Arnold Goldsbrough – Yorkshireman, organist, harpsichordist & conductor Part 1


I mentioned in my post on Thurston Dart that I couldn’t find out much about Arnold Goldsbrough, who had been his teacher at the Royal College of Music 1938–9.

Since then I’ve tracked down Arnold’s son, now in his eighties, who has put me onto his dad’s surviving cronies and told me some stories. Through him, one way or another, I now have a great deal of previously unpublished material.

Arnold Wainwright Goldsbrough (1892–1964) – often misspelled Goldsborough – was an organist, harpsichordist, conductor, founder of what became the English Chamber Orchestra, and an early exponent of historical performance practice.
Arnold was born in the small industrial village of Gomersal, a few miles from Bradford in Yorkshire, England. Up to the mid-1930s, the street where he was born was unpaved, and the Goldsbrough house was the only one with a bath. His father was a cabinetmaker who played the cello, and at one time was also a member of the local district council.

Arnold’s musical ability was recognized at an early age, and he was discouraged from playing games, in order to preserve his hands. He went to Heckmondwike Grammar School and began four years of serious musical studies under Charles Stott of Bradford in 1905.

Watkins Shaw, the English musicologist, best known for his edition of Messiah, wrote the following:


Charles Stott, organist of All Saints’ Church, Little Horton Green, Bradford, taught the young Goldsbrough. He was a gifted pianist as well as organist, who had trained at the Leipzig Conservatory (where he once played before Brahms), though he lacked the drive to attain a position worthy of his powers. Goldsbrough always remembered him with gratitude and affection, and when Stott as an old man fell into poverty, he prompted the raising of a fund sufficient to relieve his last months.


Arnold Goldsbrough must have been something of a prodigy, as he became a church organist, aged just 12, in the same year that he started with Stott. In 1909, he enrolled as an external student at London University, but to what extent he completed courses is unknown.

In July 1915, he became an FRCO (a very difficult-to-obtain organ qualification, involving complicated “paperwork”) and, in the same month, he also passed the first part of the MusBac at Durham University. For those who are wondering why he didn’t get called up, a heart condition kept him out of both wars.

His next career move was to become Assistant Organist to Sydney Nicholson at Manchester Cathedral in 1917. In 1920, when Nicholson became organist at Westminster Abbey, Arnold went with him as second assistant organist, and remained there till 1927.

He must certainly have had “most excellent credentials” and been “a player [with] both taste and ability” (which is how he was described in the 1913 Leyland parish magazine, when he became organist there), as he played at the wedding of the Duke of York to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother.

Always keen to learn, Arnold studied composition, double bass and conducting at the Royal College of Music from 1920, for a year, and was later part of the faculty there, as a professor of organ 1924–41.

During the ’20s and ’30s, Goldsbrough held various posts concurrently as an organist (most notably at St Martin-in-the-Fields), taught at Westminster School and succeeded Gustav Holst as Director of Morley College.

The two men were obviously very good friends, as Holst wrote to Arnold’s new wife, Jo, about their forthcoming wedding, in July 1924:


… I am jolly glad that you are going to look after our Arnold. He has always seemed to me to be the sort of chap that could do with a little spoiling.


Described as “a very rare occurrence” in Arnold’s old local newspaper, the Cleckheaton & Spensbrough Guardian, the Goldsbrough wedding took place in Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

I don’t yet know what recordings are going to surface; but here’s Goldsbrough playing continuo – for which he was justly famous – from the series called The History of Music in Sound, issued in the early 1950s.


Purcell – The Fatal Hour

Joan Alexander (soprano – who died on Christmas Day 2010, aged 98), Arnold Goldsbrough (harpsichord), Ambrose Gauntlett (cello).


To be continued.


[Any reminiscences of Arnold, or comments?]

8 comments to Arnold Goldsbrough – Yorkshireman, organist, harpsichordist & conductor Part 1

  • Frederick Appleby

    I was interested to read your article on Arnold Goldsbrough. There isn’t even a Wikipedia Article to his name. I arrived at prep school in Tenbury in 1964, but I only remember that his wife, known only to us as Mrs Goldsbrough, used to come and play her viola in the school orchestra. Many years later I bought a copy of Schmieder’s Bach Werke Verzeichnis inscribed “Arnold Goldsbrough, Tenbury Wells.” So if he lived in Tenbury Wells and died on 14th December that year, then I missed meeting him by a whisker. I look forward to Part 2 of your article.

