Sainton, Prosper Philippe Catherine (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 50
Sainton, Prosper Philippe Catherine

by Robin Humphrey Legge ‎

SAINTON, PROSPER PHILIPPE CATHERINE (1813–1890), violinist, son of a merchant, was born at Toulouse on 5 June 1813, and educated at the college there with the idea of ultimately becoming a lawyer. His musical taste led to his entering the Paris conservatoire on 20 Dec. 1831, where he was a pupil of Habeneck, and won second and first prizes for violin-playing in 1833 and 1834 respectively. After quitting the conservatoire he was a member of the orchestras of the Société des Concerts and the Grand Opéra for two years. He then made a concert tour on the continent, ultimately returning to Toulouse in 1840 to fill the post of professor of the violin in the conservatoire there. Four years later he appeared in England and played at a Philharmonic concert, under the conductorship of Mendelssohn, with whom he was intimate. In 1845 he settled in London on being appointed on 7 Feb. professor of the violin at the Royal Academy of Music, a post he occupied till his death. Sainton was one of the musicians who took part in the experimental stages of the Popular Concerts in 1859 (cf. The Story of Ten Hundred Concerts, London, 1887), and became first violin in the orchestras of the Musical Union, the Philharmonic Society, the Sacred Harmonic Society, the Quartet Association, and the Royal Italian Opera, under Costa, for whom he frequently acted as deputy in the office of conductor. He was well known, too, at the chief provincial festivals; and so busy was he as a teacher that it was his proud boast that at the last Birmingham festival before his death all the violinists had been his pupils or had studied under his pupils. Among his published compositions are two violin concertos. In 1862 he conducted the music at the opening of the International Exhibition. In June 1883 he gave a farewell concert at the Albert Hall. He died on 17 Oct. 1890, and was buried in his wife's grave at Highgate.

His wife, Charlotte Helen Sainton-Dolby (1821–1885), whom he married in 1860, was well known as a contralto vocalist. Her maiden name was Dolby. Born in London on 17 May 1821, she soon showed unusual musical ability, and in 1832 entered the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied under John Bennett, Elliott, and Crivelli. Crivelli, who examined her for voice on her entrance to the Royal Academy of Music, recommended her ‘for the present not to make it a principal study’ (cf. ‘A History of the Royal Academy of Music’ in the Overture, 1892, p. 127). Five years later she was elected to a king's scholarship. On 14 June 1841 she made her first appearance as a singer at a Philharmonic concert, and sang under Mendelssohn's auspices at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig on 25 Oct. 1845 with such success as induced her to make a tour abroad. Mendelssohn dedicated to her his six songs (Op. 57), and wrote the contralto music in ‘Elijah’ with a view to her voice. She appeared in the first performance of the revised version of that oratorio at Exeter Hall on 16 April 1847 under the composer's direction, and from that date until her retirement from professional life in 1870 she occupied the foremost place among concert contralti in England. In 1872 she opened a vocal academy in London. Mme. Sainton-Dolby excelled chiefly in ballad-singing, but was also known as a composer. Among her compositions are the cantatas ‘The Legend of St. Dorothea’ (London, 1876), ‘The Story of the Faithful Soul’ (London, 1879), ‘Florimel’ (for female voices) (London, 1885), and ‘Thalassa’ (a number of songs and ballads, some of which enjoyed an ephemeral popularity). She also wrote a ‘Tutor for English Singers’ (London, n.d. 8vo). Her last appearance in public took place at her husband's farewell concert in June 1883. She died in Gloucester Place, Hyde Park, on 18 Feb. 1885, and was buried in the same grave as her mother at Highgate cemetery. A scholarship in her memory was founded at the Royal Academy of Music.

[Musical Times, 1885 pp. 145–6, 1890 p. 665; Hanslick's Geschichte des Concertwesens in Wien, 1869, p. 340; Berühmte Geiger, p. 189; Mr. F. G. Edwards's History of Mendelssohn's Elijah, p. 35; Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians, passim; The Overture, 1890, pp. 97, 104.]

R. H. L.