Dr Francis Jackson, CBE 2nd October 1917 - 10th January 2022
We are very proud to publish many of Dr Jackson's splendid choral, organ and vocal works. He was also our General Editor for many years.
An inspiration, an amazing musician and a truly lovely man.
Obituary from the Telegraph 12th January 2022:
“Francis Jackson, who has died aged 104, was for more than 90 years associated with the music of York Minster, as chorister, assistant organist, Master of Music and Organist Emeritus. His reign in the organ loft – 1946 to 1982 – followed that of Sir Edward Bairstow, the great Edwardian organist who saw the Minster’s musical worship through the deprivations of two world wars. During his long career, Jackson knew no fewer than nine Archbishops, ranging from William Temple between the wars to Stephen Cottrell in the 21st century.
Jackson played the Minster organ at the marriage service of the Duke of Kent to Katherine Worsley on June 8 1961, introducing a worldwide audience to the wondrous finale of Widor’s Fifth Symphony, which has since been heard as the recessional music at thousands of weddings – a welcome alternative to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.
He also wrote many important services and hymn tunes, most notably the popular East Acklam, which is generally sung to the words “For the Fruits of His Creation” by Fred Pratt Green. It is named after the village in North Yorkshire where Jackson made his home.
Although his performing career overshadowed his compositional output, within music in general and cathedral music in particular, Jackson enjoyed a commanding position; indeed he was as important to the musical life of the North of England as David Willcocks, his near-contemporary, was to the South. And in their time the pair of them – good friends – served as President of the Royal College of Organists. If he was not of the same order as Olivier Messaien, Jackson was arguably the closest thing to the French composer-organist that the 20th-century English-speaking organ world has produced.
Francis Alan Jackson was born at Malton, North Yorkshire, on October 2 1917, the grandson of a clergyman. He always described himself as “a lad from the Wolds”. Musically he was something of a late starter, not joining the Minister until the age of 11½. His first day at the Song School – under the direction of Bairstow – was February 4 1929; later that year his parents bought a Welmar baby grand piano that was to remain in young Francis’s possession for the rest of his life. He soon made up for lost time and was admitted to the full choir after only three weeks as a probationer.
A favourite of Bairstow, Francis stayed on after his voice broke, collecting an FRCO (with the prestigious Limpus Prize) along the way. His costs were covered by the Friends of the Minster Choir, whose investment can be said to have been repaid many times over. At the age of 16 he was appointed organist of Malton Parish Church, barely 20 miles east of York, but continued to play the Minster services, including two complete services a week in the summer of 1933 – a remarkable achievement for a teenager.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Jackson joined the IXth Lancers, a Cavalry regiment, and served in Egypt, North Africa and Italy. As Trooper Jackson he learnt the saxophone and his performances were billed as “Jive with Jackson” or “Francis Jackson plays Boogie and Bach”. In return his military colleagues introduced him to the writings of Huxley, Isherwood and Auden.
Throughout the six years of war, however, he only touched an organ twice: in the newly liberated Tunis Cathedral, where he was asked by the verger to play the National Anthem, and on one Easter Sunday at Forli in Italy, where he was accompanied by monks in their habits playing strings. On another occasion, while sitting by the seashore at San Vito, near Bari in Italy, he wrote an Impromptu for organ to mark Bairstow’s 70th birthday. It was to become his first published work.
Even before demobilisation in 1946, Jackson had been contacted by the Minster authorities: Bairstow had been taken gravely ill on Christmas Eve the previous year and it was clear that a successor would soon be needed.
Jackson became sub-organist on Easter Monday 1946; 10 days later Bairstow died after 33 years in post and Jackson stepped into his shoes; ringing in his ears was Bairstow’s admonishment that his mission was to be a “musical GP” or “jack of all trades”. The following year, in an equally important move for British cathedral music, Willcocks was appointed to Salisbury Cathedral.
In 1957 Jackson performed Poulenc’s Organ Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Basil Cameron at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. That same year he obtained his DMus from Durham; thereafter he was known throughout the organ fraternity as “the Doctor”.
