Harry Gabb

William Harry Gabb, organist: born Ilford, Essex 5 April 1909; Organist, St Jude's, West Norwood 1925-28; Organist and Choirmaster, Christ Church, Gypsy Hill 1928-29; Sub-Organist, Exeter Cathedral, and Organist, St Leonard's, Exeter and Heavitree Parish Church 1929-37; Organist and Master of Choristers, Llandaff Cathedral 1937-46; Sub-Organist, St Paul's Cathedral 1946-74; Professor and Examiner of Organ Playing, Trinity College of Music 1946-88; Organist, Choirmaster and Composer at the Chapels Royal in St James's Palace 1953-74; MVO 1961, CVO 1974; married 1937 Helen Mutton (died 1994; one son); died 16 March 1995.

Harry Gabb's tenure of his posts as organist at the Chapels Royal and at St Paul's Cathedral was marked by a consummate professionalism and graced by a warmth of personality which endeared him to generations of choristers, lay-vicars and organ students, as well as to an extraordinary range of non- musicians. His handling of the enormous and widely dispersed St Paul's organ was admired, while his unflappability and secure technique were strengths in coping with the demands of playing at state occasions.

Gabb won a George Carter Scholarship with the Royal College of Music, where, as well as organ lessons, he studied composition with Herbert Howells. In 1929, at the early age of 20, he was appointed sub-organist at Exeter Cathedral, as assistant to Dr (later, Sir) Thomas Armstrong. In 1937, Gabb was appointed Organist and Master of the Choristers at Llandaff Cathedral, but German bombing forced the end of services in the cathedral building, and shortly afterwards he left for war service with the Royal Armoured Corps.

For part of the war, Gabb was stationed in Egypt which allowed him to play the organ in Cairo Cathedral. After demobilisation he returned briefly to Llandaff, before moving to London as sub-organist at St Paul's Cathedral in 1946, forming a memorable musical partnership with Sir John Dykes-Bower. In 1953, Gabb was appointed to HM Chapels Royal, and he held these two organist posts until 1974. He played at several state occasions (including Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, and as one of the organists at the Coronation) as well as at the weddings of Princess Anne and Princess Margaret. At the latter of these, it gave him particular pleasure that his son, Roger, was carrying the Colour of the Guard of Honour outside the entrance of Westminster Abbey as he was playing inside.

Part of the secret of Harry Gabb's success was the trouble he took in preparation. He was a notoriously early riser (a habit he maintained to the end of his life), and maintained a strict practice routine, spending usually two hours a day at the St Paul's instrument before a (usually sociable) breakfast. He was justly proud of his pedal technique and took especial pains that his students should be similarly proficient. In the tradition of organ as orchestral substitute, Gabb was in demand for oratorio and choral concerts, and his intuitive rhythmic sense was striking: with his highly practical skills and love of accompanying large congregations, he made hymn-singing a musical, rather than a routine, event.

Gabb was sought after as a teacher, and was for many years Professor of Organ Playing at Trinity College of Music, in London. Latterly though, as the organ world changed around him, towards historically aware performance practice and modern musical idioms, Gabb remained immutable: he would listen stoically to contemporary works brought to him by his pupils, but his comments would be centred on playing technique. However, in his own favourite repertoire he excelled and gave much to his students.

Occasionally, Gabb could be diverted into showing off his considerable skills as a theatre organist - sometimes a useful tactic for students who had practised less assiduously than their teacher.

On retirement in 1974, he and his wife Helen moved to Chobham, where he became parish organist. One sensed that this most unassuming of men enjoyed his retirement work as much as any other part of his professional career. Harry Gabb had also served as a Special Commissioner for the Royal School of Church Music, and as a Council Member of the Royal College of Organists.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific