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Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


(b. London, January 1, 1896;

d. Brighton, February 2, 1976)

by Michael and Julian Jacobson

see also Part 2: The Music of Maurice Jacobson

Maurice Jacobson was regarded in his lifetime as a "musician extraordinary", gifted with such exceptional versatility that formal classifications were quite inadequate to convey the wide-ranging nature of his career. Among his manifold activities, he was a composer, pianist, conductor, music publisher, editor, broadcaster, lecturer, and doyen of British music festival adjudicators. Use of the word "versatility" sometimes implies a certain sense of dilettantism; in Maurice Jacobson’s case, however, he proved himself a master of every musical field to which he devoted his boundless enthusiasm.

Jacobson, who was awarded the OBE in 1971 for "services to music", began his professional career as a solo pianist early in life - he was, in fact, a child prodigy, having started serious lessons in both the violin and the piano at the age of seven. At 16, he won a piano scholarship at the Modern School of Music, London, which enabled him to receive lessons from Busoni. By that time, he could play all Beethoven’s sonatas and all of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues from memory, a feat which many eminent professional musicians would envy. In 1916, he gained an open scholarship at the Royal College of Music, where, with a four-year break for military service in World War I, he studied composition under Stanford and Holst and conducting under Sir Adrian Boult, until 1922.

Outside Buckingham Palace (with his wife, Suzannah), after receiving his OBE

It was typical of him that, even in the Army, he formed a brass band among his fellow-soldiers - himself playing any of the brass instruments that lacked a performer.

He matured so quickly as a musician that, while still a student, he served as accompanist for two years to the great tenor John Coates. This ended only when Coates wanted him to go to the USA for a recital tour. By then, Jacobson had just married and had also begun his lifelong association with the music publishers J. Curwen & Sons. (The replacement Coates chose to tour with him was a 24-year-old named Gerald Moore, later to become Britain’s most famed accompanist ...) Although his main career had moved in other directions, Jacobson remained much sought after by leading soloists, whenever he could find the time.

A truly historic shot. It was taken aboard the liner "Majestic" in 1931, when Maurice made his first Canadian festival tour with a team of "All-Time Greats" in the adjudicating field (of whom he was destined to become recognised as one of the greatest).

From left to right, the team members are: Sir Hugh Roberton (founder and conductor of the world-famed Glasgow "Orpheus".Choir; Harry Plunket Greene, the great Irish baritone; Harold Samuel, the pianist and Bach specialist; and (bearing a striking resemblance to Buster Keaton), one Maurice Jacobson, then aged 35

From the start, even so, there was never any doubt that his greatest love in the musical field was composition. One early success came when he won the Sir Louis Sterling composition prize, organised by the Jewish Chronicle, which enabled him to buy the first top-quality grand piano of his own.

It was a perennial regret that, because of the growth of his other activities, he didn’t compose as much as he wished or felt he should have done. Nevertheless, a list of his known works, first prepared for his centenary in 1996, showed eventually that his compositions and arrangements, including collections, reached the respectable total of some 450. In his last radio interview, recorded on his 80th birthday on January 1, 1976, he said that he still hoped to compose - intimating that, although a majority of his output had been vocal works, he thought that his next composition would probably be instrumental. This despite the fact that, because of his failing eyesight, his doctor had registered him officially a month earlier as "partially blind"

(A full musical appraisal of his principal works will be given in a later article.)

Although from a Jewish family, Jacobson never regarded himself as a Jewish composer, per se. Even so, the influence was occasionally apparent. In 1932, he took on a part-time post as Choirmaster at the West London synagogue in Upper Berkeley Street - generally accepted as the headquarters of Reform Judaism in Britain and long famed for the extra-high quality of its organ music, in particular. To quote its obituary notice after his death: "Very soon his enormous enthusiasm had brought about a lively choral group and a splendid choir." Music he wrote for the choir in this period is still used regularly in the synagogue services, notably his harmonising and arrangement of an ancient Hebrew melody to the words of Psalm 92. By 1937, he found that he was away from London too frequently to continue as Choirmaster, but he served as chairman of the synagogue’s music committee from then until the Second World War and again from 1958 to 1964. He remained a member of the committee to the end of his life.

It was also during the mid-1930s that Jacobson was commissioned by the Markova-Dolin company to compose the music for a new biblical ballet, David. With Anton Dolin dancing the title rôle, it was premiered in 1936 and subsequently had more than 120 performances. One song from the ballet music, Psalm 23 set to Tonus Peregrinus, was later published separately with the words in both English and phonetic Hebrew versions.

Another of biblical origin, regarded as among the most successful of his individual works for solo voice, was The Song of Songs (from the ‘Book of Solomon’). The two published versions, for low or medium voice, with piano, were derived from the theme threading through Jacobson’s music, integral to the scripts, for the six "Men of God" radio plays broadcast by the BBC in 1946-47. (Each of the plays was devoted to a Hebrew Prophet: Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.)

