Sheffield composer under the spotlight

The life of a Sheffield-born composer who played a hugely influential role in the nation's musical life is to be celebrated to mark 200 years since his birth.

Thursday, 17th March 2016, 7:00 am

William Sterndale Bennett was a principal of the Royal Academy of Music, founded what is now the London Bach Choir, and is buried at Westminster Abbey.

During his lifetime, the pianist and violinist composed five symphonies, three concertos, songs and solo pieces, and was knighted by Queen Victoria.

In Sheffield, the main celebration will be a concert on April 16 at Ecclesall Parish Church, led by the Sterndale Singers and introduced by his great-great grandson Barry Sterndale-Bennett, while performances, lectures and recitals are also set to take place around the country.

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In addition, Bennett has been picked as a Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’ next month.

Born on April 13, 1816, on Howard Street in the city centre, Bennett was brought up in Cambridge by his grandfather, as by his third birthday both his parents had died.

Aged eight, he became a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, and two years later he was accepted to the Royal Academy where he studied violin, piano and composition.

He later spent several periods in Germany, winning the friendship of Robert Schumann, and put on a series of concerts at the Hanover Rooms in London, introducing audiences to a wide variety of chamber music.

In 1856 he became Professor of Music at Cambridge University, and less than 10 years later was appointed the Royal Academy’s principal.

He enhanced the reputation and popularity of the institution and ensured its financial stability.

Bennett died in 1875 and, following a lavish funeral, was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In Sheffield there is a memorial in the Cathedral and a more modest plaque on the front of the Novotel on Arundel Gate, close to his birthplace.

Many of his descendants became professional musicians or performers.

The church concert starts at 7.30pm.

Judith Adam, of the Sterndale Singers, said: “We hope this concert will be a fitting tribute to this fine composer and will introduce, or reintroduce, our audience to his music.”