Sir William Sterndale Bennett

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Bennett, Sir William Sterndale

Bennett, Sir William Sterndale, distinguished English pianist, conductor, and composer; b. Sheffield, April 13, 1816; d. London, Feb. 1, 1875. His father, Robert Bennett, an organist, died when he was a child, and he was then placed in the care of his grandfather, John Bennett, who was also a musician. At the age of eight he was admitted to the choir of King’s Coll. Chapel, Cambridge, and at ten he became a pupil at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied theory with Charles Lucas and piano with William Henry Holmes, and played violin in the academy orch. under Cipriani Potter; he later studied music theory there with William Crotch. Soon he began to compose; he was 16 years old when he was the soloist in the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in Cambridge on Nov. 28, 1832. In 1836 he made an extensive visit to Leipzig, where he became a close friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann; also appeared as a pianist and conductor of his own works with the Gewandhaus Orch. there. He continued to compose industriously, and played his Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Gewandhaus Orch. in Leipzig on Jan. 17, 1839. He visited Germany again in 1841–42. From 1843 to 1856 he gave a series of chamber music concerts in London; in 1849 he founded the Bach Soc. From 1856 to 1866 he conducted the Phil. Soc. of London; concurrently he held the post of prof. of music at the Univ. of Cambridge; in 1866 he assumed the position of principal of the Royal Academy of Music. His reputation as a composer grew; Mendelssohn and Schumann were eloquent in praising his works. He amassed honors: in 1856 he received the honorary degree of D.Mus. from the Univ. of Cambridge, which also conferred on him the degree of M.A. in 1867; he received the degree of D.C.L. from the Univ. of Oxford in 1870; in a culmination of these honors, he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1871. The final honor was his burial in Westminster Abbey.

Works

ORCH: Sym. No. 1, in E-flat major (London, June 16, 1832); Piano Concerto No. 1, in D minor, op.l (Cambridge, Nov. 28, 1832); Sym. No. 2, in D minor (1832–33); The Tempest, overture (1832); Parisina, overture, op.3 (London, March 1835); Piano Concerto No. 2, in E-flat major, op.4 (1833; London, May 24, 1834); Overture in D minor (1833); Sym. No. 4, in A major (1833-34; London, Jan. 5, 1835); The Merry Wives of Windsor, overture (1834); Piano Concerto No. 3, in C minor, op.9 (1834; London, May 16, 1835; the original slow movement was rejected by the composer and replaced by a Romanza; the Adagio in G minor for Piano and Orch. was first perf. in Manchester on June 18, 1981); Sym. No. 5, in G minor (1835; London, Feb. 8, 1836); Piano Concerto No. 4, in F minor (London, July 1, 1836; rev. 1838; Leipzig, Jan. 17, 1839); The Naiads, overture, op.15 (1836; London, Jan. 25, 1837); The Wood Nymphs, overture, op.20 (1838; Leipzig, Jan. 24, 1839); Caprice in E major for Piano and Orch., op.22 (London, May 25, 1838); Concert-Stuck in A major for Piano and Orch. (1841–43; London, June 5, 1843); Marie du Bois, overture (1843; rev. 1844; London, June 25, 1845); Paradise and the Peri, fantasia-overture, op.42 (London, July 14, 1862); Sym. No. 6, in G minor, op.43 (London, June 27, 1864). CHAMBER: String Quartet; Piano Sonata in A-flat major, op.46, known as The Maid of Orleans (1873); numerous piano pieces; pedagogical works for piano. VOCAL: Zion, oratorio (1839); The May Queen, op.39, pastoral for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (Leeds Festival, Sept. 8, 1858); Ode for the Opening of the International Exhibition, op.40 (London, May 1, 1862); Ode on the Installation of the Duke of Devonshire (Cambridge, May 10, 1862); The Woman of Samaria, cantata, op.44 (Birmingham Festival, Aug. 28, 1867); also music to Sophocles’ Ajax (1872?); anthems; songs.

Bibliography

J.R. Sterndale Bennett, The Life of W. S. B. (Cambridge, 1907); R. Williamson, W. S. B.: A Descriptive Thematic Catalog (Oxford, 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Bennett, (Sir) William Sterndale (b Sheffield, 1816; d London, 1875). Eng. composer, pianist, and teacher. Chorister at King's, Cambridge, at 7 and went 2 years later to newly founded RAM in London. Learned vn., pf., and comp. (with Crotch). Later was taught by Cipriani Potter. A pf. conc. written when he was 16 was heard a year later by Mendelssohn, who invited him to Ger. For 3 more years stayed at the RAM, composing 5 syms. and 3 more pf. concs. In one of these was soloist at a Phil. Soc. concert at the age of 19. In 1836 visited Leipzig where he became a friend of Schumann, who praised his work highly. Played his own concs. at Gewandhaus concerts. After marriage in 1844, career restricted to Eng., where he took on several demanding executive and admin. duties such as cond. of Phil. Soc. (1856–66), founder of Bach Soc., and, also in 1856, prof. of mus., Cambridge Univ. Cond. f. Eng. p. of J. S. Bach's St Matthew Passion, 1854. In 1866 became prin., RAM. Knighted 1871.

The reasons for Schumann's perhaps extravagant praise are now a little easier to judge, since some of Sterndale Bennett's music has been recorded. Undoubtedly his powers as a composer were lessened by the load of official work he undertook. In his lifetime his most popular works were the pastoral cantata The May Queen (Leeds Fest. 1858) and the oratorio The Woman of Samaria (Birmingham Fest. 1867). Other works incl. ov. The Naiads. Schumann's Symphonic Studies are ded. to him.

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Sir William Sterndale Bennett, 1816–75, English musician. Bennett was a friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann, both of whom influenced his work. Besides composing, he was active as a pianist and conductor. He founded the Bach Society and in 1854 gave the first public British performance of the St. Matthew Passion. Bennett's compositions include a symphony, four piano concertos, and much solo piano music.