Former professor of Pipe Organ at the London College of Music and one of the most influential teachers of the mid-twentieth century, Gordon Phillips left a legacy of an entire generation of concert soloists and church musicians but less well-known is his body of compositions for both the organ and other instruments. Working in conjunction with his ex-pupils and colleagues we are delighted to be able to present several essays on his work as well as his publishers.
More information on his works is availible here.
It is almost forgotten today that it was Gordon Phillips who drew many organists' attention to Early English Organ Music through the Tallis to Wesley series which he instigated and edited. He was the first to lead players back to what the composers had actually written, and away from the heavily edited and filled-in arrangements that had tried to give the early music a late nineteenth-century mantle. For giving so many an interest and better insight into the works of the Early English Organ Composers he should receive full recognition. His work in editing the various anthologies and collections went almost unnoticed although by his work some were encouraged to widen their musical horizons. As an organ composer he has been forgotten apart from the Six Carol Preludes and the Meditation from the Three Pastoral Pieces. In the recital world just before World War Two, he and a number of his friends played his pieces in and around London, and Herbert Ellingford gave performances of the Suite and the Sonata at St. George's Hall, Liverpool.
Gordon Phillip was born in Slough on the 13th October, 1908, son of a local Baptist minister, who was soon to move to West Bridgford, Nottingham. It was here that Gordon attended school. During his school years he went to a recital by Louis Vierne at the Town Hall, which so inspired him, so it is said, that he determined to become an organist much to the disapproval of his father. There appears to be no record of what Gordon did between leaving school and his enrolling at the Nottingham University College Training Department on a two-year Certificate Course (Teacher Training). In 1931 it is known that he was organist of the Parish Church of Widmerpool, a village south of Nottingham, and then at Woodborough Road Baptist Church in Nottingham from 1932-33. On completion of the course in 1932, his testimonial refers to his having considerable experience before embarking on the course, so we may assume that he did some teaching before leaving school and going to college.
In January 1933 Gordon Phillips passed the Associateship examinations of the Royal College of Organists and was listed by the RCO as living in Stevenage. The FRCO was passed in January 1935 and this entry puts him living in London. It was in 1934 that he became a student for two years at the Royal College of Music where he studied organ with Ernest Bullock and composition with John Ireland. Whilst a student he became assistant to Robert Ashfield at St. John's, Smith Square, before becoming organist at All Saints, Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge, in March 1936. During this period he was a frequent recitalist together with Robert Ashfield, Reginald Adams, Reginald Jevons, H. A. Roberts and Frank Wright. All included many of Gordon's newly published organ works in their programmes played at many of the London churches.
On the outbreak of War he joined the Red Cross and the Civil Defence and by September 1942 he was a civil defence instructor. With the nightly air raids and fire watching the composition of organ music was in abeyance. Also during the war years he married although the couple separated after three years.
After the War the need to earn money was great and Gordon became a copyist for other composers and also at one time played the piano in one of London's larger stores. In 1950 some pieces for clarinet were published. He became associated with Sidney Campbell, a onetime warden of the Royal School of Church Music and organist of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, who encouraged him to get back on the recital circuit and resume organ teaching. Consequently he became lecturer in advanced piano playing and composition at the City Literary Institute and spent a day or two each week giving organ lessons at Cambridge. In 1954 he became tutor for organ and harmony at the Royal School of Church Music which had recently moved to Addington Palace from Canterbury. The year 1956 saw the end of his two years at the Royal School of Church Music and his appointment as organist at All Hallows by the Tower where he remained for the rest of his life. He arrived just in time to modify the specification for the new organ which had been drawn up in 1951 by William McKie, the organist of Westminster Abbey. The new organ was finished and opened in time for the first International Organ Congress held in London in 1957. Gordon Phillips was a contributor with a paper- "The Technique of Trio Playing based on Reger's compositions in trio-form" and one on "Purcell's Organs and Organ Music". Also for the Congress, Francis Jackson, organist of York Minster, included in the first recital at Westminster Abbey, Gordon's Toccata, which was published in 1953. Later, at a recital in Brompton Oratory, Ralph Downes played some of the pieces from the Tallis to Wesley Series. The first seven volumes of Tallis to Wesley and the first two volumes of Preludes - Interludes - Postludes had been published by 1957.
Once settled at All Hallows with his double weekly recitals and teaching at the London College of Music, he spent many hours preparing more of the Tallis to Wesley series up to volume 38 (volumes 16, 25, 30 and 31 were never printed), the 9 volumes of Preludes - Interludes - Postludes, the 12 volumes of Anthology of Organ Music and the 3 volumes of Sunday by Sunday. All this publishing came to an end in 1976. The Hinrichsen Edition, founded in 1938, was editorially independent of the Peters Edition and was run by Max Hinrichsen until his death in 1965, and then by his second wife Carla until 1975. It was then absorbed into the Peters Edition and re-named Peters Edition Ltd., London. This meant that Gordon had to deal with a new editorial overseer who did not approve of the practical clear text and layout of Gordon's work. That which had been the agreed format by him and Max Hinrichsen must now conform with the latest ideas of what a scholarly score should look like. Gordon did not want his edition to be for scholars to talk about, it should be for organists to play. This disagreement led to the withdrawal of the Roseingrave Fugues which were to have been volume 40 of the Tallis to Wesley series and his determination not to publish any more music. He continued to compose but only for his own use in recitals, and for friends. His wish, that on his death all manuscripts and music be taken into the back garden and burnt, was not followed and some of the later works have now been published. I wonder what, in the great hereafter, will be his response to what has been done!