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<B>William Hardwick</B> <B> </B>
Organist, St. Ann’s Church, Manchester 1936-1969
 
by Stuart Scott
 


 
William Hardwick, known as Bill to all his friends, was born at Bolton, Lancashire on 25th January 1910. His family was not particularly musical but his leanings towards music were in evidence from the early age of four when he began learning the piano at a Preparatory School in his home town. His only recollection of those early lessons was of the occasion he got his knuckles rapped for making one mistake in ‘We are little children’. His final school days were spent at the Municipal Secondary School, Bolton where he gave the inaugural recital on their new organ when the school became a County Grammar School years later.
 
More rigorous training followed with T.H. Ingham of Southport with whom he studied piano and entered local music festivals winning a number of classes. Later he was to gain an LRAM (Piano Performer) and ARCM (Piano Accompaniment), along with FRCO diplomas from the Royal College of Organists, obtaining the first three of these within the space of 13 months. Continuing studies with Dr. F.H. Wood, organist of Blackpool Parish Church, he gained his FRCO two years later.
 
W.J. Lancaster, organist at Bolton Parish Church, with whom the young William had been studying piano, encouraged his pupil to take up the organ, and at the age of thirteen or so, Bill had become organist at the Church of St. James, Breightmet, Bolton. Whilst there Sir Walter Alcock gave a recital at nearby Market Street Congregational Church, Farnworth, which persuaded Bill to go there as organist in 1928. He was to maintain close contact with Alcock at Salisbury Cathedral during his wartime service in the south of England. Although Salisbury was out of bounds to soldiers, Bill used to go to the Cathedral to hear Alcock and sometimes play there himself, getting caught out on one occasion.
 
He remained at Farnworth as organist for six or seven years and during that time he was giving organ recitals all over the North West of England, and as far afield as Frome, Somerset, where he first gave a recital at the Methodist Church there in 1928.
 
Although now very busy as an organist, Bill found time to continue practising the piano. He took part in a concert with the Northern Studio Orchestra broadcast live on the BBC North Regional Programme, at 1.45 on February 17th 1933 (Radio Times, 17/2/33) taking two solo spots interspersed between orchestral items conducted by John Bridge. The solos he offered the listeners on that occasion are only suitable for the most technically well equipped of pianists. Opening with Brahms’s Rhapsody in G minor (Op.79 No.2) and Poulenc’s Deux Novellettes, he went on to conclude with Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat (Op.53), followed by the Black Key Study (Op.10 No.5) and the Butterfly Study (Op.25 No.9).
 
Recital tours continued but in 1935 he was appointed organist at Christ Church, Walmesley, Bolton and the following year at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, where he had already given recitals and had lessons with the previous organist, George Pritchard. Other Manchester engagements included broadcasts for the BBC, one of the first being a recital from the Manchester College of Technology on August 3rd 1937. On that occasion, the writer in Radio Times (RT 3/8/37) described him as an infant prodigy and as one would expect, Bill gave a good account of himself (noted in Daily Herald 3/8/37). Even though still busy in the city, he still made time for recitals on his home patch, playing in a Bolton Musical Artist’s Recital at St. George’s Church, that same year.
 
The approaching war years and wartime itself did not hinder Bill’s recital appearances. In 1938 the writer in Musical Opinion (March 1938) noted his recital at St. John’s Smith Square, of which he said that William Hardwick brought out the beauties of the organ, playing Vierne’s Prelude, Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev and the First Rhapsody of Herbert Howells. Of course, Bill knew Howells well through his work at the Blackpool Music Festival where he often accompanied and adjudicated piano classes. Indeed, it was on one such occasion that Dr. Howells, as adjudicator, paid tribute to Bill in saying that perhaps more than anyone else, the accompanist deserved to be the winner. Others recognised his qualities as accompanist too, and after the Music Festival at Lytham St. Annes in June 1948, the Blackpool Gazette and Herald quoted Dr. Northcote as having described him as “an immaculate accompanist”.
 
During the war years, Bill served in the Royal Armoured Corps, stationed at Bovington but maintained his interest in music through performances with the Southern Command Dance Band, for which he was pianist and where he exercised his adept talent for interpreting lighter music. Also, annual summer organ recitals at Bath Abbey and St. Mary’s, Redcliff, Bristol, continued along with visits to Winchester and throughout the 1940s, his music-making brought him an enhanced reputation as a recitalist and much praise from critics too.
 
After a recital at Carnforth Parish Church in 1946 one reporter (Carnforth Parish Church Magazine, March 1946) wrote, “those who attended were held spellbound by a magnificent performance full of interest throughout. It was quite astonishing what he could produce from our small organ.” Two years later the critic for the Skegness Standard (4/8/48) hailed Bill as a distinguished organist in writing, “Mr. Hardwick revealed his masterly playing during the course of a virtuoso programme, which included one of the most technically difficult works ever written for the organ, the Etude Symphonique by Bossi, which makes the utmost demands on the recitalist’s pedalling and general command of the instrument ... Mr. Hardwick’s performance of the Fantasia in F minor and major by Mozart was considered by more than one authority to be the finest organ playing ever heard in St. Matthew’s Church ... In addition to these outstanding performances the resources of the fine organ in St. Matthew’s were displayed with the utmost variety and purpose, and in so doing Mr. Hardwick paid the highest tribute to the organ builder’s art.”
 