The BBC Sound Archive has a broadcast of The Song of Songs by Kathleen Ferrier on November 3, 1947, with Frederick Stone at the piano. For a later broadcast, by Helen Watts, the composer himself was the accompanist. He last heard it at an 80th birthday concert given for him in Brighton, a month before his death. It was sung by a young Tees-side contralto, Ann Lampard, who had immensely impressed him when he judged her in the Vocal Solo classes at Ryton Music Festival in 1973. The words were also read at the Service of Thanksgiving for Jacobson’s life, given in London at the "musicians’ church", St Cecilia’s, in March 1976.


To the general public, he was best known as an adjudicator, having judged at most of the nearly 300 music festivals in the UK, as well as making numerous return visits to festivals in Canada, Hong Kong and elsewhere. He first rose to international prominence as the youngest member of the vintage team which judged festivals across Canada in 1931, its other members being Sir Hugh Roberton of Glasgow Orpheus Choir fame, the great Irish baritone Harry Plunket Greene, and Harold Samuel, the pianist and Bach specialist.

The flavour of these festivals was caught in an Evening Standard article by Stephen Williams, later a well-known BBC music producer, who interviewed Jacobson in July 1938 after he returned from three months’ adjudicating in Canada with Roberton and Steuart Wilson. In all, the team had judged 64,000 competitors. Williams quoted Jacobson as saying:

"Music there is considered of paramount importance by the educational authorities. The bright schools, in fact, are the music schools. In a class for junior orchestras at Vancouver, there were two entries - one from Kamloops, 250 miles away, the other from Nelson, 523 miles away.

"The Kamloops players brought a full symphony orchestra (except bassoons) of 80 instruments. The journey cost 700 dollars, which had been subscribed by their fellow-townsmen. The Nelson orchestra, strings only, had given six concerts in the previous year to raise the 500 dollars for its transport. These players were between 13 and 17 years of age. I have heard many worse performances by adult professional orchestras."

The article added that, at Montreal, Jacobson judged competitors of 17 different nationalities. Most of them were French, and he had to deliver all his adjudications in French and English. He instanced as proof of the freemasonry of music the fact that, at one festival, Roman Catholic choirs conducted by priests competed with choirs of many different denominations in a Protestant church.

Jacobson’s last visit to Canada was in 1967, for the country’s centennial celebrations and again he gave many of his adjudications in both languages at many of the festivals. (He had always loved France, and his study library included a full shelf of French literature.)

One immediate outcome of his early Canadian tours was to cement what became a lifelong friendship with the Roberton family, as well as a very close musical association, particularly over the publishing of Sir Hugh’s prolific compositions and arrangements of Scottish folk-songs, which have since become part of the regular choral repertoire. A letter to him from Roberton in March, 1950, concluded:

"What you have done for Curwen’s, what you have done for me, for us, for ours; your patience, your pertinacity, your unchanging loyalty and affection - all these remain with us ‘as a perfume doth remain in the folds where it hath lain’. Of this there is no possible doubt. So here’s to the days ahead! May you be given time and chance to bring to a complete flowering all that lies deep within you."

Elsewhere overseas, Jacobson’s successive visits to Hong Kong from 1959 to 1972 saw the event more than quadruple in size, to become the world’s largest music festival, with some 70,000 competitors. For his first visit, he was the sole adjudicator. When his younger son Julian, following in his footsteps, last judged at the festival in 2004, he was one of a sizeable panel of adjudicators now needed to cope with its continued growth - there were 24,000 candidates for the piano classes alone ...

Altogether, Jacobson worked in the festival field for more than fifty years, often describing himself as a "musical missionary". Appraising his work, Lionel Salter once wrote: "The first quality about MJ which springs to mind is his phenomenal memory - a memory which could be incredibly specific. On the Thursday or Friday of a busy festival week, he could turn and say, ‘Don’t you think that this girl has the same teacher as that one we heard on Tuesday?’ This memory, developed to a remarkable extent, compensated in many ways for his poor eyesight."

In like vein, Larry Westland recalled: "I sat by him at a festival on Teesside, where he listened to twelve performances of Du bist die Ruh by Schubert. He made no notes, and yet adjudicated each intimately, from memory."

Jacobson’s failing eyesight put an end to what he himself described as one of his "parlour tricks" - his gift, on the festival platform, of being nearly always able to pick out individual contestants about whom he was talking and point to them in the audience (usually much to each individual’s gratification, as can be imagined). Given the often hundreds a day competing before him, it was no mean feat. Loss of this trick apart, however, it was impossible to keep an old warhorse down. By 1974, when he was chairman of the judging panel at "Music for Youth" in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, someone was taking his elbow to help him safely down the sloping aisles towards the platform, to give his adjudications. Yet the moment the platform hove into view, he shook off the helping hand, bounced up the steps, and was straight into action. Irrepressible!