As early as 1959 Ernest Bradbury had noticed the difference between Jackson and his predecessor, writing in The Musical Times that “as a choir trainer he [Jackson] gains by persuasion and sweet reasonableness what his illustrious teacher and predecessor achieved by intellectual rigour and sheer dominating force”. In 1996 Jackson published Blessed City, a biography of Bairstow, his teacher and mentor.
In the 1950s and 1960s Jackson was a regular figure at the Three Choirs Festival, often performing his own works both there and at home. His Fanfare of Remembrance was commissioned for an RAF service at the Minister in 1956, but because Jackson forgot about the assignment it had to be hurriedly scribbled down the night before the performance. The Archbishop’s Fanfare (op.27) was written for the enthronement of Donald Coggan as Archbishop of York in 1961.
Meanwhile, at York Minster, the nature of cathedral music was changing rapidly, and not always to Jackson’s liking. According to a profile in Cathedral Music, the Dean (Eric Milner-White) thought him a nice young man who might be expected to do as he was told, but Jackson “soon showed a healthy independence” in his choice of music.
In his early days Jackson made a number of recordings with the Minster choir, but Milner-White, the great traditionalist, opposed any more during the 1950s and early 1960s. If Jackson found this disappointing, he found Milner-White’s eventual successor as Dean, Ronald Jasper, even harder to work with, and deeply regretted the loss of the Minster’s traditional Sunday pattern of sung Mattins followed by a great Solemn Eucharist.
Nevertheless, he retained a sense of humour. On one occasion, as Evensong was about to begin, the head chorister rushed up to the organ loft alarmed to discover that the advertised anthem was not that which the choir had rehearsed. “I think you’ll find you’ll enjoy it,” was Jackson’s mischievous reply. On another occasion, he met a deputy on Leeds station, minutes before the Minster service was due to begin. “Aren’t you supposed to be playing tonight?” they asked each other, before frantically telephoning ahead to find a replacement.
Although kept busy by his Minster activities, including choir rehearsals and daily services, Jackson found time to be involved in the musical life of the city. In particular, he conducted the York Symphony Orchestra and the York Musical Society, the oldest musical society in the country; with the latter he successfully repaired the damage caused by a falling-out with Bairstow in 1939, welcoming them back to the Minster for the traditional Palm Sunday performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. He was also for a time chorus master of the Leeds Philharmonic Society.
After the Minster organ was rebuilt under his supervision in 1959-60, Jackson was increasingly in demand to help with church-organ design. His more outstanding instruments were those at St Helen’s York and Blackburn Cathedral, the latter inspiring him to compose several large-scale works for the instrument. He finally retired from the Minster in 1982. Among his many pupils had been John Barry, who wrote the music for the James Bond films.
While his compositions could be described as conservative, Jackson’s appreciation of music was broad and comprehensive. Throughout his life he was fascinated by the works of Ravel and Debussy, and enjoyed playing the former’s Concerto for the left hand – accompanied by gramophone records if no orchestra or audience were available. For many years he kept his love of dance bands concealed “otherwise one would be considered to be going to the bad and to be unfit for a professional life in so-called ‘classical’ music”.
He was appointed OBE in 1978, advanced to CBE in 2007. Well into his late nineties he was still performing organ recitals around the country, including several at York Minster.
Jackson enjoyed his garden, where his flowerbeds were as well-tended as his scores and the riotous colours and textures were as varied as his many performances at the organ. When not travelling on his numerous engagements, the Doctor continued to play for Sunday services on the harmonium at the village church in East Acklam. Despite his musical brilliance, he was a modest and caring man and an engaging conversationalist. To the end he remained a devotee of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
He published an autobiography, Music for a Long While, in 2013.
Francis Jackson married, in 1950, Priscilla Procter, the private secretary to Lord Halifax; she died in 2013. They had two sons and a daughter. Three grandchildren have sung in the Minster choir.
Francis Jackson, born October 2 1917, died January 10 2022”