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John Stainer

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John Stainer

Sir John Stainer

Sir John Stainer (6 June 1840 – 31 March 1901) was an English composer and organist whose music, though not generally much performed today (except for Anglican church music that are still influential. He was also active as an academic, becoming Heather Professor of Music at Oxford.

Stainer was born in

Cultural offices
Preceded by
John Goss
St Paul's Cathedral
Succeeded by
George Clement Martin

External links

  • Dibble, Jeremy (2007). John Stainer: A life in music. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer.  
  • Peter Charlton, John Stainer and the musical life of Victorian Britain (Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles, 1984)
  • H. R. Bramley (ed. words) J. Stainer (ed. music) Christmas Carols, New and Old (London, Novello, 1871)
  • The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press, 1928), pp. xvi–xvii.
  • Bumpus, John Skelton (1891). The Organists and Composers of St Paul's Cathedral. Bowen, Hudson &. Co. 


  1. ^ a b Dibble, pps. 5–6.
  2. ^ Bumpus, p. 175.
  3. ^ Dibble, pps. 11–12.
  4. ^ Dibble, p. 34.
  5. ^ Dibble, p. 36.
  6. ^ Tenbury Wells and the Teme Valley, 2007, p10
  7. ^ Dibble, p. 42.
  8. ^ a b Dibble, p. 52.
  9. ^ Dibble, pps. 55–62.
  10. ^ Dibble, pps. 102–104.
  11. ^ Bumpus, p. 176.
  12. ^ a b Dibble, p. 73.
  13. ^ Dibble, pps. 84–85.
  14. ^ Dibble, pps. 104–105.
  15. ^ Dibble, Jeremy (2004). "Parry, Sir (Charles) Hubert Hastings, baronet (1848–1918)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  16. ^ Dibble, pps. 109–115.
  17. ^ Dibble, pps. 118–119.
  18. ^ Dibble, pps. 124–129.
  19. ^ Bumpus, p. 59.
  20. ^ Dibble, p. 138.
  21. ^ Dibble, p. 194.
  22. ^ Dibble, p. 196, 237.
  23. ^ Dibble, pps. 199–201.
  24. ^ "Stainer, Sir John". Who's who, biographies, 1901: page 1054. 
  25. ^ Dibble, pps. 214–238.
  26. ^ a b Bumpus, p. 178.
  27. ^ Dibble, p. 247.
  28. ^ Dibble, pps. 108–109.
  29. ^ Bumpus, p. 180.
  30. ^ Dibble, p. 308.
  31. ^ a b Dibble, pps. 309–310.
  32. ^ Cowgill, Rachel and Rushton, Julian (2006),Europe, Empire, and Spectacle in Nineteenth-century British Music, Ashgate Publishing Limited, ISBN 0-7546-5208-4 (p. 129)
  33. ^ Dearmer, Percy; Vaughan Williams, Ralph; Shaw, Martin (1918). Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford University Press.  
  34. ^ Charlton, Peter (1984). John Stainer and the musical life of Victorian Britain. David & Charles. p. 79.  
  35. ^ Charles William Pearc, A Biographical Sketch of Edmund Hart Turpin, 1911
  36. ^ "John Stainer". NetHymnal. 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  37. ^ "John Stainer". Center for Church Music. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 


  • A Theory of Harmony founded on the temporal scale, with questions and exercises for the use of students (1871)
  • A theory of harmony founded on the tempered scale with questions and exercises for the use of students John Stainer (1872)
  • Composition (1877?)
  • The Music of the Bible: with an account of the development of modern musical instruments from ancient types (London, Novello, Ewer & Co., 1879)
  • A Treatise on harmony and the classification of chords with questions and exercises for the use of students' John Stainer (1880)
  • The Present State of Music in England: An Inagural Lecture delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, November 13, 1889 (Oxford, England: Horace Hart, 1889)
  • A Dictionary of Musical Terms ed. John Stainer and W.A. Barrett (1889)
  • Catalogue of English song books forming a portion of the library of Sir John Stainer, with appendices of foreign song books, collections of carols, books on bells John Stainer (1891)
  • Music in Relation to the Intellect and Emotions (1892)
  • The Story of the Cross (1893)
  • Harmony with an appendix containing one hundred graduated exercises (London: Novello, Ewer & Co.,1893)
  • The Organ (1909)

Books on musical theory, history and instruments

  • The Village Organist, John Stainer (ed.), 1893

Organ music

  • Christmas Carols, New and Old with Henry Ramsden Bramley (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1878)
  • A choirbook of the office of holy communion from the Cathedral Prayer Book (London: Novello & Co., 1883)
  • The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer with accompanying tunes with Edward Henry Bickersteth, Charles Vincent, D.J. Word and John Stainer (1890)
  • Church Hymnary, John Stainer (ed.), 1902

