David Hird BMus., FRCO
[a Bairstow biography]
My first meeting with Sir Edward was in the autumn of 1936 when I met him at his studio in Leeds to discuss the possibility of training as a professional musician. As a result of that meeting I started lessons which continued until I was called for military service in November 1940. Typical of Sir Edward's kindness and interest was the arrangement of my lessons. I visited him in York each week on Tuesday. My timetable started at the Song School at 8.45am [having travelled by bus and train from Keighley] with the boys' practice followed by full choir at 9 until 9.45. Often the music being rehearsed was for the weekly broadcast of Evensong in the afternoon. Occasionally the choir crossed to the Minster to rehearse in the choir stalls for the benefit of the BBC engineers, and sometimes I was asked to play the organ whilst Sir Edward listened from different positions. Rehearsal over, fully choral Matins followed at 10am, after which we went across to Minster Court where glasses of milk and buns were always waiting on the music room table.

Half-hour lessons started at 11am and continued until 1 o'clock and I was usually allowed to stay right through, listening to each lesson. My own lesson was at 12.30 and consisted of either piano-playing or written work in preparation for university degree. At 1pm I went out into York for lunch. Sir Edward did not usually give lessons during the afternoon, but often he would say "Come back at 2pm". Between then and 3.30 he was engaged in various ways and he would often discuss and talk about the work he was doing. When he had compositions submitted as exercises for Durham degrees he would put the score on the music desk of the piano and go through it, discussing details. Similarly, when he was engaged in composing works of his own he would go through them at the piano. Works which I remember looking at with him are the introit Let my prayer come up, written for the coronation of George VI, his cantata The Prodigal Son, his setting of the evening canticles in G, and especially the Organ Sonata. I particularly remember the Sonata. Most of it was written during his summer holiday on the Isle of Arran, but when he came home he still had much of the final fugue to write. On one visit to York soon afterwards, I spent the afternoon with him, playing the organ pedal part on the piano whilst he played the manual parts of the completed sections of the Sonata. He spoke of his plans for the fugue, particularly his idea of making the entries of the subject at the interval of a third instead of the usual fourths and fifths.

Sir Edward's free accompaniments to unison verses of hymns were always very fine. When OUP asked him to provide accompaniments for the unsion verses of hymns in the English Hymnal some of his improvisations were crystallised and written down. During the time that he was writing these he used to talk about them and play them on the piano. His written accompaniment to Aeterna Christi Munera closely resembles what I recollect of his improvised accompaniment to this hymn.

When he was preparing lectures he would discuss his plans. One of these was given to the Royal College of Organists on Brahms' Fourth Symphony, and the Ferens series of lectures for Hull University were later published as a book with the title The evolution of musical form. He spent a lot of time preparing examples for these lectures and I remember him showing me various 'visual aids' that he had prepared. He was very concerned that he should not speak above the heads of his audience.

He often talked of [Harry] Plunkett Greene and the book on singing that they were to have written together. This was eventually published [in 1945] as Singing learned from speech. Incidentally, singers figured prominently in his music room. Over the fireplace hung a photograph of his friend, the singer Gervase Elwes, and on the wall near the piano was a print of Byrd's Reasons for singing. Sometimes Tuesday afternoon was spent in preparatory work for a Leeds Philharmonic Society concert. One work that I remember going through with him was Stanford's Stabat Mater.

Sir Edward often insisted that a musician's training should range widely over all aspects of music and other branches of the art not directly connected with their professional work. His own interests were wide, and he passed this on to his pupils.

Continuing the timetable of my weekly visits to York:- after spending the afternoon in his music room in the various ways described, at 3.30 we went along to his drawing room to join Lady Bairstow for afternoon tea. At 3.45 we went across to the Minster for Evensong (usually broadcast) at 4pm. In connexion with the broadcast, I remember that in general he chose pedal stops of the violone type rather than bourdons, as he said these broadcast better in the lower registers. I think he said he had not to use the Tuba Mirabilis, as it was too powerful for the BBC equipment, but he often used the 8' and 16' small tubas on the Solo Organ. If the anthem was unaccompanied he would go downstairs and robe after the Nunc Dimittis and I would give the note. On one occasion I remember my consternation when the boys did not take the note I gave. Sir Edward immediately stopped them and I gave the note again.

