John Linton Gardner (born March 2, 1917)

Gardner was born in Manchester, England and brought up in Ilfracombe,
North Devon. His father Alfred Linton Gardner was a local GP and amateur
composer who was killed in action in the last months of the First World
War. His mother, Emily Muriel Pullein-Thompson, was the sister of
Captain Harold J «Cappy» Pullein-Thompson, who was the father of the
Pullein-Thompson sisters and their brother, the playwright Dennis
Cannan.

Gardner was educated at Eagle House, Wellington College and Exeter
College, Oxford. An important figure in his early life was Hubert Foss
of Oxford University Press, who published the Intermezzo for Organ in
1936 and introduced him to the composer Arthur Benjamin to whom Gardner
dedicated his Rhapsody for Oboe and String Quartet (1935).This work had
its first performance at the Wigmore Hall in February 1936. The String
Quartet No.1(1938) was broadcast from Paris by the Blech Quartet in
1939, and the anthem The Holy Son of God most High (1938) was also
published by OUP. At Oxford Gardner was friendly with Theodor Adorno
with whom he played piano duets.

Then came the War. Gardner 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 working first as a Bandmaster and
then as a Navigator with Transport Command. It was during the War that
ideas for the Symphony No.1 began to form.

«My first symphony assembled itself in my mind in stages during the last
year or two of the War. The opening even goes back further to a short
piano piece I wrote in 1939 or 1940. At that time I’d no idea that it
could be the beginning of a symphony, though I was aware that it hardly
constituted a complete piano piece.

Other elements in the score started variously as a mid-war setting of
passages from Blake’s Book of Thel, a theme I conceived for a set of
variations and, in the case of the main theme of the finale, a
transformation of the opening of the finale. of my first string quartet
which had in fact gained two or three performances in Paris and England
by the Blech Quartet in 1939 but with which I was deeply unsatisfied and
which I eventually withdrew.

I do not believe it is exceptional for a big work to derive from several
sources — there are many examples of such a process in the origin of
many of Brahms’ best known pieces : the first piano concerto, for
example, the German Requiem and the Violin Concerto. In my case it was,
of course, due to the fact that I was serving in the R.A.F. around the
World and could only conceive music in the scrappiest manner on odd
pieces of paper in the most unsympathetic ambiances. Demobilisation,
therefore, came as a blessed chance to write at length, which is what I
did during the bitter Winter of 1946-7 on those evenings when I did not
have to be in attendance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, were I
earned my living as a repetiteur. In June 1947 I reached the end of the
fair full score, put it aside and began to write an opera that never got
performed.»

Gardner regarded the end of the War as a new start, set aside his
juvenile works and began again from Opus 1. He took a job as a
repetiteur at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. John Barbirolli
discovered the First Symphony (Op2) when Gardner was given the
opporunity of playing through his Nativity Opera. According to Gardner
this work is «unperformable», which fact was quickly grasped by
Barbirolli; however, when Barbirolli asked to see other works, Gardner
showed him the Symphony. The first movement needed some re-working
because Barbirolli was not convinced it made sense in its original form.
The work was scheduled for the 1951 Cheltenham Festival where it caused
a minor sensation. Here was a huge, powerful work, brilliantly scored
and masterfully structured, by a composer of whom almost no-one had
heard!

Many major commissions followed and Gardner was suddenly able to call
himself «a composer». He resigned the job at the Opera House and 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.
He re-wrote A Scots Overture, previously a military band piece, for the
1954 season of Promenade Concerts in 1954. 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
(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 thirty
years. A few years later 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 Director of Music at Morley College. These teaching posts
led to the composition of some of his most enduring works, and together
with the many holiday courses he worked on as a conductor(Canford,
Dartington, ESSYM, Bernard Robinson’s Music Camp, etc., etc.) ensured
that he was able to bring practical experience and knowledge to bear on
his compositions.

He married Jane Abercrombie, the daughter of Nigel Abercrombie
(Secretary General of the Arts Council 1963-1968) and the soprano
Elisabeth 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.

Gardner has composed prolifically throughout his life, and his works are
listed on his website (see link below). Among the major works are two
more symphonies, two more operas — The Visitors (1972) and Tobermory
(1976), concertos for 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 Commander of the
Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1976.

His most recently completed work is a Bassoon Concerto, Op249, written
in 2004 for Graham Salvage, the principal bassoonist of the Hallй
Orchestra, which was premiered at the Budleigh Salterton Festival in
July 2007, by Graham Salvage with the Festival Orchestra conducted by
Nicholas Marshall.

His music, apart from «Tomorrow shall be my dancing day» has been
largely unrepresented on commercial records, but in recent years a
number of new recordings have been issued, including the 3rd Symphony,
Oboe Concerto, Flute Concerto and Petite Suite for Recorder and Strings.
In September 2007, however, Naxos issued his Symphony No.1, Piano
Concerto and the overture Midsummer Ale. David Lloyd-Jones conducted the
Royal Scottish National Orchestra with Peter Donohoe as the solo
pianist.

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