    • Margaret Menadue nee Stott

      In early 1918 Arnold Goldsbrough was one of the assistant organists to Dr. Nicholson at Westminster Abbey and met my grandfather Charlie Stott in Cecil Avenue Bradford in his army uniform. He said something to the effect “Now Charlie we can’t have you going about like that in puttees. I’ll see what I can do.”
      He put in a word in the right place and Charlie was appointed Sergeant Stott, Bandmaster of the Royal Air Force School of Music in Hampstead. This led to him being the first to try out the Air Force March composed by Sir Walford Davies. I have written a book about him and all the musicians he associated with, which you might find interesting.

  • Charlotte Caplan

    Arnold & Jo Goldsbrough were close friends of my parents, Joan and Isador Caplan, and I remember them warmly from many visits in London and Tenbury Wells. My father was legal adviser to and an early Board member of the English Chamber Orchestra (originally the Goldsbrough Orchestra). Arnold’s championship and musical realization of many forgotten works of Purcell and Handel were a huge contribution to British musical heritage and an important influence on the work of Benjamin Britten.

    Isador used to tell the story of a walking trip he and Arnold took in Brittany just after the war (1947?). They stopped at a country inn hoping for a bite of lunch only to be told that the restaurant was closed that day. They were turning away hungry when monsieur le patron called them back … perhaps something could be arranged …?

    It was the day of the local agricultural fair, the first since before the German occupation, and long tables were set up behind the inn for the feast. Seats were found and they enjoyed a splendid meal with many speeches and toasts, including one for “our distinguished friends and fellow agriculturalists (!) from England”. After much wine and Calvados the singing started and the guests were pressed to contribute. Arnold cravenly declined, but Isador gave them several verses of “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” to total incomprehension and great applause. They staggered out around 4:00 PM and promptly fell asleep beside the road. No more hiking that day.

  • Paula Bott

    If Joan Davin-Looby, his daughter, is still alive, last visited in 2011 and still teaching, adjudicating, examining and conducting choirs even then, I have details for her and could try to facilitate contact, should you wish it? I was privileged to have Joan as my Head of Music at my grammar school back in the 70s and would not have gained places at RCM and RAM without her support.
    Kind regards.

  • Grant Vicat

    Wonderful to see this great man recognised. For years I have had a superb 78 [rpm] recording of Goldsbrough playing Bach Toccata and Fugue in D min BWV 565 – what a shame this appears to be his only Bach organ disc. He also recorded Handel Minuet from Berenice. That is all I have found in 45 years.

  • In 1969/1970 I had the honour to study with dr. Thurston Dart, himself a former pupil of Arnold Goldbrough. Dr. Dart allways spoke with affection and gratitude about Arnold Goldsbrough, who must have been a great teacher and a great musician.

    prof. dr. Hans van Dijk, Belgium
    harpsichordist, organist, conductor
    emeritus in musicology

  • J Watson

    Joan Davin-Looby was a professional opera singer of repute. She spoke many times of Arnold Goldsbrough and of performing with his orchestra. A fine contralto, Joan studied and sang at la Fenice and also recorded for many years with Radio Eirean. After her marriage she was Head of Music at Croydon High School for girls (GPDST), where a teenage Jacqueline du Pre was one of her pupils, and latterly Joan taught also at Wimbledon High. After retirement Joan taught voice privately and conducted chamber groups and choirs.

  • Dr. J. Smallcombe

    I note that ‘you wonder what records might surface’- I have a DECCA K 532 12″ record of “Lead Kindly Light” by the Choir & Strings Orchestra conducted by Arnold Goldsbrough recorded in the crypt of St. Martin in the fields. On the reverse side is “The day thou gavest Lord is ended”. I wondered if you were aware of this record? Regards Dr. Jeff Smallcombe

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