William Sterndale Bennett (1816 – 1875)

William Sterndale Bennet

William Sterndale Bennet, lithograph from collection Manskopf, UB Frankfurt

William Sterndale Bennett grew up with his grandparents in Cambridge, where he received his first musical education. From 1824 he became choirboy at King's College Chapel Choir, two years later he took up instrumental studies in violin and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, later he also took composition classes. From 1833 onwards, Bennett worked as an organist at St. Anne's Chapel, Wandsworth. Between 1836 and 1842 he stayed several times in Germany, where he became acquainted with Mendelssohn and celebrated great successes as a concert pianist in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. At home, the musical work of Bennett was very widespread. He established the London Bach Society in 1849. Six years later he became professor of music at the University of Cambridge and in the same year, principal conductor of the Philharmonic Society. Finally, In 1866 Bennett became appointed as director of the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1870 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, one year later he was knighted.
Bennett’s visits are mentioned in Schumann’s diary entries from 1836 and 1837, such as on 19 January 1837: "Schumann wrote a wonderful essay on Bennett and in contradiction concerning us, he said, Bennett is the most brilliant artist..." (Quoted in Wolfgang Seibold, Familie, Freunde, Zeitgenossen, 2008 , p. 55). Robert Schumann admired his British colleague very much, which is also testified in many publications about Bennett in the Schumann’s Neue Zeitrschift für Musik, where he, being music critic, presented Bennett  as young composer from the Romantic school. But also personally both of them were very close, since Schumann invited Bennett together with Walter von Goethe to his family in Zwickau in May 1837.
Also in 1837, both testified their friendship in giving dedications to each other: Bennett dedicated his "Fantasie pour le piano forte" op. 16 to Schumann. In return, Schumann dedicated his op. 13. In 1842, Bennett stopped in Leipzig for a few days, which was extensively celebrated. Then there was only occasional correspondence, but despite invitation a visit to England was never initiated. The first tour to England took place on 14 April 1856, when Clara Schumann performed works of Beethoven and Mendelssohn in the opening concert of the London orchestral season of the Philharmonic Society under the conduction of Sterndale Bennett, only a few months before Robert Schumann's death.

(Philip Förster)
Translation: Katharina Ma

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