WSB Brief Life

Origins
• Born into the heart of the English choral tradition
• Father was organist of Sheffield Parish Church (now the Cathedral)
• Chorister King’s Cambridge

RAM
• Grounded in Bach, Scarlatti and Mozart (his mentor)

Leipzig
• Looked to new experiences in Europe
• Most prolific period as a composer-pianist
• Took Leipzig by storm
• Much admired by Mendelssohn and Schumann
• Beacon of hope for English music
• Diaries are like a persistent serial blogger of today

Return to England
• Loss of fecundity as a composer attributed to difficult transition from artistic freedom in Germany to indifference and ‘stagnant swamp’ (Betjeman) in England. Highly critical of his own efforts. Led to loss of nerve
• Like Rossini did not only write music compulsively all his life
• Like Liszt turned to some conducting
• Restless portfolio career
• Ceaseless round of teaching
• Classical Chamber Concerts
• Introduced Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim and Jenny Lind to English public
• At centre of innumerable networks
• 1851 and 1862 Exhibitions

Philharmonic Society
• Platform to introduce his own works and show off his skills as a pianist
• Succeeded Wagner in 1856 as conductor for 10 years
• Mainstay during troubled times
• First Gold medal recipient 1871

Bach revival
• Founded Bach Society 1849
• Produced first English performance of St Matthew Passion 1854

Educator
• Championed female musical education. Founding director Queens College 1848 and Bedford College 1849
• Professor of Music Cambridge 1856-75
• Longstanding professor at RAM and later principal 1866-75 where he saved institution from extinction
• Taught Sullivan, Parry, Matthay, Bache
• Scholarship and Prize in his name still awarded

Compositions
• Extant: 6 piano concertos, 2 symphonies, 5 overtures, 5 chamber works, 2 sets songs and partsongs, anthems and several solo piano work. 130 works in all about a quarter now recorded

Death and aftermath
• Burial Westminster Abbey
• Queen’s senior musical knight (Betjeman)
• Acknowledged head of English music
• Stanford heartfelt tribute at centenary in 1916
• Millais portrait

Then:
• relegated like many others to the footnotes of musical history as Victorian values pushed aside
• Reassessed more kindly a century later
• A musician one can now relate to in 21st century

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