Several of the contestants Jacobson first judged as amateurs at local festivals were later destined to become household names. In addition to Kathleen Ferrier, whom he first encouraged to become a professional singer after judging her at the Carlisle music festival in 1937, when she was 25, his other "discoveries" included such leading British artists as Norma Proctor, Denis Matthews and Dame Ruth Railton, founder of the National Youth Orchestra. Jacobson himself was at one time a joint musical director of the NYO and chairman of its executive committee for its first 17 years. He was also a guiding light behind the National Festival of Music for Youth (which gave rise later to the Schools Prom, now a three-day annual event at the Royal Albert Hall).

A lesser-known aspect of his finds is that sometimes they were indirect, in the form of advice to fellow-adjudicators or others, rather than taken under his own wing. Agnes Duncan, MBE, a stalwart of the Glasgow festival (which, incidentally, was the last at which Jacobson ever adjudicated, in October 1975), was 97 when she recalled this incident from long before:

"At the adjudicator’s table with him once, we had just listened to a young girl of 17 or 18. She sang Verborgenheit by Wolf. MJ leaned over to me and said, ‘Agnes, do you know this girl?’ I said that I did. ‘Well, keep an eye on her - she is going to reach the top. See that she goes to a good teacher’." His advice was heeded. The girl’s name: Marie McLaughlin!"

[The script of a Radio 3 broadcast on the work of an adjudicator, given by Jacobson on February 9, 1973, is at the end of the section on Radio Talks.]

Kathleen Ferrier

Jacobson was the chief adjudicator at the Carlisle music festival in 1937 when Kathleen, then 25, twice came before him - initially as a pianist, in the Open Piano Class, which she won. Then, to his surprise, she reappeared later as a singer. She had won the contralto class (judged by another), which entitled her to go forward for the festival's supreme Rose Bowl prize. This time MJ was the adjudicator again and had no hesitation in placing her first. When the curtain came down afterwards (at Carlisle's old Playhouse Theatre), he had a word with her. She explained that she had entered the singing class "just for a lark".... In fact, it turned out, she had actually done it for a bet. Some friends had dared her, and she'd gone in for it just to win a wager of sixpence! That’s one story; another is that the bet was from her then husband and was for one shilling. Either way, Jacobson recounted that he said to her: "I don't know anything about your private life, but your voice has got a beauty which is quite unique and, if you contemplated a professional career, I'm sure there's a place of any size waiting for you."

It was this initial encouragement which led her to start taking serious singing lessons, initially with a well-known teacher at Newcastle and then with Roy Henderson.

When she came down to London after the outbreak of World War II, it was Jacobson who first taught her German, for singing purposes, and accompanied her at her first London performance. Subsequently, they gave a great many recitals together to audiences in factory canteens, air-raid shelters, bombed churches, even to people sheltering from the Blitz under railway arches. This was under the aegis of CEMA (the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), forerunner of the Arts Council. One of the last times he played for her was at the Dover Music Club, where shells from German guns on the French coast were screaming overhead as she sang.

Some while later, however, when he conducted a performance of his cantata The Lady of Shalott with the Etruscan Choral Society at Hanley on May 11, 1944, she sang in the first half of the same concert. (Among her songs were Che faro from Gluck’s Orfeo and Stanford’s The Fairy Lough.) The tenor soloist for the cantata was Peter Pears. It was the first time he and Kathleen had met, and there can be no doubt that this led to her first meeting with Benjamin Britten and her operatic debut in his The Rape of Lucretia in 1946. She remained a family friend to the end of her all-too-short days. (She died of cancer on October 8, 1953, aged only 41.)


Jacobson’s work with Curwen’s, then one of Britain’s leading music publishers, began in 1923 as a part-time reader and editor; he was appointed a director in 1933 and was the firm’s chairman from 1950 to 1972, having played a key part in ensuring its healthy survival throughout WW2. His help and musical advice were long recognised publicly by many people who were already prominent composers (such as Ralph Vaughan Williams) or were later to become so.

In his last radio interview, he recalled that he met VW while still at the RCM, studying composition first with Stanford and then with Gustav Holst. At one period, Holst fell off a platform and hurt his head badly, so his classes were taken over by other composers, including VW. Since these temporary teachers often contradicted each other, the students would have fun by interjecting: "But Gustav said this ..." To which VW or some fellow stand-in would reply: "Yes, but I say this!"

Despite their age difference - Vaughan Williams was 24 years older - they developed a lifelong friendship and deep mutual respect. Jacobson described him in these terms: "Absolutely stable, to a degree. Serene, strong, and full of fun. He seemed never to change. Witty and affectionate. His influence was in his own modesty and humility."

As an illustration of these latter qualities, VW would sometimes call in at Curwen’s when he was stuck over some problem of scoring. "He just came along and said: ‘I’m not very happy about this, Maurice. What can I do about this?’" And Jacobson’s suggestions were accepted without demur.

