Story: Jenner, Ernest Albert Frederick

Page 1 - Biography

Jenner, Ernest Albert Frederick

1892–1971

Pianist, music teacher

This biography was written by David Sell and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Ernest Albert Frederick Jenner was born at Chatham, Kent, England, on 8 August 1892, the youngest of three children of Alice Catherine Bellamy and her husband, Thomas Henry Jenner, a shipwright. Ernest revealed his musical talents early, making good progress in piano and harmony from the age of seven. Winning a scholarship to Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, Rochester, in 1905, he continued to develop his musical interests as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, London, and as an assistant organist at the Church of St Mary-the-Virgin, Chatham. Although he wished to take up music professionally, he was sent by his parents to Goldsmiths' Training College at the University of London.

On 7 July 1915, at Wanborough, Surrey, Jenner married Agnes Lavinia Marriott, a teacher; they were to have five daughters and three sons. He worked as a general teacher at Bexley for seven years before his musical ambitions prevailed. In the early 1920s he was a full-time student at the Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School, studying under York Bowen. He financed his studies by working as a pianist in theatre orchestras, conducting and teaching. During this period he also made a number of appearances as a solo pianist at Queen's Hall, London, performing under such celebrated conductors as Henry Wood, Hamilton Harty and Eugene Goossens. In 1925 he studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and was appointed a sub-professor of pianoforte there the following year.

By 1928 Ernest Jenner's growing family led him to seek more stable employment, and he applied for positions in Manchester, Coventry and as lecturer in music at the Teachers' Training College, Wellington, New Zealand. Successful in all three applications, he accepted the challenge of working in a new country. Jenner was one of four English musicians appointed to New Zealand teachers' training colleges in 1927–28, following the appointment in 1925 of E. Douglas Tayler as supervisor of music in schools for the New Zealand Department of Education.

The onset of economic depression, however, led to the closure of the Wellington training college in 1932. Government employment policy at the time gave preference to married men with children, and the following year Jenner was offered a position at Christchurch Teachers' Training College; his predecessor there, T. Vernon Griffiths, who was single, became music master at King Edward Technical College, Dunedin. Jenner was to remain at Christchurch Teachers' Training College until his retirement in 1954.

As a pianist, Jenner came to New Zealand with a prodigious technique, capable of coping with the demands of contemporary music. He was an adventurous musician with a deeply sensitive artistry, and quickly gained a reputation as a fine recitalist and as a chamber music and concerto pianist. Although his duties at the training college absorbed most of his time, Jenner continued to perform frequently. His musical interests remained wide and varied, and he also conducted, adjudicated and composed. His compositions for piano and voices, such as 'La belle dame sans merci' and 'The garden of the Hesperides', are well crafted, and genuinely and intensely expressive.

During his brief stay in Wellington Jenner had been choirmaster at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. In Christchurch he was choirmaster at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, and in the late 1930s took over the direction of the ailing Royal Christchurch Musical Society; he was also involved with the Liederkränzchen, an all-women choir formed in 1934. For many years he was music critic for the Christchurch Press.

Ernest Jenner's main contribution as a music teacher was in the field of sight-singing. He used the tonic sol-fa and Paris-Chévé time-name systems, and devised simple methods to aid classroom teaching. He wrote a number of articles and books on the theory and practice of music tuition, compiled the 1943 edition of The dominion song book for primary schools, and wrote a church music course for Catholic schools. In 1931 he had begun regular radio broadcasts to schools, an innovation pioneered by Tayler in 1927, and he continued to present these until 1956. Although directed at children, they attracted a wide adult audience. In 1954 he performed with the National Orchestra of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service.

In retirement Jenner devoted more time to his own music, and also took up landscape painting and hiking. Determined, and totally committed to whatever he did, he was nevertheless a reticent figure and did not seek honours or a high personal profile. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1950 and was made an MBE in 1962. After his wife's death in 1966, his health steadily deteriorated, and he died in Christchurch on 7 April 1971. He was survived by four daughters and two sons. A gifted teacher, performer and broadcaster, Ernest Jenner possessed an overwhelming passion for music, and, alongside Griffiths, made an outstanding contribution to the development of music education in New Zealand.