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Rainbow Collection

Bernarr Joseph George Rainbow was born in Battersea, London, on 2 October 1914 and died at Esher on 17 March 1998. His grandfather was a member of the Royal Household at Sandringham; his father was a cabinet-maker at Buckingham Palace; and finally Curator of Pictures at Hampton Court, where the family moved in 1931.

Bernarr went to Rutlish School, Merton, and held various posts as a church organist whilst still a schoolboy. He then attended Trinity College of Music part-time whilst working in the Map Branch of H. M. Land Registry, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. 

The war interrupted his studies and he spent four years in the army serving in North Africa and Italy. Soon after his return he became Organist and Choirmaster of All Saints Parish Church, High Wycombe and then the first Music Master to be appointed at the Royal Grammar School.

He married Olive Still in 1941 and in 1946 he started the influential High Wycombe Festival. As a conductor, performer and entrepreneur, he affected the musical life of the entire region.

Rainbow's appointment in 1952 as Director of Music at the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea, the Church of England teacher training establishment, brought him new opportunities and it was here that he began his research. In addition to his music diplomas he gained three post-graduate degrees from the University of Leicester - the M. Ed (1964); Ph. D (1968); and that university’s first D. Lit. (1992). From 1973-9 he was Head of the School of Music, Kingston Polytechnic (now University), and founded the Curwen Institute in 1978. 

Rainbow was made an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College of Music in 1995 and in 1996 he set up the Bernarr Rainbow Trust with Peter Dickinson. Today the Trust continues to support musical projects, involving training for young people, performance and research. It has also supported the publication and republication of writings by Rainbow.

From the late 1960s onwards Rainbow was recognised as a leading authority in his field. Throughout his career he produced texts that were both practical and scholarly, including the work Music in educational thought and practice, which has been used as a standard text in music education courses in many parts of the world.

Rainbow was a charismatic personality and an inspiring lecturer, admired by both colleagues and students. He was passionate about the history of English church music and all aspects of music education over several centuries. Rainbow advocated traditional methods of music education, but also valued new approaches.

His books and articles embodied his enthusiasms and beliefs for the benefit of music teachers and policy makers. No other figure in music education has received such lavish documentary treatment covering such a remarkable legacy.

The Bernarr Rainbow Archive is at the Library of the Institute of Education, University College London; his family papers are at Hampton Court; and his collection of Christian and Jewish Hymnals and other Liturgical Music is at the Foyle Special Collections Library, King’s College London.

Note: Biographical details kindly supplied by Professor Peter Dickinson, Emeritus Professor, University of London and chair of the Bernarr Rainbow Trust.

See also: Bernarr Rainbow Trust website.

  • Number of items: 686
  • Date range: late 18th to 19th centuries

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