Francis Jackson, organist, composer and dean of cathedral music who spent nine decades associated with York Minster – obituary
Jackson became sub-organist on Easter Monday 1946; 10 days later, Bairstow passed away after 33 years of service and Jackson took his place; Bairstow’s warning that his mission was to be a “musical generalist” or “jack of all trades” echoed in his ears. 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 Royal Albert Hall Proms. That same year he got his DMus from Durham; thereafter, he was known throughout the organ fraternity as “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] wins through persuasion and common sense what his illustrious teacher and predecessor achieved through intellectual rigor and sheer dominant force ”. In 1996, Jackson published Blessed City, a biography of Bairstow, his teacher and mentor.
During 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 RAF service to the Ministry in 1956, but because Jackson forgot about the mission, it must have been hastily scribbled 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, in 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) saw him as a likeable young man who could be expected to do as he was told, but Jackson “quickly proved himself. 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, was no longer opposed in the 1950s and early 1960s. If Jackson found this disappointing, he found Milner-White’s eventual successor as dean, Ronald Jasper, even more difficult to work with, and deeply regretted the loss of the traditional Sunday model of sung Mattins Cathedral followed by a grand solemn Eucharist.
Nevertheless, he kept a sense of humor. On one occasion, as Evensong was about to begin, the conductor rushed to the organ stand, alarmed to find that the announced hymn was not the one the choir had repeated. “I think you’ll find that you like it,” was Jackson’s mischievous response. On another occasion, he met a Member of Parliament at Leeds station, a few minutes before the start of the Minster service. “Aren’t you supposed to play tonight?” they wondered, before frantically calling ahead to find a replacement.
Although busy with his ministerial activities, including choir rehearsals and daily services, Jackson found time to become involved in the musical life of the city. He has notably conducted the York Symphony Orchestra and the York Musical Society, the country’s oldest musical society; with the latter, he successfully repaired the damage caused by a falling out with Bairstow in 1939, welcoming them back to the cathedral for Bach’s traditional Palm Sunday performance of St. Matthew’s Passion. He was also for a time conductor of the Leeds Philharmonic Society.
After the rebuilding of the Minster organ under his supervision in 1959-60, Jackson was increasingly called upon to assist in the design of church organs. His most notable instruments were those in St Helen’s York and Blackburn Cathedral, the latter of which inspired him to compose several large-scale works for the instrument. He finally retired from the Cathedral in 1982. Among his many students was John Barry, who wrote the music for the James Bond films.