John Stevenson (composer)

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John Stevenson

Sir John Andrew Stevenson (1761 – 14 September 1833) was an Irish composer of classical music. He is best known for his publications of Irish Melodies with poet Thomas Moore. He was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Dublin, and was knighted in April, 1802.[1]

Biography[edit]

Stevenson was born in Crane Lane off Dame Street, Dublin, the son of a Scottish coach builder, who was also musically inclined. His parents died when he was young and he was taken in by a Mr. Gibson, of the firm of Gibson and Woffington in Grafton St., instrument-makers. Despite the fact that he was Irish-born (only English were accepted by Christ Church at that time), Gibson succeeded in getting him received as an indentured choirboy at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin in 1771, where he was taught to play piano by Richard Woodward junior and Samuel Murphy.[2]

He was appointed stipendiary at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 20 July 1775 by Dean Craddock and at Christ Church Cathedral in 1781 (despite his nationality, due to the intercession of the wife of the Dean). Appointed vicar choral at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1783 and at Christ Church Cathedral in 1800. He received the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, by the University of Dublin in 1791.

Sir John was knighted on 27 April 1803 by Philip Yorke, Earl of Hardwicke, lord lieutenant of Ireland. He was appointed the first organist and musical director at the newly erected Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle in 1814.

Stevenson’s secular works include catches, glees, odes, operas, songs and symphonies and accompaniments to airs. He was knighted for his composition of the ode "You ladies of our Lovely Isle" and a glee with accompaniment "Give me the harp of Epic Song", a translation of the second "Ode of Anacreon". He was much renowned for his composition of glees. In 1775 he was awarded the Glee and Catch Club’s prize for the glee "One night when all the village slept". Other glee and catch compositions include "Alone on the sun-beaten rock", "Buds of Roses" which was awarded the gold medal by the Glee and Catch Club in 1813 and the tuneful catch "Come buy my Cherries" popularly known as "The Dublin Cries".

Stevenson composed some airs for O’Keeffe’s Dead Alive in 1780 which was performed with success in June 1781. Stevenson’s songs, among others include "Faithless Emma" (written for John Spray), "Dearest Ellen", better known from its opening line ‘When the rosebud of summer’, and "O ever skilled" written before Stevenson received his knighthood. Stevenson composed music for the comic opera Love in a Blaze after Lafont which was first performed in Crow Street Dublin on 29 May 1799 and The Patriot or Hermit of Saxellen (1810).

Stevenson is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Thomas Moore (1779–1852) in several musical works where he provided adaptations: Irish Melodies (1807–34) nos. 1 to 4 (1808–12), nos. 5 to 7 (1813–18), nos. 8 and 9 (1821–24) and no. 10 and Supplement (1834); The Sacred Melodies, published in periodical numbers between 1808–34 and National Airs (first edition 1815). Differences arose between Moore and Stevenson as may be seen in the correspondence of Moore edited in 1852 by Lord John Russell and after the seventh number of Irish Melodies, the music was provided by Sir Henry Bishop (1786–1855). Despite this, Thomas Moore wrote a memorial poem for Stevenson entitled "Silence is in our Festal Halls". "Oft in the Stilly Night", a Scottish air from National Airs, was arranged by Stevenson in 1818.

By 1825, Stevenson had composed a large quantity of cathedral music amounting to twenty-six anthems and eight service settings not to mention chants, double chants, hymns and an oratorio "The Thankgiving", a pasticcio from several of his other anthems. In 1825, a selection of his cathedral works was printed in two volumes and published by James Power of the Strand with a dedication to George IV. Three service settings in C, E flat and F, twelve anthems as well as twelve double chants and a set of Responses for Holy Days were selected for publication. Addison issued a reprint of these two volumes some years later in which each anthem and service was published separately. John Hullah reprinted the concluding chorus "The Lord is my strength" from the anthem I am well pleased in his Singers Library (c1860) and Joseph Robinson edited three of the twelve together with the unpublished "By the waters of Babylon". Apart from their popularity in Irish collegiate churches and cathedrals in the later nineteenth-century, several of Stevenson’s anthems and service settings were in use and in circulation at some English provincial cathedrals such as Bristol, Chester, Chichester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Manchester and Wells.

Sir John Andrew Stevenson died on 14 September 1833 at Headfort House in Kells, County Meath. In 1843, a marble cenotaph sculpted by Thomas Kirk (sculptor) was erected in the Musicians Corner at Christ Church Cathedral ten years after Stevenson’s death and a stained glass window was placed in the South aisle of St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1864, both in honour of Stevenson’s memory. Sir John Andrew Stevenson, the composer of sacred and sublime melody, was the acclaimed facile princeps of his day.

His daughter Olivia was the wife of Thomas Taylour, 2nd Marquess of Headfort, mother of Lady Olivia FitzPatrick and grandmother of Mary Cornwallis-West.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 411. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  2. ^ The Irish Monthly Magazine of Politics and Culture, 1833, p. 378

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