During the first few months of my lessons, I joined Norman Gilbert who was already going to York each Tuesday. Occasionally there were visitors or other pupils in the organ loft during service, but for most of the time I was there I was the only pupil present on that day of the week. Sir Edward rarely played the voluntary after service. (I can remember him playing his own prelude on Veni Emmanuel from a very decripit manuscript copy, and the Prelude in G minor from the First book of Preludes and Postludes by Stanford). He always said that he did not have time to practise, and any pupil present might as well play the voluntary. Sir Edward kept at the console a record of the voluntaries played, and sometime during the service he would ask what I was going to play, duly entering it in his record, and on the the organ voluntary notice, which I would then take and pin on the notice board at the south-east corner of the nave. (Service was in the Choir, and with the screen curtains drawn, it was possible to leave the organ loft without being seen by the congregation). 

When evensong was over, it was time for my organ lesson. Very occasionally another pupil would be present and would play before me. Pupils that I remember playing in this manner at various times include H.K.Andrews who played the Bach Toccata in F for ECB's comments. He was to play it at an interview at New College, Oxford. Francis Jackson played an organ arrangement of the slow movement of Debussy's String Quartet, and Ernest Hopkinson, Bach's Trio Sonata V. My organ lesson consisted of organ pieces which I had prepared, and when I was preparing for the RCO examinations, each week I had to do a past paper of Tests at the Organ. Sir Edward never set any pattern of pieces to be learnt, and so far as I can remember, he never suggested that I should practise any particular piece. This applied also in my study of piano, harmony and composition with him. What work I did he left entirely to me. By the time my organ lesson was over it was usually between 5.30 and 6pm, I having spent most of the day from 8.45 in the morning with Sir Edward for a 'half-hour lesson'.

During the four years that I carried out this weekly routine I had many interesting conversations with him. This extended contact with him has undoubtedly influenced the whole of my musical career. However, details of his actual teaching have now for the most part faded and been absorbed into my subconscious mind. My paperwork commenced by working through his book Counterpoint and Harmony which was not published but was in proof stage. Each week he would give me a few sheets of corrected proof to work through at my own speed. He hoped his book was self-explanatory and that an intelligent student would be able to use it without the aid of a teacher. Nevertheless, his comments and suggestions were always illuminating. He believed in extensive use of models, and his book carries out this plan. In this he was much influenced by Stanford, of whom he often used to speak. Beyond the stage of text-book harmony he still used models, though I cannot remember his suggesting any particular one, except perhaps Debussy's String Quartet, and Sibelius. I remember writing a string quartet based on Beethoven's opus 95, but I don't think he suggested the model. At the time that I was writing a string quartet for the Durham B.Mus.excercise, he examined my work each week and showed a keen interest in how the work was progressing.

In his organ teaching he insisted on good legato playing and in this connexion I remember particularly the Vaughan Williams Prelude on Rhosymedre which I prepared with him for ARCO. His insistence that the inner parts should be legato, often helping out the left hand with the thumb of the right hand. This cost me many hours of practice before he was satisfied. In connexion with the use of the thumb, I remember that he played the Charles Wood Prelude on York Tune soloing the tune and assisting the left hand accompaniment on a lower manual with the right-hand thumb. I once played Brahms' Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen for him, too quickly he thought. His comment was something like "If you race through the countryside in a fast car you miss many of its beauties".

Sir Edward was well known for his often sarcastic and biting comments, though I never remember him saying anything offensive to me. He was often amused, and particularly so if he thought he was one up on the Dean or clergy. On one occasion when his anthem The King of Love was being performed, he related, with evident amusement, that he wrote it when he was on holiday and had no hymn book available, so had to write the words from memory. When he returned to York with the completed anthem, he discovered that he had not followed the hymn book order of verses, having put verse three after verse five of the hymn book, and none of the clergy had noticed it!

During the period when I was visiting York for lessons, Sir Edward was invited to adjudicate at the Summerscale Festival in Keighley, my home town. It was therefore arranged that he would come to Keighley on the Friday evening and stay overnight at my home in readiness for an early start on the Saturday morning. At the Festival he insisted that I should sit with him and learn something of the job of adjudicating - a most interesting experience.

My lessons terminated in November 1940 when I was called up for military service, but his interest did not cease. During the whole of the time that I was way he regularly wrote to me, and some of his letters I have preserved. I last saw him about July-August 1945 when I came home on leave from the Middle East. The decline in his health during the years I had been away was very marked. His last letter to me was written only three weeks before his death, and would, I imagine, be one of the last letters he wrote.

David Hird BMus., FRCO

These personal recollections were later incorporated into 
Blessed City: The Life and Works of Sir Edward Bairstow: Dr.Francis Jackson OBE (1996)

Page placed September 1997 by Richard Hird []