1917 - 2011
John Gardner was born in Manchester in 1917. He was organ scholar at Exeter College, Oxford from 1935-9, but his career as a professional musician did not get underway until the end of the Second World War when, in 1946, he began work as a repetiteur at the Covent Garden Opera Company. From 1952 he combined composition with teaching, holding a series of posts around London. He was a tutor and later Director of Music at Morley College (1952-69), Visiting Director of Music at St Paul’s Girl School (1962-75) and Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Royal Academy of Music (1956-86). He was made a CBE in 1976. The launch of Gardner’s compositional career came with the first performance of his Symphony No 1 (1946/7) at the 1951 Cheltenham Festival by the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. In the years that have followed, Gardner has become known as a prolific musical figure whose significant contribution to British music includes opera, orchestral, chamber and choral works. His compositional range and standing as a musician is reflected even in the comparatively small number of his works published by Wise Music Group. Gardner’s Variations on a Waltz of Carl Nielsen Op 13 was premiered at the 1952 Cheltenham Festival, the year following the success of the first Symphony, again by the Hallé Orchestra and Barbirolli. The theme is taken from one of Nielsen’s Humoreske-bagateller Op 11 for piano. Although not imitating Nielsen’s musical style, Gardner’s inclusion of a prominent side drum in the finale of the piece mimics the composer’s fascination with the instrument. The overture Half Holiday of 1962 was written at the request of Novello & Co for inclusion in its amateur and school orchestra series. His short Trumpet Concerto, composed at a similar time, was written for Philip Jones and first performed by him in Cologne with the English Chamber Orchestra under Raymond Leppard. Gardner’s music for the church includes Five Hymn Tune Preludes for organ (premiered by John Birch at St Martin in the Fields, London, in 1959) and a simple yet effective choral setting of a anonymous 15th century text When Christ was born of Mary free, which is published in a number of anthologies.