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William Sterndale Bennett

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Biography

Born: April 13, 1816; Sheffield, Yorkshire, England   Died: February 1, 1875; London, England  
A child prodigy as a singer, violinist, and pianist, William Sterndale Bennett grew up to become the leading English Romantic composer before Parry and Stanford. Before he turned ten, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music; there he soloed in a Dussek concerto and sang in a Mozart opera before he was 15, but his teachers chided him for his weak efforts in composition. He decided there might be more to his career than becoming a brilliant Read more pianist when he began studying composition with the academy's new director, Cipriani "Little Chip" Potter. In short order -- in 1832 and 1833 -- he was turning heads with his new symphony and piano concerto; the latter work he was commanded to perform for the king and queen, and it paved the way for his friendship with the highly impressed Felix Mendelssohn.

From his late teens into his early twenties, Bennett wrote music at a faster rate than he ever would again, large orchestral works as well as modest songs and piano pieces. He also worked as a concert pianist, and played violin and viola in orchestras. Eventually he paid a long visit to Germany, where he was welcomed into Mendelssohn's circle and befriended Schumann; both of the better-known Germans greatly admired Bennett's music. On this visit, Bennett performed several of his works, and quickly developed a significant German reputation.

He returned to London to teach at the Royal Academy; this activity seemed to stifle his creative abilities, and his catalog after he began teaching is littered with incomplete works, or items delivered years late to the publisher. He was more successful as a performer, overseeing a long-running series of chamber concerts and, in 1849, founding England's Bach Society, through which he conducted the first English performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1854. For some reason, in 1853 he turned down an appointment to conduct a season of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, but in 1855 he did agree to take over London's Philharmonic Society, while at about the same time becoming a music professor at Cambridge.

In 1858, the same year he finally resigned from the Royal Academy, he began conducting the Leeds Festival. He returned to the RAM as an administrator in 1866, which made him too busy to continue with the Philharmonic. Several honors followed, including knighthood in 1871. During the 1860s he managed to compose more assiduously, writing odes for Leeds and a symphony, among other works. Read less

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