Books with carols and hymns

  • Gideon (1865)
  • The Daughter of Jairus (1878)
  • St. Mary Magdalan (1887)
  • The Crucifixion (1887)

Stainer wrote four oratorios:[37]


  • Wycliff ("All for Jesus") (1887)
  • Cross of Jesus (1887)
  • (1889)Love Divine

Hymn Tunes

  • Full services in E flat, D/A, B flat and D
  • Communion services in A, F and C


  • Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion
  • Blessed is the man that endureth temptation
  • Drop down, ye heavens, from above
  • )The Crucifixion (chorus from God so loved the world
  • Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God
  • Hail, Gladdening Light, of His pure glory poured
  • Holy Father, God Almighty
  • How beautiful upon the mountains
  • I could not do without thee
  • I desired wisdom
  • In the cross of christ I glory
  • I saw the Lord
  • Jesus, tender shepherd, hear me
  • Lead kindly light
  • Leave us not, neither forsake us
  • Lift up your heads, rejoice
  • Lord Jesus, think on me
  • O dayspring
  • O Zion, that bringest good tidings
  • We sing the glorious conquest
  • What are these that are arrayed in white robes


A list of Stainer's more prominent works is provided below.[36]

Incomplete list of works

[35] is one of the few major works of his that is still regularly performed. It is often given in Anglican churches during The Crucifixion His work as a composer was much esteemed during his lifetime but is not well known today.

Stainer's output of sacred music was extensive, including the hymn tunes, including "Cross of Jesus", "All for Jesus" (both from The Crucifixion), and "Love Divine".[26] His settings for the Gloria and Sanctus were sung at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.[32]


Lady Stainer was devastated by his death and went into mourning for a year, but as she confided to a friend, the pianist Francesco Berger, "I am thankful he has been spared long illness and the weariness of old age, which he always dreaded".[31] She gave a memorial stained glass window to St Cross Church and arranged for a monument to be erected at Magdalen College. Her husband's valuable library of antiquarian music books passed to his elder son, J F R Stainer, who allowed its use for study and research purposes. It was sold to an American collector in 1932 but on his death in 1973 was bequeathed to the Bodleian Library where it remains. Lady Stainer died in 1916 leaving six children. She is buried near Holy Cross Church beside her husband.[31]

In later life, he and his wife took to travelling to the Riviera, Florence or Mentone each year for him to relax and recuperate. It was on such a visit to Verona, Italy that on Palm Sunday, 31 March 1901 he felt unwell and retired to his room. Later that afternoon he died of a heart attack. He was sixty. His body was taken back to England, and his funeral service was held on 6 April at St Cross Church, Oxford with a large number of friends and colleagues present,[30] followed by burial in adjacent Holywell Cemetery.

Following a childhood accident, Stainer had lost the use of one eye. There is some confusion about this and he may merely have had a [29]

Caricature published in Vanity Fair in 1891


In 1885, he was awarded an honorary degree by Queen Victoria in 1888.[27]

In 1882, Stainer was offered the post of Inspector of Music in Schools and Colleges, a position he took with great seriousness and which he occupied for six years. He worked towards raising standards in music teaching and toured the country, visiting schools and colleges and examining candidates. He advocated the use of musical notation and tonic sol-fa rather than the learning-by-ear method previously used. He was by now treated with the greatest respect in musical circles, but his many activities diminished the time available for composition.[25] The flow of new anthems and service music slowed down, but in 1883 he completed his oratorio Mary Magdalen. This was followed in 1887 by The Crucifixion, the work for which he is most remembered.[26]

Further appointments followed. Stainer became an honorary fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1877 and an examiner for the Doctor of Music degree at Cambridge and London Universities. He accepted the post of Musical Director of the Madrigal Society of London. He was particularly honoured to be asked to be a juror at the French Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and in 1880 was an adjudicator at the Welsh Eisteddfod at Caernarvon.[23] He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1879.[24]

In 1871, Goss resigned as organist of Henry Willis to Stainer's design, with portions on either side of the entrance to the choir stalls.[19] Around this time he was asked to help revise Hymns Ancient and Modern, a task he did with enthusiasm.[20] At St Paul's, he soon set about reinvigorating the choir. The appointment of vicars choral was for life, and the tenor and bass voices saw no need for rehearsal, meaning that the repertoire was static. Stainer was able to change their attitude, and new anthems and liturgies were introduced, a choir school built, and the number of choristers increased from twelve to thirty-five. When William Sparrow Simpson was appointed Succentor, the raising of standards continued, and St Paul's Cathedral became the focus of religious ceremony in the capital, including state occasions, ceremonial events, memorial services and the funerals of the great and famous.[21] A peal of twelve bells was installed in 1878.[22]

Engraving of the interior of St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral at about the time Stainer was organist

St Paul's Cathedral

Stainer was interested in the history of music and traditional folk songs. There was a revived interest in carols at the time, and he rediscovered old carols, provided new settings for others and introduced contemporary works. Many of his harmonisations are still in use today. He published a volume "Christmas Carols New and Old" which was a considerable success, with thousands of copies sold. He followed this up with another edition the following year to which he persuaded Arthur Sullivan to contribute. He also composed several hymn tunes, and some of these are still to be found in Anglican hymnals, with "Love divine, all loves excelling" being popular at wedding services.[17] Other "parish" music followed with a congregational Te Deum in C which was regularly sung at Magdalen on Sundays and a verse anthem "Sing a song of praise". Two more substantial anthems, intended for use in cathedrals, were "Lead kindly light" composed in 1868, followed by "Awake, awake, put on thy strength" in 1871. He also produced two evening canticles and a comprehensive set of music for Morning, Communion and Evening Services. He had also been working for a long time on his first theoretical work, "A Theory of Harmony Founded on the Tempered Scale", and this was published by Novello in 1871.[18]

After Stainer had obtained his doctorate, Ouseley enrolled him as an examiner for Oxford musical degrees. In this capacity Stainer met and later became friends with Crystal Palace and took part regularly in the Three Choirs Festival.[16]

Stainer was also conductor of the Magdalen Madrigal Society, which gave concerts in the College Hall, and the Magdalen Vagabonds, which performed during vacations. The latter gave concerts in various towns and cities and raised money for church restoration. He wrote some madrigals himself, which were published by Novello, a company with which he was to do much future business. He also wrote an oratorio, "Gideon", as the exercise for his Mus Doc, and it was performed in November 1865. It was well received on the day and was sufficient to gain him his doctorate but has not been performed since.[14]

At this time he was composing liturgical music and developing his musical style. There were several anthems and two more technically assured multi-sectioned verse anthems, "Drop down, ye heavens from above" and "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives". His routine included two services daily, rehearsals, lectures, tutorials, attendance at Ouseley's lectures, and visits home to Southwark in the vacations. He must have performed his duties with diligence as his salary was raised by £10 a year and after 1862 he received an allowance towards his rent.[13]

Unfailingly conscientious as a choirmaster, Stainer introduced new anthems and service music, bringing the choir to a higher level of attainment than it had previously seen.[11] It had been the custom for the adult choir members, the lay clerks, not to attend practice at all; but Stainer had a magnetic personality and persuaded them to come. Their more regular attendance enabled the repertoire to be enlarged. Stainer's skill on the organ was much respected, and he was regarded as "the finest organist Oxford had seen in many generations".[12] The Vice-Chancellor, University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Here he was expected to play for a service every Sunday (at a later time in the morning than the Magdalen service).[12]

Interior of Magdalen College Chapel

In 1860 he became organist at Mus Doc, which would raise his standing within the university.[10]

Magdalen College

At the age of sixteen, he was appointed by Sir St. Michael's College, Tenbury. At that time Ouseley was Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University and had recently become vicar of St Michael's College on the outskirts of Tenbury Wells, a choir school with a church that he had founded and endowed and which was intended to serve as a model for Anglican church music.[6] Although not much older than they were, Stainer was in charge of the choir and choristers, and one of his duties was to give piano lessons to the boys for two hours a day.[7] Ouseley was an antiquarian and had an extensive library. He was much interested in the history of music and acted as Stainer's mentor. Under his guidance, Stainer became the youngest ever successful candidate for the Bachelor of Music degree at Oxford.[8] For this, Stainer wrote a cantata, "Praise the Lord, O my soul", with text from Psalm 103. Its traditional style was designed to appeal to the examining board and sounds stilted when set against his later works.[8] About this time he wrote several anthems, the most successful of which was "I saw the Lord", a bolder and more original work in a more contemporary style.[9]

St Michael's College, Tenbury

[5] In 1849, after a year's probation, Stainer became a chorister at

John Stainer was the eighth of nine children born to William Stainer and his wife Ann (née Collier) on 6 June 1840. At least three of the children died in infancy, and John was much younger than his brother, William, and his three sisters, Ann, Sarah and Mary.[1] The family lived in Magdalen Hospital, Streatham. It was a happy family, and young John seems to have been spoiled by his elders.[1] He was precocious and could play Bach's Fugue in E major at the age of seven.[2]

Early years

  • Early years 1
  • Magdalen College 2
  • St Paul's Cathedral 3
  • Retirement 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Incomplete list of works 6
    • Anthems 6.1
    • Services 6.2
    • Hymn Tunes 6.3
    • Oratorios 6.4
    • Books with carols and hymns 6.5
    • Organ music 6.6
    • Books on musical theory, history and instruments 6.7
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


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