Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/237

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BENNETT.
225
 

in the art seems to have been well cared for by his grandfather, to whose home at Cambridge he was then transferred. At the age of eight he entered the choir of King's College Chapel, but his exceptional musical ability became so evident, that two years after he was removed from Cambridge and placed as a student in the Royal Academy of Music, with which institution his name was to be closely connected throughout his later life. He received instruction from Mr. Lucas and Dr. Crotch in composition, and from Mr. W. H. Holmes in pianoforte-playing, from whom he subsequently passed to the veteran, Cipriani Potter; and it may be assumed that to the influence of this teacher, well known to have been the enthusiastic votary of Mozart, we may trace in part that admiration for the pure style and clear form of the art of Mozart, which Bennett retained to the end of his life, in the midst of all the vicissitudes of modern musical fashion, and the influence of which is so distinctly traceable in his own music. Among the unpublished compositions of his Academy student days are some productions of great merit; but the first on which his reputation as composer depends (and which stands as Opus 1 in the list of his compositions), is the Concerto in D minor, written in 1832, and performed by the composer, then in his seventeenth year, at the prize concert of the Academy in 1833, on which occasion Mendelssohn was present, and encouraged the young composer by his warmly expressed sympathy and admiration, while the committee of the Academy gave a practical proof of their appreciation by publishing the work at their own expense. His next published work, the 'Capriccio in D minor,' op. 2 (dedicated to Cipriani Potter), clearly shows in its opening theme the influence of his admiration for Mendelssohn, then the central figure of the musical world, though there are touches of complete originality suggesting the pianoforte style which the composer subsequently made bis own. The Overture to 'Parisina,' a most impassioned work, was composed in 1834, as also the Concerto in C minor, played at a concert of the Society of British Musicians in the same year; a work in the highest and purest style of the Mozart model, and evincing in some portions a constructive power worthy of the composer's great predecessor. In 1836 the impression produced by his unpublished F minor Concerto and the beautiful 'Naiades' overture, led to an offer from the firm of Broadwood to defray the expenses of his residence in Leipsic for a year, in order that he might have the opportunity of extending his circle of musical sympathy and experience, as well as of profiting by the neighbourhood and influence of Mendelssohn. That he did profit in his art by this visit is scarcely to be doubted, but it may be said that he gave to Leipsic at least as much as he carried away; and by the compositions produced there, as well as by the evidence afforded of his genius as a musician and pianoforte-player, he established for himself a reputation in that city of music higher than has perhaps been generally conceded to him in his native country, and won the friendship and enthusiastic eulogies of Robert Schumann. It is to this visit probably that is to be traced the idea still current in England that Bennett was a pupil and a mere imitator of Mendelssohn; an idea which can only be entertained by those who are either ignorant of his works or totally destitute of any perception of musical style, but which has been parrotted by incapable or prejudiced critics till it has come to be regarded by many as an admitted fact. After his return to England, Bennett composed in 1840 his other F minor Concerto, the published one, which is among the best known of his works, and one of the finest of modern compositions of its class. During a second visit to Leipzig in 1840–1 he composed his 'Caprice in E' for pianoforte and Orchestra, and his Overture 'The Wood Nymphs,' both among the most finished and artistic of his compositions. From 1843 to 1856 he was brought periodically before the English public by his chamber concerts, at which his individual and exceptional style and ability as a pianoforte-player were fully recognised. It may here be mentioned that in 1844 he married Mary Anne, daughter of Captain James Wood, R. N. In 1849 he founded the Bach Society for the study and practice of Bach's music, his enthusiasm for which was very likely in the first instance kindled by Mendelssohn, who did so much to open the eyes of his contemporaries to the grandeur of Bach's genius. One result of this was a performance of the Matthew Passion—the first in England—on April 6, 1854. In 1853 the director of the Gewandhaus Concerts offered him the conductorship of those concerts. In 1856 Bennett was engaged as permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society, a post which he held till 1866, when he resigned it, and became Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. In 1856 he was elected, by a great majority, to fill the chair of Musical Professor at the University of Cambridge, where he also made special efforts to promote the knowledge and study of Bach's music, and shortly after his election received from the University the degree of Doctor of Music. (In 1867 the University further conferred on him the degree of M.A., and at the same time a salary of £100 a year was attached to his Professorship.) The year 1858 saw the production of his cantata the 'May Queen,' at the Leeds Musical Festival, a work full of beauty in the chorus writing, the solos, and the instrumentation, though heavily weighted by an absurd and ill-written libretto. No such drawback is attached to his other important choral work, 'The Woman of Samaria,' first produced with great success at the Birmingham Festival of 1867, and which, though it does not contain the elements of popularity for general audiences, has elicited the high admiration of all who can appreciate the more delicate and recondite forms of musical expression. For the Jubilee of the Philharmonic Society, in 1862, he wrote one of his most beautiful works, the 'Paradise and the Peri' overture, in which the 'programme' style of music (i. e. music illustrative of certain verbally stated ideas) is treated with a