JOHN GARDNER (b 1917 )
John Gardner’s birth in Manchester on 2 March 1917 has led some to assume that he is a “Manchester composer”, but it was simply the result of a fluke of family circumstances. He was in fact brought up in Ilfracombe in North Devon, where his paternal family had practised medicine for three generations. His grandfather John Twiname and his father Alfred Linton both wrote music. John Twiname Gardner had had a number of pieces of parlour music published, some of which are still occasionally performed and recorded.
Musical talent was evident at an early age. He went to Eagle House, Sandhurst, from where he progressed to Wellington College with a music scholarship, and thence to Exeter College, Oxford as Organ Scholar. The Eagle House archives reveal that he opened the school concert in December 1928 playing Roger Quilter’s Children’s Overture. At Wellington his musical contemporaries included the composer John Addison, the conductor and scholar (Sir) Anthony Lewis, and the performer, composer and longtime Secretary of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Philip Cranmer. The school records show that in 1932 Addison and Gardner competed for their house in the “Dormitory Music Cup”, playing Gardner’s Rondo for two pianos but their house came second to Cranmer’s. The same year Gardner is noted as having performed the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the school orchestra, whilst Anthony Lewis played the last movement (one T.J. Hetherington played the middle movement).
At Oxford he was taught by, amongst others, R.O. Morris, whom he remembers seemed bored by teaching him as he “always had a train to catch”. His contemporaries, who included the composer Geoffrey Bush, were envious of the fluency of his writing, and as World War II grew close he was beginning to make his mark as a composer. He was introduced to Hubert Foss, who had started the Oxford University Press music department, and the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin frequently offered advice and encouragement. His Intermezzo for Organ was published by Oxford University Press in 1934, his Rhapsody for Oboe and String Quartet was performed at the Wigmore Hall in 1935, and a delightful Serenade for Oboe, Piano and String Orchestra was performed by George Malcolm at Exeter College in 1937. The Blech Quartet took his String Quartet No. 1 in G minor to Paris, where it was broadcast on French Radio in May 1939, and OUP published the anthem ‘Holy Son of God Most High’. In 1937 he had become one of the first composers to write for the new medium of television, being commissioned by the BBC to write two ballets and two cabaret songs.
On leaving University John Gardner briefly taught music at Repton School, where John Veale was one of his pupils, but then the War effectively put a stop to his career and he joined the RAF. He worked as dance-band pianist and as bandmaster of the Fighter Command Band before joining Transport Command as a navigator. On demobilisation he joined the Royal Opera House as a repetiteur (1946-52). In the following years he held a number of long-standing part-time teaching posts, including that of Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Director of Music at Morley College and professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He was a Director of the Performing Right Society from 1965 to 1987 (and latterly its Deputy Chairman) and was made a C.B.E. in 1976. He has composed throughout his life and his latest work, written in 2004, is a Concerto for Bassoon and Strings, Op. 249.