Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jacob's career almost ended before it began. The youngest of ten siblings, he enlisted in the Field Artillery to serve in World War I when he was 19, and was taken POW in 1917, one of only 60 men in his battalion of 800 to survive.
After being released he spent a year studying journalism, but left to study composition, theory, and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he then taught from 1924 until his 1966 retirement, counting Malcolm Arnold, Ruth Gipps, and Imogen Holst among his students. Sadly, because of his cleft palate and a childhood hand injury, his instrumental abilities were limited; he studied piano but never had a performing career.
Jacob's first major successful piece was composed during his student years: the William Byrd Suite for orchestra, after a collection of pieces for the virginal. It is better-known in a later arrangement for the symphonic band. He became a Fellow of the Royal College in 1946, and throughout his career would often write pieces for particular students and faculty.
In the 1930s Jacob wrote for the Sadlers Wells Ballet Company (along with several other young composers). Most of his contributions were arrangements of established works (such as Les Sylphides, for which his version is now the standard), but his one original ballet, Uncle Remus, was written for them. He also contributed light music to a morale-booster comedy radio show during World War II, which earned him the disdain of the musicial elitists and the appreciation of the public, and provided music for several propaganda films.
The height of his renown was the 1950s, during which his Music for a Festival was used for the 1951 Festival of Britain and his trumpet-heavy fanfare arrangement of the National Anthem for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
After his retirement from the Royal College in 1966, he continued to support himself by composing, often on commission. He describes many of the works as "unpretentious little pieces", though some of his most works were published during this time, including his 1984 Concerto for Timpani and Wind Band.
Jacob married twice, once in 1924 to Sidney Gray, who died in 1958, and again a year after her death, to her niece Margaret Gray, in 1959. He had two children by Margaret, who was 42 years his junior.
Jacob was one of the most musically conservative of his generation of composers. Though he studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax at the Royal College, Jacob preferred the more austere Baroque and Classical models to the Romanticism of his peers, and stuck to this aesthetic even in the face of the trends toward atonality and serialism.
This conservatism would cause his works to fall out of fashion in favor of the avant-garde in the 1960s, which he held in little regard, saying "I personally feel repelled by the intellectual snobbery of some progressive artists... the day that melody is discarded altogether, you may as well pack up music..."
He was a skillful writer for winds, and a good deal of his regard today is for his embracing of the wind band, which had begun coming into its own as a concert-giving musical ensemble. Additionally, he published solo and chamber literature at various levels of difficulty for nearly all the wind instruments, many of which are now standard pedagogical and performing repertoire.
Jacob was highly prolific and published over 700 pieces of music before his death in 1984, in addition to his four books and numerous essays on music.
- Viola Concerto no. 1 (1925)
- Concerto for Piano and Strings (1927)
- An Original Suite for Military Band (1928)
- String Quartet (1928)
- Symphony no. 1 (1928–9)
- Variations on an Air by Purcell (1930), string orchestra
- Passacaglia on a Well-Known Theme (Oranges and Lemons) (1931)
- Concerto for Oboe and Strings (1933)
- Uncle Remus (1934), ballet
- Variations on an Original Theme (1936);
- Suite no. 1 on F (1939)
- Clarinet Quintet (1940)
- Symphony no. 2 (1943–4)
- Concerto for Bassoon, Strings, and Percussion (1947)
- Suite no. 2 (1948–9);
- Suite no. 3 (1949)
- Serenade (1950), woodwind octet
- The Nun's Priest's Tale (1951), chorus and orchestra
- Music for a Festival (1951), concert band
- Concerto for Violin and Strings (1954)
- Concerto for Cello and Strings (1955)
- Prelude and Toccata (1955), orchestra
- Piano Trio (1956)
- Oboe Concerto no. 2 (1956)
- Piano Concerto no. 2 (1957)
- Divertimento (1968), 8 winds
- Concerto for Piano Duet (3 hands) and Orchestra (1969)
- Introduction and Rondo (1972), clarinet choir
- Suite for Tuba and Strings (1972)
- Pro Corda Suite (1977), string quartet and string orchestra
- Symphony AD 78 (1978), concert band
- Sonata for Viola and Piano (1978)
- Viola Concerto no. 2 (1979)
- Concerto for Timpani and Wind Band (1984)
- Orchestral Technique (1931)
- How to Read a Score (1944)
- The Composer and his Art (1955)
- The Elements of Orchestration (1962)
- Eric Wetherell, "Gordon Jacob". Grove Music Online.
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