MAURICE JACOBSON (1896 - 1976)
Maurice Jacobson was regarded in his lifetime as a “musician extraordinary”, gifted with exceptional versatility on many fronts. A child prodigy, by the age of sixteen he could play the whole of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas from memory. Studies at the Modern School of Music and the Royal College of Music were interrupted by World War 1 but resumed afterwards, concentrating on composition under Stanford and Holst. Already as a student he was noted as an exceptional accompanist, working with the great tenor John Coates. Later he was to discover Kathleen Ferrier, whom he encouraged to become a professional singer. After World War II he was instrumental, with Dame Ruth Railton, in setting up the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. From 1923 he was, first reader and editor, then a director, and finally chairman (1950–1972) of the musical publishing firm of J. Curwen & Sons. He was an indefatigable adjudicator at competitive music festivals, not only throughout Britain but in Canada and Hong Kong. For his services to music he was awarded the OBE in 1971. These manifold activities left him less time than he would have liked for composition: nevertheless he left an impressive total of some 450 works.
Fundamentally Jacobson was a classicist, steeped in the great Austro-German and French repertoires and—despite his professed love for Berg and Bartók—unable or unwilling to give up his classical habits of clear phrase structure and major-minor tonality, sometimes with modal inflections or chromatic exoticisms characteristic of Jewish music. A Londoner through and through, albeit from a family that had only recently arrived from Eastern Europe, he hardly belongs to the English pastoral tradition. Yet there is a sort of liberality and kindness about his music that may be thought of as an English characteristic. His enormous facility and professionalism ensured that he could write gratefully for amateurs and children, and the catalogue of his works shows many impeccably written arrangements for amateur choirs, pianists and others that served a useful purpose in their day. But his more important original compositions, though not numerous, show that he managed to forge a personal idiom from his many and varied influences—music of complete technical assurance and a warm, open and engaging communicativeness.