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Sir William Sterndale Bennett.

Sir William Sterndale Bennett (13 April 1816 – 1 February 1875) was an English composer and pianist.



Bennett was born in Sheffield, the son of Robert Bennett, an organist. Having lost his father at an early age, he was brought up in Cambridge by his grandfather, from whom he received his first musical education. He entered the choir of King's College chapel in 1824. In 1826 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, and remained a pupil of that institution for the next ten years, studying pianoforte under W. H. Holmes and Cipriani Potter, and composition under Charles Lucas and William Crotch. It was during this time that he wrote several of his most appreciated works, in which may be traced influences of the contemporary movement of music in Germany, which country he frequently visited during the years 1836-1842. At one of the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Düsseldorf he made the personal acquaintance of Mendelssohn, and soon afterwards renewed it at Leipzig, where the talented young Englishman was welcomed by the leading musicians of the rising generation. At one of the celebrated Gewandhaus concerts he played his third piano concerto, which was received enthusiastically. A laudatory account of the event was written by Robert Schumann, who pronounced Bennett to be the most musikalisch of all Englishmen, and an angel of a musician (copying Pope Gregory I's pun on Angli and Angeli).

But it was Mendelssohn's influence that dominated Bennett's mode of utterance. A good example of this may be studied in Bennett's Capriccio in D minor. His great success on the continent established his position on his return to England. In 1834 he was elected organist of St Anne's Chapel (now church), Wandsworth. In this year he composed his Overture to Parisina, and his Concerto in C minor, modelled on Mozart. An unpublished Concerto in F minor, and the Overture to The Naiads, impressed the firm of Broadwood and Sons so favourably in 1836 that they offered the composer a year in Leipzig, where the Naiads Overture was performed at a Gewandhaus concert on 13 February 1837. Bennett visited Leipzig a second time in 1840-1841, when he composed his Caprice in E for pianoforte and orchestra and his overture Die Waldnymphe (The Wood Nymphs).

He settled in London, devoting himself chiefly to practical teaching. In 1844 he married Mary Anne, daughter of Captain James Wood, R.N. He was made Professor of Music, Cambridge University in 1856,[1] the year in which he was engaged as permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society. This latter post he held until 1866, when he became principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

Owing to his professional duties, his latter years were not creatively fertile, and what he then wrote was scarcely equal to the productions of his youth. The principal charm of Bennett's compositions (not to mention his absolute mastery of the musical form) consists in the tenderness of their conception, rising occasionally to sweetest lyrical intensity.

Except for opera, Bennett tried his hand at almost all the different forms of vocal and instrumental writing. His best works include piano music (his three sketches, The Lake, The Millstream and The Fountain, and his third piano concerto); orchestral music (his Symphony in G minor, and his overture The Naiads); and vocal music (his cantata The May Queen, written for the inaugural Leeds Festival in 1858). For the Golden Jubilee of the Philharmonic Society he wrote the overture Paradise and the Peri in 1862. He also wrote a sacred cantata, The Woman of Samaria, first performed at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival in 1867.

In 1870 the University of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.C.L. A year later he was knighted, and in 1872 he received a public testimonial before a large audience at St James's Hall, London, the money subscribed being devoted to the foundation of a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Shortly before his death he produced a sonata called The Maid of Orleans, an elaborate piece of programme-music based on Schiller's tragedy. He died at his house in St John's Wood, London.

Bennett has an extensive musical family, which has continued long after his passing. He is the great great Grandfather of Fightstar (And formerly Busted) frontman Charlie Simpson.