In fact, their collaboration dated as far back as 1923, the year after Jacobson left the Royal College and started his part-time work at Curwen’s. The words of VW’s Mass in G minor, published that year, were in Latin. The firm had been asked to do a version in English and, at VW’s suggestion, the task was confided to Jacobson. The difference in the number of syllables, between Latin and English, made it anything but a simple job - and the young editor would call on VW every two weeks, to seek approval for what he had done to date. A first outcome was that the English version was eventually published as being "By Maurice Jacobson, in collaboration with the composer."

A second outcome occurred nearly thirty years later, after the copyright of this version was renewed in 1951 and it was then among the music chosen for the Queen’s Coronation service. The full music for the service was published by Novello in 1953, with the Creed credited jointly to R.Vaughan Willams and Maurice Jacobson. At one stage during the preceding months, VW visited Curwen’s to discuss the details and, in passing, asked MJ what he had received for the work. Nothing, Jacobson said. He’d regarded it as part of his job for the firm. It speaks volumes for VW’s simplicity and generosity that, there and then, he made Curwen’s check all his royalties for the English version of the Mass since 1923 and insisted that MJ should get half.

Jacobson’s genius as a music editor was recognised instantly by virtually everyone who had dealings with him in that field. Gordon Reynolds, organist and choirmaster of the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, paid this tribute to him: "I met him after submitting some song arrangements. It would have been reasonable to send them back with the comment ‘These need improving’. Instead, I was privileged to receive a lesson in polishing which I have never forgotten, and that one session was the happiest and most memorable piece of teaching I have ever experienced. Moreover, I was being paid for it! Maurice Jacobson must have made countless friends through such acts of kindness."

The Man

Parallel with the fact that he did indeed have innumerable friends, from many walks of life, this last compliment begs the question: Yes, but what kind of man was he in private life?

Two features which would immediately come to mind, for those who knew him best, were his love of abstruse word games (habitually played over meals with family or colleagues) and also of perpetrating the most ghastly puns. He was also an avid collector of variegated "funnies", as witness this letter in his collection, dated July 2, 1959:

"Dear Sir, Please send me down two series of ‘The Treasury Sight Reader’ by Maurice Jacobson, and inform me how I must pay, if it is on delivery or otherwise. By sending me these music, you would be helping me keep out of the RUM SHOP - so please help. Beasley Sirju, Princes Town High Street, Trinidad, B.W.I.

He also exulted in a press notice from The Gloucester Journal, dated September 10, 1910, which started with enthusiastic coverage of a Three Choirs performance in the cathedral of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, and then related the prior first performance of a work for string orchestra by VW, conducted by the composer. The notice observed, inter alia: "The impression left in the mind by the whole composition was one of unsatisfaction (if we may use such a word). We had short phrases repeated with tiresome reiteration, and at no time did (it) rise beyond the level of an uninteresting exercise. The band played the piece as well as it could be played, and we had some nice contrasts in light and shade. But there was a feeling of relief when (it) came to an end, and we could get on to something with more colour and warmth. The piece took nineteen minutes in performance."

And the "(it)" in this case? VW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis!!

Jacobson’s lack of personal pomposity was abundantly evident in an incident in March 1963 when, conducting a choir of 400 children at Lincoln festival, his trousers sank to his knees and, while clutching desperately with one hand, he carried on conducting with the other but then had to struggle to the rostrum rail and sit on it, albeit still conducting the now near-hysterical children. The cause was not all that funny, in fact. On the way to King’s Cross station for his train to Lincoln, a car cut across the front of his taxi, forcing the driver to brake sharply; MJ banged his nose, and the blood flowed on to his suit and best shirt. Hence the trouble with the temporary replacements.

MJ not only took it in very good part - "I’m in good company, it once happened to Sir Thomas Beecham" - but was also exasperatedly amused to show a sheaf of press cuttings about the incident from all over the world, even in Japanese. In addition, ever afterwards, his study displayed the original of a Daily Mail cartoon referring to it, by Emmwood.

But perhaps the most illuminating insight into his character was afforded through Dr David Clover, a prominent figure in the field of musical education in the Sheffield area and a noted extrovert, known for his jocularity and bonhomie. Clover, still remembered affectionately though dead these many years, was by the adjudicator’s table when a particularly attractive girl arrived on the platform to compete. Ever anxious to share the good things in life, he drew Jacobson’s attention to her. MJ had the gift of being able to listen intently to each entrant while continuing to write his notes. He paused and lifted his head. "Very choice", he commented succinctly - then bent his head and resumed writing.

There are many points that could be deduced from those two pithy words - not least that, although Maurice had as much an eye for a pretty girl as the next man and wasn’t going to rebuff the extrovert by failing to show appreciation, he would not waste time on it during festival hours.

