J. Stainer

J. Stainer books and biography

John Stainer

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Sir John Stainer (London, 6 June 1840 – Verona, 31 March 1901) was an English composer and organist whose music, though not greatly admired today, was much performed during his lifetime. His work as choir trainer and organist, however, set standards for Anglican church music which are still influential. He was also active as an academic, becoming professor of music at Oxford University in 1889. According to Peter Charlton's Stainer biography, Arthur Sullivan's tribute to Stainer was blunt and memorable: "He is a genius".



Stainer was born in Southwark, London, on 6 June 1840. As a boy, he sang in the choir of St Paul's Cathedral and, at the age of 16 was appointed by Sir Frederick Ouseley to the post of organist at the newly founded St. Michael's College, Tenbury. In a childhood accident Stainer had lost the use of one eye; for a brief period in 1875 he lost that of the other too.

In 1860 he became organist at Magdalen College, Oxford, moving to St Paul's Cathedral in 1872. In 1885 he was awarded an honorary degree by Durham University and he became professor of music at Oxford University in 1889. He conducted pioneering research into early music, notably the output of Guillaume Dufay, then scarcely known even among experts. In recognition of his services to British music-making, he received was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1888.

Stainer died in Verona of heart failure on 31 March 1901, at the age of 60. His funeral was held on 6 April at St. Cross Church, Holywell, Oxford and the surrounding streets were filled with mourners.

Notable works

Stainer's output of sacred music was extensive, including the Passion cantata or oratorio The Crucifixion (1887), the Sevenfold Amen (this latter piece especially admired by the lexicographer Sir George Grove), and numerous hymn tunes, of which the best known are two from The Crucifixion ("Cross of Jesus" and "All for Jesus"), and "Love Divine".

His work as composer has lost most of its critical reputation since his death. The Crucifixion is one of the few major works of his that is still regularly performed. It is often given in English churches during Holy Week and forms part of the repertoire of numerous choirs. He also made a lasting contribution to the music of Christmas in his Christmas Carols New and Old (1871), produced in collaboration with the Revd H. R. Bramley, which marked an important stage in the revival of the Christmas carol. The book includes Stainer's arrangements of what were to become the standard versions of "What Child Is This", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "Good King Wenceslas", "The First Nowell", and "I Saw Three Ships", among others.

Incomplete list of works

Stainer was a prolific composer. A list of some of his more prominent works is provided below. A more complete, but still partial list, can be found here.


  • Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion
  • Drop down, ye heavens, from above
  • Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God
  • I desired wisdom
  • I saw the Lord
  • Lead kindly light
  • What are these that are arrayed in white robes


  • The Daughter of Jairus (1878)
  • St. Mary Magdalen (1883)
  • The Crucifixion (1887)


  • Full services in E flat, D/A, B flat and D
  • Communion services in A, F and C


  • Jeremy Dibble, John Stainer: a life in music (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2007)
  • Peter Charlton, John Stainer and the musical life of Victorian Britain (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1984)
  • H. R. Bramley (ed. words) J. Stainer (ed. music) Christmas Carols, New and Old (London, Novello, 1871)
  • The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press, 1928), pp. xvi-xvii.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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