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William Sterndale Bennett

William Sterndale Bennett was born on 13th April 1816 in Sheffield and died on 1st February 1875 in London.


He came from a musical family, notably his father was organist of Sheffield Parish Church. Orphaned young, he became a chorister at King's College, Cambridge at the age of eight and two years later entered the Royal Academy of Music, where at seventeen years old Mendelssohn found him and, much impressed by his talents, invited him to Leipzig in Germany "not as my pupil but as my friend". There he composed, performed or conducted at the Gewandhaus. Schumann wrote enthusiastically about him and dedicated to him his Etudes Symphoniques.

In later life he did not fulfull his early promise as a composer mainly due to the pressure of teaching and concert giving. He was appointed conductor of the (now Royal) Philharmonic Society, Professor of Music at Cambridge and from 1866 Principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

Of his 80 published works, many of which are now on CD, the most popular are the Sextett Op 9, the Overture The Naiades Op 15, the 4th Piano Concerto in F Minor Op 19, the Caprice in E Op 22, the Chamber Trio Op 26, two Piano sonatas Ops13 & 46, two song cycles Ops 23 & 35 and the late Symphony in G minor Op 43.

Choral works include the cantata May Queen Op 39 for the opening of the Leeds Town Hall in 1858 and the oratorio The Woman of Samaria Op 44, written for the Birmingham Festival in 1867, but perhaps his most important contribution here was his founding and conducting of the Bach Society (now the Bach Choir in London) to produce the first English performance and edition of Bach's St Matthew Passion in 1854.

He was knighted in 1871 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.