List of principal works


Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 1 (1832)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat, Op. 4 (1833)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 9 (1834)
Piano Concerto in F minor (1836)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 19 (1838)
Piano Concerto (Concert-Stuck), A minor (1841-3)
Parisina (Overture), Op. 3 (1835)
The Naiads (Overture), Op. 15 (1836)
Die Waldnymphe (Overture), Op. 20 (1838)
Paradise and the Peri (Fantasy Overture), Op. 42 (1862)
Symphony in G minor, Op. 43 (1864, revised 1867) (commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society[2])


Three Musical Sketches, Op. 10 (1836)
Three Impromptus, Op. 12 (1836)
Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 13 (1837)
Three Romances, Op. 14 (1836-7)
Fantasie in A major, Op. 16 (1837)
Suite de Pieces, Op. 24 (1841)
Four Pieces for piano, Op. 28
Sonata, 'The Maid of Orleans', Op. 46 (1869-73)


Sextet for piano and strings in F sharp minor, Op. 8 (1835)
Chamber Trio for piano, violin and cello, Op. 26 (1839)
Sonata Duo, cello & piano, Op. 31 (1852)

Choral Works:

The May Queen (A Pastoral), Op. 39 (1858)
The Woman of Samaria (Sacred Cantata), Op. 44 (1867-8)


Six Songs: First Set, Op. 23 (1834-42)
Six Songs: Second Set, Op. 35 (1837-44)

External links


Simple English

Sir William Sterndale Bennett (born Sheffield, 13 April 1816; died London, 1 February 1875) was a distinguished English composer of the Romantic period.


Early life

Bennett's father Robert Bennett, was organist of what is now Sheffield Cathedral. At the age of three he was an orphan, so he was brought up by his grandfather in Cambridge. At the age of seven he became a chorister at King's College Chapel Choir. In 1826 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he spent ten years studying. His piano teachers were W. H. Holmes, Dr William Crotch and later Cipriani Potter

In 1833 he was made organist of St Anne's Church, Wandsworth and in that same year met Felix Mendelssohn who invited him to Germany. He went there four times, making long tours. He was welcomed and admired by famous musicians including Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. Schumann later dedicated his Symphonic Studies to Bennett. He also often performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.


Although he knew the works of Bach and Mozart very well, many of his compositions were clearly influenced by Mendelssohn. As well as being known as one of Europe's most brilliant pianists, his music was well known for its new ideas, excitement and poetic beauty. His compositions include four overtures, six piano concertos, four symphomies, a chamber trio, sextet, several piano works and two song cycles to be followed later in life by a cello duo, a late Symphony in G minor, a Cantata The May Queen for the opening of Leeds Town Hall in 1858, an oratorio The Woman of Samaria for the 1867 Birmingham Triennial Music Festival. Of his 80 published compositions, nearly half are now available on CD, the most popular being the Overture The Naiades Op 15, the Chamber Trio Op 26 and the Piano concerto No 4 in F minor Op 19.

Later life

From 1844 for fifteen years he organized the popular Chamber Music Concerts in the Queen's Concert Rooms, Hanover Square in London introducing a number of famous soloists to the British public. In 1848 he became a founding Director of Queen's College London and in the following year of Bedford College, now part of London University. In this way he helped women to get equal opportunity in education.

In 1849 he formed the Bach Society (later to be reformed as the Bach Choir) in London to produce and conduct the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion on 6 April 1854.

In 1856 he succeeded Wagner as conductor of the Philharmonic Society Orchestra. He was the first person to be given their Gold Medal. In 1866 he was chosen to be Professor of Music at Cambridge University having got an MA and Mus Doc. From 1866 until his death he was Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. A scholarship and Prize in his name continues to be awarded to this day In 1870 Oxford University gave him an Hon DCL and a year later he was knighted.

He died on 1st February 1875 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Several of his family later became well-known in music and theatre. Bennett left a large music library which is now at the Bodleian Library in collaboration with his great-great-grandson Barry Sterndale-Bennett (b 1939) which continues to be available for research purposes.


See: The Life of Sterndale Bennett by JR Sterndale Bennett (Cambridge University Press 1907) and William Sterndale Bennett- a Descriptive Thematic Catalogue by Rosemary Williamson (Clarendon Press 1996)

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