Eleanor Rigby – the final chord resolved

Eleanor Rigby – the final chord resolved


norman lebrecht

December 25, 2011

The Guardian‘s obituary of John Gardner failed to mention his greatest claim to fame – that, as first reported here, he contributed the E minor chord that closed Paul McCartney’s ambitious song, Eleanor Rigby. All three of Gardner’s children have since confirmed the episode to me.

Lucy Gardner writes: My father certainly did teach Paul M in the 1960s; I can remember being incredibly excited when he told us the news. Paul M also mentioned it in a newspaper article at the time. My father told me that he had composed the last chord, as my sister states, but my understanding from the way he spoke about it was that by this he meant the last two bars, the notes of which essentially form a broken chord.

Down the years, I have repeatedly tried to impress on politicians that the economic success of British pop was founded on low-key state investment in the classical skills that few pop musicians ever bother to acquire. Gardner was a modest classical composer and teacher. He was introduced to McCartney by Jane Asher’s mother when the singer-songwriter needed to upgrade his technical knowledge and he happened to be around when Paul got stuck on a song.

Without Gardner, Eleanor Rigby might never have sounded the way it does, achieving a formal perfection. So the next time a philistine politician grudges cash for the arts, just play the song.

John Gardner



  • Deirdre O'Leary says:

    Hmm. I’ve was just saying to my mother that, in my experience, jazz, pop and trad musicians project onto classical musicians a superior attitude. I never come across these snooty classical musicians myself. Most classical players I know admire jazzers and trad players for their energy and creativity, their easiness with improvising and creating their own style.

    I get the opposite impression from your article above, Norman. Is that a false impression? Are you actually suggesting that the Beatles were just a product of a lack of funding for real music?

  • Tommy says:

    “Without Gardner, Eleanor Rigby might never have sounded the way it does, achieving a formal perfection.”

    Yes because without those two whole bars, it’s merely, er, a great pop song. And who’s to say he wouldn’t have worked it out eventually anyway.

    I know it’s fashionable to pretend that these oiky pop types had no real talent. But to suggest that the Beatles would’ve been nothing without state-funded musicians is a bit silly – surely, in education, everyone benefitted. But all the musicians the Beatles employed for their records were paid (and, if you read the books on the subject, we’re often miserable, unaccommodating, unenthusiastic and difficult). You could say that much of the sound of the Beatles was thanks to George Martin, but that ignores the Beatles’ own extraordinary imagination – they came up with all the ideas and needed Martin to realise them.

    Honestly, Norman, sometimes you do rather labour a point!

    And which state funded musicians advised them before they became the biggest band on the planet in the early 60s? Or are you just thinking about their later period?

  • David says:

    In addition to Tommy’s point, it is difficult to see what genuine ‘classical expertise’ is really brought to bear on the last ‘chord’ – whether or not that actually is intended to mean the last two bars. Perfect as they are, the closing bars are virtually identical to what we have already heard several times in the rest of the song (eg after the words “where do they all come from?”). Anyone capable of writing the rest of this song would clearly be capable of finishing it off.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Do any of you remember the patronising and portentous review of the Beatles music written by the music critic of The Sunday Times. Talking about minor fifths or something. The Beatles response was eh?