Stainer, John

Composer

b Southwark, Surrey (London) 1840, d Verona, Italy 1901. His musical education began at home, as his father taught him on a small chamber-organ; losing the sight of his left eye when he was 5, he was a St Paul’s Cathedral chorister at 7 and soon a soloist, already a skilful player and sight singer; church organist at St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf (Queen Victoria St), at 14; at 16, the first organist of St Michael’s Coll, Tenbury (see notes to F Ouseley). Christ Ch Coll Oxford from 1859 (BMus at 19); organist for Magdalen Coll and the University; member of St Edmund Hall; BA 1863, DMus 1865, MA 1866. From 1872, organist and choirmaster at St Paul’s Cathedral, whose choir became England’s finest and from where he worked to raise standards of English church music. Organist and conductor of Royal Choral Soc; National Board of Education inspector; Principal of what later became the RCM; he was knighted in 1888 but resigned from his main work because of failing eyesight; Prof of Music at Oxford 1889–99. In 1871 he edited the music of the hugely influential Christmas Carols New and Old; 42 items selected jointly with his Magdalen Coll colleague H R Bramley. Having rescued 13 neglected traditional carols, the book was still reprinting in 1951 in spite of the hostile reaction of Percy Dearmer (qv) and friends who objected to the ‘Victorianisation’ of the genuine and charmingly primitive folk tradition. Stainer was a pioneer musicologist of the pre-Tallis period; he wrote organ and other music textbooks; edited hymnals; composed oratorios including his most famous work The Crucifixion, and church music including over 150 hymn tunes. 32 of these feature in the 1889 A&M and 17 in The Church of England Hymn Book of 1895. At different times his music has been rubbished by some, including himself; it was Erik Routley who did much to rehabilitate his hymn-tunes. Nos.63, 76=924, 406, 504=685, 668, 728, 745, 836.