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Sir John Stainer

1840-1901. English composer. Although his music is much out of favor with musicians today, he made a great contribution to his time. As the influential organist of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, he did much to raise the standards of choral performance by precept and example. He was a fine organist and teacher, and his manual on playing the organ attained a great circulation. As scholar and music historian, Stainer has a name respected still. His Dufay and His Contemporaries was one of the first important musicological works by a Briton.

His compositions were too facile and abounded in the clichés that have endeared them to countless churchgoers, while offending the taste of connoisseurs. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit,” still in use with many choirs, illustrates his flair for dramatic expression. The Crucifixion, with all its musical banalities, provided a work easy enough for average choirs, while containing a timely message in a framework large enough to rank as an oratorio. The solo movements suffer from the sentimentalism of the age, but the recitative is dramatic and well fitted to the accentuation of the text. A number of the hymntunes, included after the example of a Bach Passion, have memorable melodies. The one really good ensemble piece, “God so loved the world,” is a fine bit of vocal part-writing. With his musical gifts, had Stainer been reared in a more sophisticated tradition, his numerous anthems might well have had greater musical value.