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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea