Cusins, William George (DNB01)

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CUSINS, Sir WILLIAM GEORGE (1833–1893), pianist and conductor, was born in London on 14 Oct. 1833. For a short time he was one of the children of the Chapel Royal, St. James's, but at the age of eleven he entered the Brussels Conservatoire of Music, where for two years he studied composition, pianoforte, and violin under Fetis and others. In December 1847, at the age of fourteen, Cusins won a king's scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music (London), to which he was re-elected in 1849; his teachers at the Academy were Cipriani Potter, Charles Lucas, Sterndale Bennett, and Sainton. Doubtless through the influence of his uncle, George Frederick Anderson, master of the music to Queen Victoria, Cusins was appointed organist of Queen Victoria's private chapel at Windsor in 1849, and in the same year he entered as a violinist the orchestra of the Royal Italian Opera, where, and at the Philharmonic, he played under Costa. In 1851 he was made an assistant professor of the Royal Academy of Music, and subsequently professor. From 1867, in succession to Sterndale Bennett, to 1883, he conducted the concerts of the Philharmonic Society, and in that capacity brought Brahms's German Requiem to its first hearing in this country on 2 April 1873. In 1870, upon the resignation of his uncle, G. F. Anderson, Cusins was appointed master of the music to Queen Victoria, which post he held for twenty-three years. He conducted the London Select Choir in 1885, and in the same year was appointed to a professorship of the pianoforte in the Guildhall School of Music. He was elected an hon. member of the academy of St. Cecilia, Rome, 1883, received the honour of knighthood from Queen Victoria at Osborne on 5 Aug. 1892, and the cross of Isabella the Catholic from the Queen of Spain in 1893. On 31 Aug. 1893 he died suddenly, from influenza, at Remouchamps, in the Ardennes. His remains were temporarily interred at Spa, and reinterred in Kensal Green cemetery on 30 Oct. 1894.

Cusins, who was an excellent pianist, played at the Gewandhaus (Leipzig), Berlin, the Philharmonic, Crystal Palace, and other important concerts. His compositions, exclusive of anthems, pianoforte pieces, and songs, include a 'Royal Wedding Serenata' (1863); 'Gideon,' an oratorio (Gloucester festival, 1871); 'Te Deum,' for soli, chorus, and orchestra (Sacred Harmonic Society, 24 Feb. 1882); jubilee cantata, 'Grant the Queen a Long Life' (state concerts, 1887); Symphony in C (St. James's Hall, 18 June 1892); two concert overtures: (l)'Les Travailleurs de la Mer' (1869), and (2) 'Love's Labour's Lost' (1875); a concerto for piano-forte in A minor, and one for violin; Septet for wind instruments and double bass (1891); Trio in C minor (1882); Sonata for piano-forte and violin in A minor (1893). He edited an important collection of songs set to words by Tennyson (1880) and Schumann's pianoforte compositions (1864-5).

Cusins also published an interesting and valuable pamphlet entitled 'Handel's Messiah: an Examination of the Original and some Contemporary MSS.' (1874), and he contributed to Sir George Grove's 'Dictionary of Music and Musicians' an important article on the composer Steffani.

[Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, i. 424; James D. Brown and S. S. Stratton's British Musical Biography; Musical Herald, December 1892; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

F. G. E.