Organist and composer Francis Jackson dies, aged 104
We pay tribute to the leading British organist, composer and choirmaster, who was publishing music right up until the end of his life
Organist, composer and choirmaster Francis Jackson has died at the age of 104. His advanced years meant that he was one of the last in recent memory to have worked alongside some of English church music’s great figures – with him, a link to our illustrious heritage has been lost. One such great was the organist of York Minster and composer Edward Bairstow, who in 1929 heard an 11-year-old Jackson’s talent at the piano, and enrolled him as a chorister at the Minster, without requiring him to serve a probationary year.
Jackson regarded Bairstow as one of his foremost influences (he wrote Bairstow’s biography) and continued studying with him until his call-up to the army in 1940, serving in North Africa until the end of the war. Returning to York, he slid onto the assistant organist bench without interview – after all, Bairstow himself was his referee. When Bairstow died in 1946, Jackson was immediately appointed organist and director of music. He stayed at the Minster until 1982, where he become renowned not only for his sure hand with the choir, but also his phenomenal playing, evident in several acclaimed recordings. One notable disc was his recording for EMI of Canadian composer Healey Willan’s Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue which brought the piece into the mainstream repertoire.
Jackson was a fine composer, writing over 150 works for organ, choir and more, including his Vierne-inspired Toccata, Chorale and Fugue (1955), the Sonata No. 3, the widely-sung hymn East Acklam and another work inspired by the 20th-century French school, Alleluia, laudate pueri Dominum for double choir. He also wrote a symphony, an organ concerto and various liturgical works, including a fine Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. He continued composing right up to his death.
Jackson was president of the Royal College of Organists between 1972 and ’74, and was awarded an OBE in 1982, plus a CBE in 2007. His autobiography Music for a Long While was published in 2013.
Image credit: Rob Whitrow
Oliver Condy is the former Editor of BBC Music Magazine, a post he held for 17 years. His debut book, Symphonies of the Soul: Classical Music to Cure Any Ailment, will be released in November 2021 with Octopus Books. He is also a semi-professional organist, having previously given recitals in Bach’s churches across Germany.