Figure 1.--This painting by J W Childe, dated 1832, shows William Sterndale Bennett aged 16 in the uniform of the Royal College of Music, London. Notice the high ruffled collar, short blue jacket, tight white trousers, and cap.
Sir William Bennett, he never used Sterndale, was a teenage pianist and composer who especially impressed the Mendelssohn--who had himself been a child prodigy. His musical talent was also
closely followed by another friend, Robert Schumann. Bennett was briefly popular as a child prodigy and youthful composer.
He eventually directed his efforts at teaching. He became a Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and later was
made a Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. A painting by J.W. Childe, shows Bennett in 1832at age 16 in the uniform of
the Royal College of Music, London.
The family of William's father was eeply involved with music. His grandfather, John Bennett, was a lay clerk in the Cambridge college choirs of King's, St. John's, and Trinity. William's fatrher, Robert Bennett, was a pupil of Dr. Clarke. He served for many yearsas the organist for the parish church of Sheffield. He also composed songs, non of which were of great success or how much individuality.
William's mother was Elizabeth, the daughter of James Donn, who at the time was curator of the Botanic Gardens at Cambridge. She mairred Robert Bennett in 1812.
Tragically William's mother died May 7, 1818. She was only 27 at the time. William's father remairred, but died onlya few years later on November 3, 1819. As a result he did not really know his parents and was raised by his paternal grandfather.
William Sterndale was his parent's youngest child. He had older sisters.
William was born in Sheffield on April 13, 1816. William was the youngest
child of this marriage as both parents died only a few yeatrs after his birth. His father's second wife took little interest in Robert and Elizabeth's orphan children. William and his older sisters were sent in December 19, 1819 to live with their grandfather in Cambridge. There is no evience of their step mother took any futher interest in them.
The only information we have on William's childhood at this time is the uniform seen here that he wore at the Royal College of Music. The school uniform consisted of a high ruffled collar, short blue jacket, tight white trousers, and cap.
A trather stylish painting by English artist James Warren Childe (1778-1862), shows Bennett in 1832 at age 16 in the uniform of the Royal College of Music, London. We know very little about the artist at this time. He appears to have been primarily a portratist. We note other portraits by Childe with a similar pose to the one shown here for Bennett.
William on February 17, 1824 was accepted into the choir of King's College. His grandfather provided musical education at home. The Rev. F. Hamilton, superintendent of the newly formed Royal Academy of Music, while visiting Cambridge in 1826, heard William play, and was impressed by his talents at such an early age. Believing that William possessed considerable promise, he convinced his grandfather to enroll him in the Academy which he entered on March 7, 1826 at the age of nearly 10 years. This of course meant moving to London and boarding at the Academy. His studies at the Academy first concentrated on the violin. His teachers were Oury and Spagnoletti. It was soon clear, however, that it was the piano for which he was particularly suited. He was turned over to W.H. Holmes to study the piano. Lucas worked with him for composition and harmony. Subsequently he also studied under Cipriani Potter and Crotch, ho had studied under no less a figure than Mozart. Some believe that Crotch was particularly important in helping to develop William's destinctive style. At first despite the quality of instruction, William does not appear to have been a very diligent pupil. After finishing at the Academy, he went to study with Mendelssohn and Schumann in Leipzig.
We did not realize that the Royal College actually had a formal school uniform. We have no information on the school uniform other that the portraiy seen here by Childe. HBC at this time is unsure what age boys attended the school and if there were differences as to the age of the student. We are unsure in fact, just what school William attended. According to the current Royal College of Music, located on Prince Consort Road in London, it was not founded until 1882, after Sir William's death. The current Royal College of Music enjoys an international reputation as a conservatoire where performers, conductors and composers are trained to the highest international standards. This would not seem to be the kind of school which would require a school uniform. The College is located within London's artistic, scientific and cultural center, in South Kensington, next to Imperial College, directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall, near the Royal College of Art and a five minutes walk from the Science, Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums. The College was founded by Edward VII while still Prince of Wales. The College has, as a result, been linked with the Royal family. Its patron is currently Her Majesty The Queen. For 40 years, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was President; in 1993 HRH The Prince of Wales became President.
Sir William Bennett, he never used Sterndale, was a teenage pianist and composer of some importance in the mid-19th century. Bennett was briefly popular as a child prodigy and youthful composer. William's first solo performance that we know of occurred September 6, 1828 when William was 12 years old. He played a concerto of Dussek's at an Academy concert at the Hanover Square Rooms. Also in 1828, William composed his first score, a fairy chorus. While at the Academy, he occassionally sang in the choir at St. Paul's Cathedral. This continued until his voice broke. William on one occasion took the part of Cherubino in a performance of Mozart's 'Nozze di Figaro' at the King's Theatre (December 11, 1830) given by the pupils of the Academy. The attempt is the only one on known with a boy's singing the part. It does not seem, however, to have been very successful. One source indivates that a contemporary newspaper reported, "Cherubino, personated by a little boy, was in every way a blot in the piece. Had the memory of the audience not supplied the deficiency, the dramatic effect of the opera must have been utterly demolished." In 1831 Bennett began to study with Crotch, a master who was not particularly renowned for his traching. William, however, made consideranle progress. From this point, his musical talents matured raopidly. He played his own original concerto in 1833 at the age of 17, just a year after the portrait here was painted.
Bennett's work especially impressed Mendelssohn--who had himself been a child prodigy. His musical talent was also closely followed by another friend, Robert Schumann. Sir William's music has for the most part been largely ignored in the 20th century. One source suggests that interest in it has been growing in recent years. There have been a few concerts devoted to his piano music and five Piano Concertos. His music is in fact an important example of the music popular with the Victorias during the mid-19th century.
He eventually directed his efforts at teaching. He became a Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and later was made a Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. Sir William founded the Bach Society in 1849 in England.
Tenor Ivor Flint tells us, "Just thought you may like to know that I'm singing six of WSB's songs this Saturday in London and again at the Festival of St Lawrence Jewry Next
Guildhall on Thursday August 14, 2003 at 1:00 pm." Ivor tells us, "That he decided on the WSB songs quite by chance. I'm always looking for un-sung repertoire and one of my students brought me a selection of music withdrawn from her local library amongst which were twelve songs by WBS opus 23 and op. 35--we also share the same birthdate. The plan is to record all twelve later this year and then perform them at another recital in 2004, but nor firm plans as yet."
Flint, Ivor. E-mail message, June 26, 2003.
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