Kenneth V. Jones
May 14th 1924 – December 2nd 2020
“I wanted to write what I wrote”
Ken Jones who was NMB’s oldest member died last December. As well as being the oldest member, Ken was also probably the least represented in terms of performances over several decades largely because he was keen for younger members to be prioritised.
Ken was a precocious talent and son of a church organist. He took his ARCO at the age of sixteen and was steeped in church choral music as a chorister at King’s School, Canterbury. Ken claimed to be trying “to understand the world” which reflects his range of interests apart from, but in support of, his musical education. He studied Philosophy and Music at Queen’s College, Oxford University in conjunction with studies at the Royal College of Music where he eventually took a post teaching harmony and counterpoint and, later, composition. At the College, Ken was tutored by R. O. Morris and Gordon Jacob and it was Gordon Jacob who recommended Ken as composer for his first film score for Trawlers at Spithead. Ken was to write over thirty-five films scores working mostly at Shepperton Studios as composer, voice coach and arranger. He was working at a time of pioneering film music. He described how he would go about the task: first watching the film with ‘spotting’ largely in discussion with the director; having to remember particular moments, since playback facility was unavailable at the time; composing the piano score; then, after further discussion with the director and another viewing and play-through, scoring the film before recording.
Other titles included The Tomb of Ligeia [revived in USA in 1961], The Tales of Hoffmann and a documentary on the Suez Canal Crisis. Ken also wrote scores for the British Transport Film Unit as Britten did for General Post Office. On one occasion, Ken was asked to re-write a score provided by George Auric called The Innocents which the director Jack Clayton had rejected for various reasons. Not wanting to embarrass Auric, Ken insisted that his own name did not appear on the credits.
Ken’s technique for film music was further developed when he won a scholarship to the Sienna Academy which had a pioneering course on film music as well as conducting. Italy brought Ken further opportunities in what his RCM contemporaries thought to be “dangerous continental ways” which included the requirement to conduct always from memory! At the RCM and in English circles at the time, memorising music was considered far too clever by half to be encouraged. Among the composers he met were Aaron Copland. On his way to Sienna, Ken met with William Walton who supplemented Ken’s scholarship of £100 with a further £50.
Asked what he learned in Sienna, Ken was reticent but he was also acting as translator for six or seven other students in French and German as the Italian tutor [Petrassi, I believe] spoke only Italian.
Ken’s other output was mainly chamber music such as works for piano and violin, a set of forty-eight piano pieces and string music. One of Ken’s most recent performances took place last year at St Leonard’s Church, Seaford and on June 6th Sebastian Comberti [Seaford Music Society] performed Two Contrasts for Solo Cello.
A few works which might have been written included an opera about Tom Payne, a violin concerto and a symphony.