dedicated to the former viola virtuoso, Lionel Tertis, whose name is coded into twelve notes that form the theme. The other movements are Scherzo and Drone, a haunting Chorale, parts of which remind one of Copland, and a final Tarantella which gets the feet tapping.

In a similar vein is his Cello Octet which is an arrangement of his Trombone Octet with an additional movement.

Wind ensembles represent a significant part of his chamber music. The 1956 Sextet for Wind and Piano was written for the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Jacob inscribed the work "In memoriam Aubrey Brain", Aubrey being Dennis’s late father and a noted horn player. Four of the five movements were based upon the musical letters of his name, ABEBA. Shortly after the work’s first (broadcast) performance, Dennis was killed in a car crash. Jacob rededicated the work to father and son. The five movements, Elegiac Prelude, Scherzo, Cortege, Minuet and Trio, and Rondo with Epilogue suggest a mixture of sadness and laughter but the work overall is perhaps more melancholic than some of these titles might suggest. Jacob scores wonderfully well for wind instruments; he produces such variety in tone colour that the sound never cloys. This is an impressive work.

Works for soloist and keyboard include the very popular Suite for Treble Recorder. This is often played with the piano as accompaniment but is better known in the version with string orchestra. It was originally conceived for string quartet. Its seven movements include a Lament, English Dance, and Burlesca alla Rumba. The recorder is expected to produce those delicious liquid tones as well as demonstrate its agility in rapid passage work. The Suite is a most attractive set of contrasting pieces that require a virtuoso performer to bring it to life.

Jacob wrote several other pieces for recorder including, for the virtuoso Danish player Michala Petri, a Duettino for recorder and piano, in which the soloist has to play the recorder and sing a counter melody simultaneously!

A parallel work to the Recorder Suite exists in the form of the Suite of Five pieces for Harmonica and Piano. This, too, is better known in the version with string orchestra. The perky Caprice, the lilting Cradle Song, the haunting Threnody and the faster Country Dance together with the exhilarating Russian Dance make another entertaining concert item. The Suite was written for Tommy Reilly who performed it on numerous occasions. It was the second harmonica work by Jacob who in 1955 had written an eight movement Divertimento for harmonica and string quartet.

More serious in nature are the various sonatas. Notable are the two Sonatas for Viola, the second of which is particularly effective and powerful in its impact. The Sonata for Oboe is another that should receive more attention. Its close relative, the Sonatina for Oboe and Piano was certainly one of the composer’s own favourites, and rightly so. Other sonatas exist for tenor trombone, cello, harmonica, violin, and treble recorder.

Quite a few of the works involving keyboard accompaniments specify harpsichord with piano as alternative (or vice versa).The Trio for Flute, Oboe and Harpsichord is a prime example. Written for the Francis family in 1958, this is a four-movement work that exudes happiness and joie-de-vivre, with a particularly tongue-in-cheek final movement. The same group with the addition of a harp (played by another member of the family) had another work dedicated to them. This was the Six Miniatures for this unusual combination, which has some interesting ideas and sound combinations. Jacob was always interested in "unusual" instruments. In fact he wrote in the late 1950s a Suite for the Virginal.

Amongst a number of compositions for wind ensembles, the Serenade for Woodwind is worthy of special comment. This is an eight-movement work for woodwind (2 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons). Starting with a spirited March, it continues with a melodious little Arietta and a Gavotte. Then the mood changes to an almost sinister one with the eerie Interlude (Incantation). The gloom soon vanishes with the mercurial Toccatina. As a contrast to the many faceted sounds of the previous movements, the very chordal Saraband with its rich sound (using all instruments together for much of the time) is very telling. A spirited Scherzo, highly syncopated, comes next and leads to a ruminative final movement, an Epilogue which, with its long sustained chords and gently flowing main theme has a becalming effect on the flute, which initially seems anxious and rather wayward. The other instruments persuade it to join in and relax. In this work, Jacob yet again demonstrates his ability to produce a wide range of tone colours and both contrapuntal and rhythmical interest. This is a perfect example of the ingenuity referred to by Frank Howes, and discussed earlier.

Another unusual combination of instruments appears in Jacob’s Diversions for wind quintet and string quintet. This work, in seven movements, though similar in concept to the Serenade discussed above, is rather more wistful and contemplative in mood as a whole, though it has a few sparkly moments.

There are several works for solo instruments, such as the Partita for bassoon, Seven Bagatelles for oboe, Five Pieces for clarinet, and a Sonata for Piano.

Brass ensembles are not neglected either, for there are pieces for brass quartet, quintet, trombone quartet, and trombone octet, to list a few examples.

Finally, we come to choral music. There are so many solo songs and songs for choruses of various forms that it would be pointless to single out any of these for special mention. Jacob also wrote some charming collections of vocal music in the form of cantatas, one of the best of which is
A Goodly Heritage for women’s chorus and strings and piano. This consists of songs of the countryside based upon poems old and new, and very evocative of times past. It contains some sensitive settings of familiar words like Under the Greenwood Tree, The Echoing Green and so on. Jacob’s word painting is always of the highest quality and no better than in the starkly harmonised When Icicles Hang by the Wall. With its staccato fourths in the harmony (often in contrary motion) there is even a visual analogy of icicles on the printed pages of the score, and the subtle underlining of the words " the wind doth blow" and "coughing" in the accompaniment is perfectly accomplished.

The most important choral work, and incidentally the largest of his output, is his 1951 setting of Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale for chorus and orchestra. This tells the story of a fine and noble cockerel Chanticleer, his abduction by a fox, and his eventual release. The work is in the form of ten movements and is one of Jacob’s most powerful scores, with some fine tunes in his familiar "friendly" style but it is harmonically very aggressive, with a much harsher use of dissonance than we generally expect from him. The ten movements break up the narrative neatly into the various parts of the story, from the initial pastoral setting of the scene, through descriptions of Chanticleer’s great qualities, his being troubled by dreams of attack by a beast, dismissed as fantasy by his paramour (the hen known as Lady Pertelote) to the actual abduction when Chanticleer’s worst fears are realised. Jacob’s imaginative treatment of the unfolding drama, his creation of a sound world in which the music so aptly reinforces the words, and the great variety of orchestral sound make this work an ideal tribute to the composer’s genius.

Further information is available on the official website www.gordonjacob.org which includes a complete list of his works and a list of recordings available on CD. The author of this article, Dr Geoff Ogram, can be contacted by e-mail on: geoff.ogram@talktalk.net



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