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Last updated at 12:00AM, March 20 2014
Registrar at the Royal College of Music with a supreme technique on several instruments
Stepping out of the large shadow cast by his illustrious grandfather, John Stainer became a well-rounded professional musician of rare gifts. He was appointed registrar of the Royal College of Music in 1959 and over the course of the next 17 years, his input and experience proved pivotal in helping to mould the creative personalities of many of Britain’s most eminent practitioners.
His grandfather, Sir John Stainer, was Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, Organist of St Paul’s Cathedral and famed composer of The Crucifixion, one of the most popular choral works ever written. His mother, Rosalind Flora, was the daughter of the long-serving Organist of Westminster Abbey, Sir Frederick Bridge.
Educated at Charterhouse, Stainer’s prodigious musical talents took him first, in 1933, to the Royal College of Music (RCM) where he studied with Henry Ley, Thomas Fielden, Guy Warrack, Ernest Tomlinson and C.H.Kitson. Elected Organ Scholar of Christ’s College, Cambridge twelve months later, there he not only became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists but was awarded the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music. Returning to the RCM in 1937, he then took the opportunity to refine his compositional skills in the company of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Stainer revelled in the unique performing opportunities afforded by the organ, piano and harmonium. The early master of a glittering technique, he matured into an artist of solid accomplishment. An equally impressive accompanist, his sensitivity to nuance and colour allowed him to take great delight in the occasional grand gesture.
Though never hugely prolific, Stainer proved no less adept as a composer. Particularly fine are the oboe quartet, violin sonata and oboe suite. Conceived on a more expansive and perhaps more personally distinctive canvas is an elegant string quartet, its tensile first movement and turbulent finale embracing a richly romantic slow movement. Sadly neglected are numerous songs and piano pieces, each cleverly and precisely imagined, their structures handled with fluency and care.
His teaching career began in earnest in 1938 with an appointment at Dover College. In the Second World War he served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, rising to the rank of Major. Eventually demobbed in 1946, he moved back to Dover College, keen to return to music.
In 1950, Stainer moved north, appointed director of music at Shrewsbury School. While there, both he and his wife, Thea, also made a deep impression on the wider cultural community. Proving particularly memorable was his contribution to the school’s 400th anniversary celebrations in 1952. Then, very much in the manner of a modern day masque, he helped to create Call-Over, an ambitious setting of words by Paul Dehn. Performed in the presence of HM the Queen, it was later broadcast by the BBC.
Following the sudden death of Hugo Anson in 1959, Stainer was invited to succeed him as registrar of the Royal College of Music. This powerful yet hugely demanding role, effectively the deputy to the director, would occupy him for the next 17 years. He immediately impressed everyone with his calm and unruffled approach
However, controversy struck in 1965 with the appearance of a report entitled, Making Music, published by the Gulbenkian Foundation. Its central thrust, that the Royal College of Music should be amalgamated with both the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music to form one central unit, was vehemently opposed by many, Stainer included. He managed to get the proposal dropped and was no less robust in his opposition to the BBC’s threat to trim the membership of its training orchestra.
Stanier was appointed OBE in 1974.
His wife predeceased him. He is survived by a son and daughter.
John Stainer, OBE, musician, was born on February 15, 1915. He died on January 9, 2014, aged 98