During the same period, Bill did not neglect his duties in Manchester and there were memorable “Messiahs” at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Swinton in December 1949 and 1950 under the direction of G.W. Gaythorpe. At the first of these, the soloists included Isobel Baillie, Bernadine Lees, Cyril Hornby and Norman Walker, all of whom were praised for their performance along with Bill Hardwick who, according to the writer in the Swinton Journal (9/12/49), “showed a deep insight into the composer’s music as accompanist”. The same critic reviewed the Messiah performance of the following year, again praising soloists Doris Gambell, Gladys Ripley, Conrad Gyves and Norman Walker, adding that “for his work at the organ, Mr. William Hardwick was not one jot overpaid by the ovation he received at the end. Chorus and soloists owed him a great deal” (Swinton Journal, 8/12/50).
 
Throughout the 1950s the BBC Home Service continued to record and broadcast Bill’s recitals from Manchester Town Hall, and no doubt one particularly tedious recording session there, later broadcast at 9.15 am on Whit Sunday, 1953 (Radio Times 24/5/53), remained in his mind for some time after. Not only was the programme difficult but the recording engineers had difficulties too, as they had to suspend recording and Bill had to stop playing every time the Town Hall clock chimed. However, another performance broadcast on the Home Service in February 1958 (Radio Times 3/2/58) brought appreciative letters (Ruth Gee collection) from listeners. Nigel Cook, praised the balance between the baroque and more traditional registrations, and 82 year old retired recitalist Guy Michell, a pupil of Lemare, noted how well the pedal part came over in Bach’s Dorian Toccata and Fugue, the full organ being magnificent at the close.
 
In later years recital tours included the Isle of Wight and Liverpool where, in February 1964, Bill gave a recital at St. George’s Hall. The programme included what had become rather a speciality of his – Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor - and the following day the Liverpool Echo (4/2/64) noted that the fugue was splendidly phrased and articulated, the performance as a whole being brilliant. The writer in the Liverpool Post (4/2/64) joined in the praise saying, “his programme was not only admirably chosen and arranged, but played with exemplary differentiation of style, technical resource and command of the instrument.” His exceptionally clear phrasing, neatly timed pedalling and wise registration were also noted on this occasion.
 
The first major concert of Salford Choral Society took place on December 18th 1948 and consisted of a performance of Handel’s Messiah accompanied by Bill Hardwick on the organ of the Great Hall, Royal Technical College, Salford, now Peel Hall, Salford University. From that date he took part in Messiah performances with that Society every year until 1963 and regularly at performance end the audience stamped in appreciation of his artistry.
 
Of the many notable Messiah performances at Salford in which he was involved, the one on December 3rd 1960 stands out as having a most distinguished cast of soloists in Elizabeth Harwood, Janet Baker, John Kentish and Norman Lumsden. The Paul Ward Small Orchestra accompanied and since 1960 had been augmented by Bill at the organ, although he had accompanied alone for many performances previously. However, the Messiah concert on December 7th 1963 was to be Bill’s last for Salford Choral Society where he was well liked by all the choir members. One, Sam Gee, remembered that “he gave me organ lessons, but he never gave me an account. He taught me for free.”
 
In the mid-1960s when he was Lecturer in Organ Studies at the Northern School of Music and Music Master at Stretford Grammar School Bill took me into his GCE Music Class, even though I didn’t at that time (or indeed at any other time) attend that particular school. However, I had special dispensation and remember that the class concerned itself mainly with four-part harmony and the analysis of set works such as Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata which he played to us over and over again on an upright piano that had seen better days. His performances were always listened to in silence and watched by fascinated eyes. Analytical discussion was never allowed to dominate his comments and looking back one realises how his enthusiasm and performance technique gained our interest, respect and admiration.
 
Classes had to finish at 12.00 noon precisely or even slightly earlier on occasion as Bill gave his regular Tuesday Midday Recitals at St. Ann’s and it was a great treat to be taken by car into the city centre to hear him play. Afterwards he would return us to school for what was left of the afternoon session when all that remained in our minds was the exciting memories of performances which included works such as Mendelssohn’s Sonata No.1, Parry’s Fantasia and Fugue in G, Franck’s Chorale No.3, Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster and Preludes and Fugues by Bach. His repertoire was eclectic and all-embracing and he used much 20th century and contemporary music in his programmes including Messiaen, Howells, Britten, Kelly, Whitlock, Karg-Elert, Bairstow, Vierne, Widor, Dyson, Lloyd Webber, Edmunsen, Gigout and William Harris. He also introduced American composers, Clokey and Nevin too. One always came away from his recitals with a great sense of joy.
 
Bill Hardwick was a true musician who inspired others and was thoroughly well liked by his pupils. Not only that, but colleagues too were always willing to pay tribute, one such person being Douglas Steele, who wrote some delightful organ pieces for Bill to use in recital. They were personal friends for many years and when Douglas was assistant at Manchester Cathedral, Bill would play services for him when he was indisposed. Whether in recital or church service, Bill’s playing style was distinctive in its imaginative registration, energetic rhythm, intelligent phrasing and flawless keyboard and pedal technique.
 
During the annual Carol Service at St Ann’s in December 1968, Bill was taken ill and rushed to hospital, where he later died in the early days of the New Year. His talent and friendliness was missed by all who knew him or heard him play.
 
Bill’s memorial is in St. Ann’s Church for all to see and hear – the fine Jardine organ, which in 1953-55 was rebuilt and the choir organ extended to his design. For some time before his death he had been working on plans to add a Positif Organ as a separate department to the existing instrument. Unfortunately Bill’s specification was changed by his successor, Herbert Winterbottom, before the Positif was put in the organ but in the 1996 rebuild it was restored to Bill’s original design with one or two additions and put on a 4th manual.
 

Stuart Scott
2003
 
Acknowledgement: The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable assistance offered by Ruth Gee who made available her personal collection of press cuttings and other material.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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