Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Adam Horner (1899–1973)

by V. A. Edgeloe

This article was published:

John Adam Horner (1899-1973), organist, was born on 18 October 1899 at Steps, Lanarkshire, Scotland, son of William Horner, commercial clerk, and his wife Jeanie Pollack, née Adam. Educated mainly in northern England, John began to study accountancy. By the age of 16 he was organist of St Andrew's Episcopal Church, Milngavie, near Glasgow. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, was commissioned (1918) in the Royal Air Force as an observer and served on the Italian front before being demobilized in January 1919. Intent on a professional career in classical music, he qualified as a licentiate (1919) of the Royal Academy of Music and a fellow (1923) of the Royal College of Organists. In the mid-1920s he was engaged as organist and choirmaster at Woodlands Church, Glasgow, as organist with the Scottish Orchestra Company and as instructor of the University of Glasgow's orchestral society. While teaching organ and pianoforte at the Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music, he was appointed in 1927 to the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide.

Arriving in South Australia in February 1928, Horner proved to be an organist and teacher of the highest quality. At St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Adelaide, on 10 December that year he married Marjorie Laura Ball, a musician. In 1929 he began teaching music theory at the conservatorium and commenced a series of part-time appointments as organist and choirmaster in churches: St Peter's, Glenelg (for three years), St Augustine's, Unley (three years), where he composed a set of chimes for the carillon, and Stow Memorial Church, Adelaide (for twelve years). Throughout the winter months of the 1930s he gave weekly public recitals which ranked him as one of the finest organists in Australia. He was prominent in the establishment and leadership of the Lydian Singers (1935) and the Stow Music Club. With John Bishop, he arranged musical fêtes and boat trips on the River Torrens, leading his students in the singing of madrigals. He belonged to the Savage Club.

During World War II Horner served (1941-45) in Australia with the Administrative and Special Duties Branch of the Royal Australian Air Force and rose to temporary squadron leader. Back at the conservatorium, from 1947 he undertook a heavy load of theoretical teaching for the bachelor of music degree. He was music critic (c.1950-72) for the Advertiser, attracting acclaim for articles that embodied subtle and penetrating musicianship, wit and humour, and a readiness to indicate shortcomings in interpretation or performance.

In the closing years of his career Horner was president of the State division of the Arts Council of Australia, music adviser to the Adelaide Festival of Arts, and South Australian delegate (1958) to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization conference which led to the foundation (1965) of the Australian Society for Music Education. On Bishop's death in 1964, Horner became acting-director of the conservatorium and was elected dean of the faculty of music. He retired in 1966. In 1970 he was appointed O.B.E. Survived by his wife and their adopted son, he died on 10 October 1973 at Toorak Gardens and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hewlett, Cause to Rejoice (Adel, 1983)
  • A. D. McCredie (ed), From Colonel Light into the Foothills (Adel, 1989)
  • Arts Council of Australia, Quarterly Bulletin, 4, Dec 1965
  • Australian Journal of Music Education, Apr 1974
  • Register (Adelaide), 6 Feb 1928
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 7 Nov 1929
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 Oct 1973
  • J. Glennon, ABC radio interview with Horner, 24 Aug 1969 (transcript, State Library of South Australia)
  • newsclippings (University of Adelaide)
  • private information.

Citation details

V. A. Edgeloe, 'Horner, John Adam (1899–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 October, 1899
Steps, Lanarkshire, Scotland


10 October, 1973 (aged 73)
Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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