Paul celebrates John Gardner's 90th birthday with a recording of works for organ, voice and brass
6 September 2010

John Gardner
The works recorded for Toccata Classics include the Sonata Secolare for brass quintet and organ and the Sonata da Chiesa for two trumpets and organ.
The recording sessions took place in the glorious acoustic of Brentwood Cathedral, Essex, a parish church built in a gothic style in 1861 and raised to Cathedral status in 1917. The Cathedral organ, originally built by Hunter in 1881 for the church of St. Mary-at-the-Walls, Colchester, is now sited at the west end of the original Gothic nave of Brentwood's Victorian Catholic church, in a case designed by Quinlan Terry.

John Gardner was born in Manchester on 2nd March 1917. He was educated at Eagle House, Wellington College and Exeter College, Oxford. He completed two terms as music master at Repton School, where one of his pupils was the composer John Veale, then a sixth former. In 1940 he enlisted and worked first as a Bandmaster and then as a Navigator with Transport Command.

Gardner treated the end of the War as a new start, set aside his juvenile works and began again from Opus 1. John Barbirolli discovered the First Symphony (Op2) when he gave Gardner the opportunity of playing through his Nativity Opera. Many major commissions followed and Gardner was finally able to call himself "a composer". Following his resignation from a position at the Opera House there followed a remarkable period of creativity. Cantiones Sacrae, Op11, Variations on a Waltz of Carl Nielsen, Op13 and the ballet Reflection, Op14, were all written in 1951 and 1952 and first performed during 1952. In May 1957 Sadler's Wells put on the opera The Moon and Sixpence, which they had commissioned, and two other major works were premiered that year: the Piano Concerto No.1 (by Cyril Preedy and Barbirolli at the Cheltenham Festival) and the Seven Songs, Op36 in Birmingham, a work which Gardner wrote as "light relief" whilst working on the other major works.

In 1956 he was invited by Thomas Armstrong to join the staff of the Royal Academy of Music, where he would teach for the best part of 30 years. In 1962 he took a part time job as Director of Music at St. Paul's Girls' School, following Gustav Holst and Herbert Howells, and was for a time also Director of Music at Morley College. He married Jane Abercrombie, the daughter of Nigel Abercrombie (Secretary General of the Arts Council 1963-1968) and the soprano Elizabeth Abercrombie, in 1955 and has three children, Christopher (1956), Lucy (1958) and Emily (1962). Since the War he has lived in South London - in Morden, New Malden and Ewell.

Among the major works are three symphonies, two more operas - The Visitors(1972) and Tobermory (1976), concertos for Organ, Trumpet, Flute, Oboe and Recorder and Bassoon, many cantatas, including The Ballad of the White Horse, Op40 (1959), Five Hymns in Popular Style, Op54 (1962), A Burns Sequence, Op213 (1993), as well as much choral, chamber, organ, brass and orchestral music. His best known work is the Christmas carol, Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, which was written for St Paul's, as was another popular carol setting The Holly and the Ivy. He was made a CBE in 1976.

His most recently completed work is a Bassoon Concerto, Op249, written in 2005 for Graham Salvage, the principal bassoonist of the Hallé Orchestra which was premiered at the 2007 Budleigh Salterton Festival, the year of Gardner's 90th birthday.

Photo: In the pit at Covent Garden in 1962. Left to Right, John Gardner, Bronislava Nijinska Malcolm Williamson, Richard Rodney Bennett and John Lanchbery. Edmund Rubbra is seated at the piano. The four composers were playing the piano parts for a production of Stravinsky's Les Noces
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