It is better-known in a later arrangement for the symphonic band. While a student Jacob was asked by Ralph Vaughan Williams to arrange the latter's English Folk Song Suite in full orchestral form. Jacob became a Fellow of the Royal College in 1946, and throughout his career would often write pieces for particular students and faculty. In the 1930s Jacob, along with several other young composers, wrote for the Sadlers Wells Ballet Company. His one original ballet, Uncle Remus, was written for them, but most of his contributions were arrangements of established works, such as Les Sylphides, for which his version remains in use, though the rival orchestration by Roy Douglas has been more often recorded for disc.
Later ballet scores arranged by Jacob include Mam'zelle Angot, (based on Charles Lecocq's music, which remains in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet) and, in 1958, London Morning, composed for the London Festival Ballet by Noel Coward and orchestrated by Jacob. He also contributed light music to a morale-booster comedy radio show during World War II, which earned him the disdain of the musical elitists and the appreciation of the public; he also provided music for several propaganda films. In the 1940s he was commissioned, on the recommendation of Sir Adrian Boult to orchestrate Edward Elgar's Organ Sonata. A recording of this version was made in 1988 by EMI. The height of his renown was the 1950s, during which his Music for a Festival was used for the 1951 Festival of Britain and his trumpet-heavy fanfare arrangement of the National Anthem for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. After his retirement from the Royal College in 1966, he continued to support himself by composing, often on commission. He describes many of the works as "unpretentious little pieces", though some of his most works were published during this time, including his 1984 Concerto for Timpani and Wind Band. Jacob married twice: once in 1924 to Sidney Gray, who died in 1958, and again a year after her death, to her niece Margaret Gray, in 1959. He had two children by Margaret, who was forty-two years his junior. There is a 1959 BBC documentary about his life, Gordon Jacob, directed by Ken Russell, as well as a 1995 book by Eric Wetherell entitled Gordon Jacob: a Centenary Biography. Jacob was one of the most musically conservative of his generation of composers.
Though he studied with Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax at the Royal College, Jacob preferred the more austere Baroque and Classical models to the Romanticism of his peers, and stuck to this aesthetic even in the face of the trends toward atonality and serialism. This conservatism would cause his works to fall out of fashion in favor of the avant-garde in the 1960s, which he held in little regard, saying "I personally feel repelled by the intellectual snobbery of some progressive artists... the day that melody is discarded altogether, you may as well pack up music...". Not all contemporary listeners found his music too conservative or melodic: "Foul music by Gordon Jacob just over, in which the pianist stamped on, kicked, butted, thumped and finally threw out of the window the long-suffering piano." He was a skillful writer for winds, and a good deal of his regard today is for his embracing of the wind band, which had begun coming into its own as a concert-giving musical ensemble. Additionally, he published solo and chamber literature at various levels of difficulty for nearly all the wind instruments, many of which are now standard pedagogical and performing repertoire. Jacob was highly prolific, and published over 700 pieces of music before his death in 1984, in addition to his four books and numerous essays on music.
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