Radio Talks

BBC talks about music formed another prolific aspect of his "musical missionary" rôle. The topics ranged from record reviews to the part played by tone colour in modern music, from an appreciation of Ivor Gurney’s songs to a large number of concert interval talks (on works by Bach, Beethoven, Dvořák, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton and others), from the difference between classical and romantic music to a series on English Brass Bands and, the ultimate accolade, an appearance on January 29, 1969, as the castaway in Roy Plomley’s weekly Desert Island Discs. The eight records he chose were:

  • Bach Magnificat - Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra
  • Ravel Daphnis and Chloë Suite No. 2 - Philharmonia/Giulini
  • Shakespeare/Morley, It was a Lover and his Lass - John Coates, Gerald Moore (piano)
  • Stravinsky The Rite of Spring - Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Monteux
  • Holst Neptune, from The Planets Suite - Members of London Philharmonic Choir with Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra/Boult
  • On December 25th - Orpington Junior Singers
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, op. 55 - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Beecham
  • Stanford The Fairy Lough - Kathleen Ferrier, Frederick Stone (piano)

For his luxury, he requested caviar; and for the extra books, some paperback detective stories. Unsurprisingly, he had cogent reasons for each of his musical choices. But a whole spread of reminiscences was encapsulated in his explanation for having selected The Fairy Lough as his last choice:

"... just to hear (again) the sheer beauty of Kathleen’s voice; to remind me of Stanford, my first composition teacher. It was one of his songs, and one of the greatest songs ever; to remind me of John Coates, because I must have rehearsed it and played it for him hundreds of times."

Jacobson was also responsible for inaugurating the highly popular BBC programme "Let the People Sing". His last major radio talk, however, interspersed with records of his choice, was on the activity to which he had devoted fifty years of his life, the work of an adjudicator. Re-titled impiously within his immediate family circle as "The Adjudicator Squeaks", it was broadcast on Radio 3 on February 9, 1973. Here is the script:

"Sir, you have insulted my wife!" (The wife on this occasion was a thick-voice, unmusical contralto to whom I had just given invaluable advice.)

[Larry Westland recalls that the incident occurred at a North of England music festival and that the outraged husband tapped MJ on the shoulder with his umbrella before protesting.]

"Don’t cry, Jonathan. I’m sure the adjudicator didn’t mean to be unkind. I don’t suppose he could play your little piece any better than you did." Or, at a more advanced level, a competitor who played sparkling Scarlatti as if it were richly romantic Rachmaninoff, who was heard to remark, "Oh, I won’t win; that adjudicator doesn’t like my style."

To say nothing of an adjudicator - not myself (though it might have been) - after an unpopular decision in a big choral class, being bundled to the back exit of the hall and smuggled under rugs in a taxi to the station.

... And I could give you many more true stories to show that an adjudicator’s life is by no means all sweetness and light, and is subject often enough to unpredictable hazards. These are not always voiced as in the examples with which I started this talk. Even more difficult to come to terms with are the dissenting unspoken thoughts, the surly silences instead of the approving applause, the hostile glares displacing the grateful smiles.

Now, at the other end of the scale, listen to this well-beloved voice - Kathleen Ferrier singing Roger Quilter’s To Daisies, the song with which she won the famous Rose Bowl at the 1937 Carlisle Music Festival.

A few days before this Rose Bowl victory, I had awarded Kathleen top place in the open piano competition at the same festival. She had in fact played many times in piano competitions at various festivals, always learning something from the experiences, and, I don’t doubt, from her adjudicators. After Carlisle she continued to compete, advancing first steadily, and then rapidly forward along the road that was to lead her to international fame.

But - and this is the point - she had entered and competed for sheer love, with an avid appetite to learn, in which mistrust of the adjudicator held no part. And so it is, with very few exceptions, with the vast number of competitors at music festivals who present themselves for public performance and adjudication year after year.

These festivals are unique in the world’s music-making. They provide a performing platform for all ages from the tenderest upwards - a testing ground for teachers, pupils, choirs, conductors - with an interested audience making up its own mind, and ready to agree or disagree with the adjudicator.

What does the adjudicator do? According to his capacity and the terms of his engagement, he listens to class after class of contestants showing their paces before adjudicator and audience - singers, choirs, pianists, string players, woodwind and brass soloists, guitar, accordion, ensembles of every sort from a couple of players upwards, school orchestras, bands, full orchestras ... verse speaking, too. I’d like to say more about the adjudicator’s duties in a moment. But it must already be clear that he is not an examiner, just as a competitive festival is not an examination.

Festivals are open to anybody who will come and play, sing or hear; whereas Examinations are held behind closed doors with only the candidate and the examiners present.

The examiner assesses - privately; the adjudicator teaches - publicly. The keen teacher will make judicious use of both forms of challenge to him- or herself and pupils.

Now I want you to hear some children, aged 8 to 11, the Seafield Preparatory School from Lancashire, frequent competitors at festivals. Their gifted trainer attributes the beauty of their singing largely to advice garnered from adjudicators. They will sing the Irish folksong The Sally Gardens, arranged by Benjamin Britten.

