Dr Francis Jackson (1917-2022)

I have just found out that Dr Francis Jackson, organist of York Minster from 1946 to 1982, passed away yesterday at the age of 104 years. He was one of the greatest inspirations to me as a schoolboy and it was a great privilege to be allowed up to the organ loft to watch him play. He was one of those unforgettable characters, more than many others in England’s cathedral organ lofts. May he rest in peace with his beloved Priscilla and in the company of heaven.

A quote from Simon Lindley (Leeds Parish Church):

The results of such early zeal are a speaking voice which makes for compelling listening, and a turn of verbal phrase always exactly reflecting his feelings. FJ is an inveterate correspondent – with a glorious italic script as clearly focussed as his musical manuscripts. He is not insensitive to the potential of mimicry afforded by his voice. Songman John Rothera [another real Minster character] had it off to a tee.

You have to have known him to know what this was about. This will give an idea:

I also give you this link with Sir John Betjeman’s homage to the city of York. I begin to feel the same way as when my mother died in 2013, a part of my life and my youth gone.

I have just been playing Mendelssohn’s third Organ Sonata on my house organ, not well enough to record. I first heard this piece played by Francis Jackson in something like 1974 as a voluntary after Choral Evensong. I went up to the loft to see him play. Such virtuosity and fluency with his interpretation of the music… I so much wanted to learn this sonata and persuaded my organ teacher at St Peter’s, Mr Keith Pemberton, to teach it to me. The only thing limiting me now is my one-octave pedalboard!

I have shed a few tears on his death, but I am thankful that he is released from his frail old body of 104 years, hardly able to play the organ any more (he had a two-manual house organ). He lived in Malton, almost next door to where my grandparents lived. We shared the same Yorkshire roots. York Minster and St Peter’s School were very much one in the Church of England and the service of God through music. Dr Jackson is a final part of York from the time when I was there. Now it is a new city full of vitality, but without those of us in those years. I played the Mendelssohn as a prayer for him faced with his eternity, and I hope he will forgive me my modest playing technique.

What a great man and what an inspiration for a youth of tender years in the 1970’s! May he rest in peace and be rewarded by the music of heaven.

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