Bennett, Sir William Sterndale

1816-1875

English composer and pianist of great ability. He came from a musical family, his father being a musician and his father an organist and a song composer. When he was three years old, his father died and his education was carried on by his grandfather. At the age of eight he entered the choir of King's College Chapel. Cambridge, where he showed so much musical ability, that after two years he was sent to study at the Royal Academy of Music. Here he showed great talent, playing a concerto at a concert at the age of twelve and composing a concerto of his own at the age of sixteen. In 1834, at the age of eighteen, he was elected organist of St. Anne's Chapel, Wandsworth. In 1836 the firm of Broadwood, piano-makers, were so much impressed by Bennett's ability as a composer, that they offered to pay his expenses for a year in Leipsic, so that he might have the advantage of study and the musical environment. Beside the year of study he had the great benefit of the friendship of Mendelssohn and Schumann. In 1840 he returned to Leipsic for another year's study. In 1843 he was unsuccessful as a candidate for the post of professor of music at Edinburgh University. From 1843 to 1856 he was giving concerts in London and in 1849 he founded the London Bach Society. He conducted the Philharmonic concerts from 1856 to 1866 and the Leeds Musical Festival in 1858. In 1856 he was made permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society and   was also elected professor of music at the University of Cambridge, from which he received the degree of Doctor of Music, and in 1867 the degree of M.A. In 1866 he resigned as conductor of the Philharmonic Society to become principal of the Royal Academy of Music. The honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred upon him in 1870 by the University of Oxford, and in 1871 he was knighted. He died after a very short illness, in 1865, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. Bennett has been called the first English composer of great genius since Purcell. His best known works are the Concerto in F minor; the piano sextette; the overture, The Naiads; the sonata, The Maid of Orleans; the oratorio, The Woman of Samaria; and the cantata, The May Queen. Beside these he wrote a large number of piano pieces, orchestral music, partsongs, anthems, and songs. While Bennett cannot be called a great genius he is entitled to a high rank on account of the artistic finish and individuality of his work, which is always refined and delicate. His piano music, which is very difficult from a technical standpoint, while not popular, is considered of great value for study and appeals strongly to individuals. Bennett may be said to be a musician's composer. He was, beside, a brilliant pianist and a thorough and popular teacher.