Did you notice that I used the word "advice", not "criticism"? I often wish that the word "criticism" could be expunged from the music festival vocabulary. True, a disappointed parent may say on occasion, "He criticized my Jennifer severely". Well, if he did, Jennifer must have deserved it! But, in fact, most adjudicators bend over backwards to avoid giving offence. It is pointless to administer pills too bitter to be swallowed. Even more harmful can be apologies to competitor and audience for bad work, or giving undeserved praise.

We don’t look for an exalted standard from every competitor. We estimate the present standard of each performance, and - as do all teachers - give as much advice as the individual can assimilate and employ at that stage. The higher the standard, the more searching the counsel, whether for interpretation or technique. The better the work, the more the adjudicator is looked to for constructive advice.

And so it is that, over the seventy-odd years of festival activities in Britain and the Dominions, the standard of both the performance and the quality of music has steadily advanced. There are ups and downs, of course. But the main advance is clear.

An adjudicator has to keep abreast of any likely demands on his faculties. He will need a wide knowledge of instrumental, choral and vocal music of all grades, the classics over several centuries, oratorio, opera, folksong, lieder, and also contemporary music right up to hair-raising modernities. He is likely to meet nowadays as much Bartók as Beethoven, nearly as much Shostakovich as Schubert, and more Prokofiev than Purcell.

A very important ingredient in advancing musical taste throughout the years is the quality of the words sung in all vocal and choral classes in all age groups. As a sort of musical missionary, the adjudicator is bound to serve both music and humanity. Yes, the human side is basic in his work.

A very nervous competitor, doing badly, even coming to grief, may be the most musical person in the class. I myself have many recollections of an unmistakable appeal coming from a competitor, youthful or even adult - a look which says, "I’m horribly nervous, please help me ..." I return the look. Vibrations are set up, and all goes well.

I don’t dare look away, and I stop writing for fear of breaking the contact. It’s a sort of miracle - a quickly-created trio of three active forces: Music,. Competitor and Adjudicator.

These festivals are for amateurs, but inevitably the greater talents appear, from whom many of our gifted professionals emerge. At this year’s "Music for Youth" Festival, the class for Chamber Music Ensembles was won by a string quartet from Leeds, aged 15 to 17.

The adjudicators were deeply impressed with the near-professional standards of these young players. They had chosen some Haydn and Dvořák, and I think you’d like to hear them playing. Let’s have part of the Dumka from the Dvořák String Quartet in E flat Op. 51 (The Dolce String Quartet).

The rôle of adjudicator is a pretty complex one. While assessing and teaching, he has to engage the interest of competitors and audience, which may number from fifty to several thousand. He has to employ tact, and a spice of humour in season, always trying to preserve a festive note within each festival. He has to give a mark for each performance, a mark which is really a synthetic percentage of many factors of interpretation and technique. He has to write an "adjudication" for each competitor, words of praise or advice in due proportion.

All entries are voluntary. So, too, is the devoted work of countless ‘servers’: executives, hall, platform and adjudicators’ stewards - to say nothing of subscribers whose financial help may just convert financial loss into a slender profit to be carried forward to the next festival.

Fostered by the British Federation of Music Festivals, there are now some 300 competitive festivals - also non-competitive festivals mostly conducted by Education Authorities throughout the country. The Welsh Eisteddfod has its own special value and character, as has the Gaelic Mod held every year in Scotland. Comparison with the standards of other countries can be found at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, the Tees-side International, and the International Choral Festival held in Cork, Ireland. I mustn’t forget the wonderful chain of festivals across Canada; or that stupendous festival in Hong Kong, with its 55,000 competitors this year.

Now, for our last musical example, let’s hear a fully equipped youthful military band - woodwind, brass, percussion ... the lot. They are the Croydon Schools’ Wind Orchestra, and they are going to play the March from the "Suite in E flat" by Gustav Holst.

And on that bright, optimistic note, this adjudicator is about to stop talking. He would like to leave you with the thought that the adjudicator is a mixture of teacher, judge, jury, counsel for the prosecution, and counsel for the defence - all at the service of music.


As indicated on Page 1, there was never any doubt that, among all his manifold musical interests, his work as a composer was the activity closest to his heart. A list of all his known compositions and arrangements totals about 450 (including collections). Almost two-thirds of his works were for the human voice - cantatas, solos or choral - the remainder ranging over orchestral, piano solo, two-piano or piano for four hands, one instrument and piano, chamber music, and organ.

Here, with a few annotations, is the list of his more important or most performed works, prepared for the Grove website:-

Works by Maurice Jacobson


The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson). 1942.

A Cotswold Romance (concert version of Vaughan Williams’ opera "Hugh the Drover"). 1951. A performance by the LSO and London Philharmonic Choir, under Richard Hickox, was issued as a CD by Chandos Records in 1998.

The Hound of Heaven (from Francis Thompson). 1953. David Willcocks conducted the first performance of the work with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on November 16th, 1954).

(Family has composer’s own piano and vocal scores of each of these, with some of his performance notes.)


David (for Markova-Dolin company, 1936).


David Ballet Suite. Alternative title: Concert Suite (four movements from music for the ballet). 1949. First performed by the Scottish National Orchestra in 1950. Also a version for piano solo.

Lament for Strings (in memory of Harry Plunket Greene). 1941. Also versions for piano solo and for viola or cello and piano.

Prelude to a Play. 1947. Also a version for two pianos.

Symphonic Suite for Strings. First performed by the Hallé under Sir John Barbirolli at the Cheltenham Festival in 1951.

Theme and Variations. 1947. See also a version for piano duet/two pianos.

Chamber Music

Fantasy (Fantasia) on Sea Shanties. (For violin, cello and piano.) 1939.

Suite of Four Pieces. (Trio for flute or clarinet or viola, cello and piano). 1945.

String Quartet, G major. Unpubd.?

Incidental Music

For Old Vic productions of Shakespeare’s "Antony and Cleopatra", "Hamlet", "Julius Caesar", "Macbeth", etc. 1929-31. The scores are untraceable - believed to have been lost when the theatre was bombed during WW2.

Broadcast Music

The Woman of Samaria (after Edmond Rostand’s "La Samaritaine"). 1945. MS. Unpubd.

Men of God, radio plays on six biblical prophets, in which the music was integral to the scripts. 1946-47. MS. Unpubd.

Good Friday (one-hour radio play, John Masefield). MS. Unpubd.

(Family has scripts, orchestral music and piano accompaniment for each of these, also the old-style records of all the Men of God music.)


Of nearly three hundred songs that Jacobson composed or arranged, the following are those still most frequently performed:


Ariel (tenor or soprano with SATB). 1923; Blow the Wind Southerly (arr. for unaccompanied SATB); Ca’ The Yowes (Robert Burns); The Creed, as used in the Queen’s Coronation service. (From Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor, adapted by MJ for Anglican use.); Ellan Vannin (arr. for SATB and for unison choir); Follow Me Down to Carlow (for three different choral formations). 1938-1961; Italian Salad (arr. for TTBB); Jerusalem (arr. from Parry for five different choral formations); Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (arr. from VW in two choral versions); Silent Worship (Handel, arr. by MJ in two choral versions); Six Negro Spirituals (arr. for SATB); Swansea Town (also for solo voice and piano); Three Hungarian Folk Songs (Matyas Seiber, arr. for SAB); With a Voice of Singing (composed with Martin Shaw, 1957).

Solo Voice

Boys (Winifred Letts). 1922; Psalm 23 (from "David"). 1936; The Song of Songs (Book of Solomon). 1946; Swansea Town; Various Shakespearian songs (mostly the only surviving music from the Old Vic productions of 1929-31).

Piano Solo

Capriol Suite (arr. from Peter Warlock’s original orchestral work). 1939; Also a version for two pianos; Carousal (dedicated to Louis Kentner*). 1946; David Ballet Suite (arr. for piano in four movements). Unpubl. MS, with composer’s own performance annotations; The Dumb Show (inc. directions for mime, from incidental music for "Hamlet"). 1930; For a Wedding Anniversary 1939; Lament 1941; Music Room Suite. Five pieces, first pub. 1935. Two of them, Rustic Ballet and Sarabande, are now published separately; Romantic Theme (1910) with Variations (1944). 1946; Variations on a Theme by Schumann 1930. [* Jacobson befriended the young Louis Kentner when he arrived in England from Hungary in the mid-1930s, and he remained a family friend thereafter. "Carousal", which MJ wrote for him and dedicated to him, was among the piano works played at concerts during his centenary year.]

Piano Duet and Two Pianos

Ballade (composed for John Tobin and Tilly Connelly). 1949; Capriol Suite. (1947?); Lady of Brazil. 1954; Mosaic. 1949; Prelude to a Play (arr. by composer from his orchestral work). 1939; Theme and Variations (arr. by composer from his orchestral work). The MS, still unpubd., was discovered in the family archives during preparations for Jacobson’s centenary in 1996 and had its first public performance at one of the numerous concerts of his music that year. The two pianists who played it have since taken it into their regular repertoire.

One Instrument and Piano

Autumn Lullaby (cello). MS, unpubd ; Berceuse (viola). 1946. OUP; Humoreske (viola or cello). 1948; Lament (viola or cello); Margaret’s Minuet (violin). 1943; Salcey Lawn (cello or viola). 1948.


A Blessing ("Go Forth Into the World in Peace") - various choral versions, with organ accompaniment, composed with Martin Shaw; Elegy for Organ (in memory of E. Norman Hay). 1943-44. MS, unpubd; Processional (arr. by Trevor Widdicombe from "David" ballet music, for use as wedding march, etc.). MS, unpubd; The God of Abraham Praise (Leoni), arr. for SATB choir with organ accompaniment. Agreement in 1964 with C.U.P. arranged for its inclusion in the Cambridge Hymnal.

