William Sterndale Bennett 2016

My latest research focuses on the music on William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875). While Bennett’s music might be little heard now, he was a significant public figure in English musical life of the nineteenth century. In addition to being the first scholarship student of the Royal Academy of Music, of which he later became principal (a role that has been regarded as preventing the Academy from ruin), Bennett was crucial to the Bach revival in England, conductor of the historic Royal Philharmonic Society for ten years, and cultivated cosmopolitan links that hailed him as one of the period’s finest composers and pianists. He was considered a friend and colleague by prominent German figures who have since secured a lasting place in the musical canon – Mendelssohn and Schumann.

At the RAM, we are putting on three performance and research events in the Museum to celebrate Bennett’s bicentenary:

Bennett, Mendelssohn & Piatti: music for cello & piano
Friday, 26 February, 1430-1600, 1800-1930
This two-part seminar by cellist Job ter Haar and myself examines the interactions between William Sterndale Bennett, Felix Mendelssohn and the cellist Alfredo Piatti. The afternoon session will explore their historical encounters and what this produced, and also broach nineteenth-century performance practice issues by using instruments in the Museum. The evening will focus specifically on performances of Bennett’s Sonata Duo and Mendelssohn’s first cello sonata.

William Sterndale Bennett: Academy student, professor & principal
Monday, 29 February, 1800-1930
William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) was an important figure in the history of the Royal Academy of Music. He was the first student granted a full scholarship, a professor of piano and composition who taught many significant pupils, and finally, a principal who arguably rescued the institution at a crucial point. To celebrate his bicentenary, I will explore, with Janet Snowman (Curator of Art and Iconography) and Bennett’s great-great-grandson, Barry Sterndale-Bennett, Bennett’s role in the Academy’s history.

Victorian Virtuosity: William Sterndale Bennett and Romantic pianism
Tuesday, 1 March, 1800-1930
William Sterndale Bennett’s piano music is largely ignored today, although he was hailed both as a pianist and composer by the likes of Mendelssohn and Schumann. In this seminar, which will include performances on the nineteenth-century pianos in the Museum, I will examine the link between this and notions of piano virtuosity in Victorian England, and our perceptions of this today.