Stevens, Richard John Samuel (DNB00)

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STEVENS, RICHARD JOHN SAMUEL (1757–1837), musician, was born in London, 27 March 1757, and was a choirboy at St. Paul's under Richard Savage. At an early age he formed a friendship with Samuel Birch [q. v.], which lasted all his life, and was of great service to him. On the breaking of his voice Stevens studied the organ, and soon distinguished himself as a glee-composer, winning one of the Catch Club's prizes in 1782 with the serious glee, ‘See what horrid Tempests rise.’ In 1786 Stevens again took the prize for a serious glee, with his setting of ‘It was a Lover and his Lass.’ In the same year he was appointed organist at the Temple Church, in succession to John Stanley [q. v.], and published three sonatas for the harpsichord. These sonatas are in two movements, and are bright, spirited, and effective music, with not much invention. During the next few years were composed most of Stevens's glees, in the selection of words for which he was much helped by Birch. Stevens published three sets of glees, and in Warren's collections there are nine glees and a catch by him. In 1796 he became organist at the Charterhouse, and in 1801, by Birch's influence, he was appointed Gresham professor. These two posts he retained till his death. In 1802 he edited a collection of sacred music, in three volumes folio, intended for private performance, and dedicated to the archbishop of Canterbury. It was mainly drawn from Handel, Greene, Purcell, and Italian composers of the eighteenth century, and was an admirable selection, but the compositions are somewhat freely arranged. Stevens was for sixty years a member of the Royal Society of Musicians. He died, after a long illness, at Peckham, on 23 Sept. 1837. His valuable library, containing a collection of glees in sixteen volumes, and a quantity of rare old English musical literature, he bequeathed to the Royal Academy of Music.

Many of Stevens's glees retain their popularity, but they exhibit a feature (new in the composer's own day) which ultimately destroyed glee-writing. Instead of using the style practised by Webbe and his contemporaries, in which there is quite independent work for each individual voice, Stevens composed a melody for one voice accompanied in simple harmony by the others, thus approximating to the modern part-song. In one case he even added an obbligato accompaniment for the harp. Occasionally he followed the true glee style, but all his best known works, ‘From Oberon in Fairy Land,’ ‘Sigh no more, Ladies,’ ‘The cloud-capt Towers,’ ‘Crabbed Age and Youth,’ ‘Blow, blow, thou wintry Wind,’ show the tendency to a harmonised melody, to homophony rather than polyphony. In ‘Ye spotted Snakes,’ Stevens very cleverly adapted sonata-form to vocal music. Excellent remarks upon ‘Blow, blow, thou wintry Wind’ may be seen in G. F. Waagen's ‘Kunstwerke und Künstler in England’ (English translation, 1838, p. 71). Several of Stevens's glees have been arranged by Hullah and others for a mixed chorus, for which they are well adapted.

[Ann. Reg. 1837; Times, 27 Sept. 1837; Musical World, 29 Sept. 1837, p. 45; C. F. Pohl's Haydn in London, p. 19; Barrett's Glee and Madrigal Writers, pp. 282–5; Baptie's Sketches of the English Glee Composers, pp. 41, 211; Ouseley's Contributions to Naumann's Illustrirte Geschichte der Musik, English edit. p. 1276; Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians ii. 420, iii. 712, iv. 796; Davey's Hist. of English Music, p. 416; Stevens's compositions.]

H. D.