Principal publishers: J. Curwen & Sons (Music Sales Ltd); Elkin; Lengnick; Novello; Augener; Cramer; Roberton Publications, a part of Goodmusic Publishing

Jacobson’s cantata The Lady of Shalott received unanimous acclaim from eminent critics of the day. Edmund Rubbra, in Monthly Musical Record, classed it as "one of the most poetic and imaginative works that I have heard for some time". Dr Thomas Dunhill and Eric Blom both expressed pleasure that Jacobson was the first prominent composer to tackle Tennyson’s poem successfully. Dunhill said the work "is noteworthy for vivid imaginative qualities" and for "music charged with quite touching expressiveness", and described the choral writing as "masterly". Blom, after a performance in Birmingham, spoke of Jacobson’s musical idiom as "extraordinarily evocative, sometimes quite magically so, and exquisite in its use of subtle colour of harmony and of sound-values".

But his greatest composition, in his own and most other musicians’ view, was his large-scale setting of Francis Thompson’s mystic poem The Hound of Heaven - spiritually universal in theme. First performed in 1954 by the City of Birmingham Orchestra and Choir, conducted by David Willcocks, it also received unanimous critical acclaim... "A work of outstanding originality and true spiritual perception" (Alec Robertson, The Listener). "A powerful and exciting score, intensely dramatic, with masterly word-painting" (Stephen Williams, New York Times). "I hope this remarkable work will be widely taken up" (W.R. Anderson, The Music Teacher)

Subsequent performances included a nationwide Easter Sunday broadcast in the United States. After a performance in New Zealand, the critic of the Christchurch Press commented: "It is to be hoped that it will not have to wait for the genius of its writing to be recognised in Europe before it gains proper recognition in England as a major work." So far, despite the initial praise, this hope has not been fully realised. Some twenty years were to pass before the BBC chose the cantata for a broadcast honouring Jacobson’s 80th birthday. It was transmitted on January 2, 1976 - exactly a month before his death. © Michael and Julian Jacobson, November 2005

The Music of Maurice Jacobson


This article has been jointly written by Michael and Julian Jacobson - respectively, Maurice's son by his wife Suzannah, a professional singer, and his younger son by the composer and pianist Margaret Lyell

A CD of Jacobson’s music as performed at the Cadouin Festival is available through Michael Jacobson at: B.P.1, 24250 La Roque-Gageac (France). Cost: £7.99 (incl. p&p) per CD. The price would come well down for bulk orders. Michael D. Jacobson Tel. (0033) 05 53 29 52 27 Fax: ditto 15 28

The CD couldn't include the whole concert because it had to be kept within the then maximum length of 74'. Michael and Julian chose the four more important items; they are in a slightly different running order from that at the concert. Details as follows: 1. Suite of Four Pieces. Trio for piano, cello and clarinet. (Respectively, Julian Jacobson, Lionel Morand and Richard Blewett.) [12'19"]; Published by Augener in 1946. Copies held by British Library, BMIC, Royal College of Music, and possibly BBC. Background: The Suite, also scored for flute or viola instead of clarinet, was submitted by MJ in his early years in a competition for a new composition for wind and strings. The judges split the first prize. One of the two winners was Arthur Bliss with "Conversations" (today a well-known work). This Suite was the other winner. Besides this recording at the Cadouin concert, another performance available from Michael Jacobson is on an audio-cassette taped at an 80th birthday concert for MJ at Brighton in January 1976 (a month before he died) and subsequently broadcast by BBC Radio Brighton. It was played by the Capricorn Trio, likewise for clarinet, cello and piano (the latter, again, being Julian Jacobson). 2. Carousal. Piano solo (Julian Jacobson.) [5'51"]. Published by Lengnick, 1946. Copies held by British Library, BMIC and BBC. Background: This work was composed for and dedicated to Louis Kentner, who was befriended by the Jacobson family after he arrived in England from Hungary - about 1935 - and who remained a close family friend from then on. MJ was the first President of the Chopin Society in London, founded in 1971. After his death in 1976, Kentner was the next President. Besides the cassette of a performance (also by Julian Jacobson) at the 1976 Brighton concert, Michael Jacobson has a recording of the work being played by the composer himself. 3. Theme and Variations for piano duet. (Christopher Black and Yoko Katayama.) [20'17"] Background: At the Cadouin concert where it was premiered, it received a standing ovation. 4. The Lady of Shalott. The Aire Valley Singers and the local Cantilène choir, conducted by David Bryant. Tenor soloist: Leon Cronin. Piano acc.: Julian Jacobson. [32'10"] Published by Curwen in 1942. Now with Music Sales Ltd., who have scores and parts for hire.Copies held by British Library and BBC. Background: details also in the notes just sent to you and in the full biographical article.

Playing with his granddaughter, Sallyann (then about 4). This would have been in the garden of Maurice's former London home in St John's Wood (just behind Lord's).






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