John Stainer

13 June 1840–31 March 1901


John Stainer, in The Musical Times (1 May 1901), p. 298.

SIR JOHN STAINER, Mus.D., son of a schoolmaster, was born in London, June 6, 1840, entered the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1847—by which time he was already a re­markable player and an excellent sight-singer—­and remained there till 1856, very often taking the organ on occasion. In 1854 he was ap­pointed organist and choirmaster of St. Benedict and St. Peter, Paul’s Wharf, of which the Rev. J.H. Coward, classical master to the choristers, was Rector. At the same time he learnt har­mony from Bayley, master of the St. Paul’s boys, and counterpoint from Dr. Steggall, for whom he sang the soprano part in his Mus.D. exercise at Cambridge in 1852. Through the liberality of Miss Hackett he received a course of lessons on the organ from George Cooper at St. Sepulchre’s. In 1856 he was selected by Sir F. Ouseley as organist of his then newly­ founded College at Tenbury, where he remained for some time. In 1859 he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, and took the degree of Mus.B. Shortly after, he left Tenbury for Magdalen College, Oxford, where after six months’ trial he was appointed organist and informator choristarum. He then entered St. Edmund Hall as a resident undergraduate, and while discharging his duties at Magdalen, worked for his B.A. degree in Arts, which he took in Trinity Term 1863. Meantime, on the death of Stephen Elvey, he had been appointed organist of the University of Oxford, and was conductor of a flourishing College Musical Society and of another association at Exeter College. But nothing interfered with his duties at Magdalen, where he raised the choir to a very high state of efficiency. In 1865 he proceeded to his Mus.D. degree, and 1866 to his M.A., and became one of the examiners for musical degrees. In 1872 he left Oxford and succeeded Goss as organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The services were at that time by no means what they should have been; but Stainer possessed the confidence of the Dean and Chapter, and his hard work, knowledge, and tact, at last brought them to a worthier pitch of excellence.

Dr. Stainer did not confine his activity to his own University. He was a member of the Board of Musical Studies at Cambridge, and for two years was also examiner for the degree of Mus.D. there. He was examiner for musical degrees in the University of London; an Hon. Member of the Royal Academy of Music, and Hon. Fellow of the Tonic Sol-fa College; a Vice­ President of the College of Organists, and a Vice­ President of the Musical Association, of which he was virtually the founder. He was a juror at the Paris Exhibition of 1880, and at its close was decorated with the Legion of Honour. He was attached to the National Training School, London, as a Professor of Organ and Harmony, from its foundation, and at Easter 1881 suc­ceeded Sullivan as Principal. In 1882 he suc­ceeded Hullah as Inspector of Music in the Elementary Schools of England for the Privy Council. He was also a Member of Council of the Royal College of Music. In 1888 he was obliged to resign his post at St. Paul’s owing to his failing sight. In the same year he received the honour of knighthood. He was appointed Professor of Music in the University of Oxford in 1889, was Master of the Company of Musicians in 1900, died at Verona, March 31, 1901, and was buried at Holywell Cemetery, Oxford, April 6, of the same year (see Musical Times, 1901, pp. 297, etc.).

His compositions embrace an oratorio, Gideon; a cantata, The Daughter of Jairus, composed by request for the Wor­cester Festival of September 1878; a cantata, St. Mary Magdalen (Gloucester Festival, 1883); and an oratorio, The Crucifixion, his most popular work, 1887. He also wrote many services and anthems, and among his most suc­cessful and artistic pieces of church music must be named the well-known “Sevenfold Amen.” He is the author of the two very popular manuals of Harmony and The Organ in Novello’s series, and of a work on Bible music, and was part editor with W. A. Barrett, of a Dictionary of Musical Terms (Novello, 1876 and 1898). He also edited the interesting Dufay and his Con­temporaries, 1898. Sir J. Stainer was beloved and esteemed by all who knew him, and was an admirable and efficient musician in all branches; but his great excellence was in his organ-playing, and especially his accompaniments, which were unsurpassed. He was a shining example of the excellent foundation of sound musical knowledge which may be got out of the various duties and shifts of the life of a clever chorister in one of our cathedrals.

by George Grove, rev. J.A. Fuller Maitland
Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 4 (1908)

Featured Tunes:


Publications of Hymns & Tunes:

Edited/Composed by Stainer:

Christmas Carols New and Old

1st series (Nos. 1-20, pp. 1-45, 1868): PDF
2nd series (Nos. 21-42, pp. 46-91, 1870): WorldCat
1st & 2nd series, illustrated (Nos. 1-42, 91 pp., 1871): PDF
3rd series (Nos. 43-70, pp. 92-180, 1878): WorldCat
Complete ed. (Nos. 1-70, 1879): PDF

The Cathedral Psalter (1874): PDF
The Crucifixion (1887): HathiTrust
Holy Gladness (1889): WorldCat
The Cathedral Prayer Book (1891): WorldCat
The Church Hymnary (1898): PDF
The Order for the Burial of the Dead (1900): WorldCat
Hymn Tunes (1900): PDF
Let God Arise: Hymn for Use in Time of War (1900): WorldCat
Father, Forgive: Hymn for Use in Time of War (1900): WorldCat
A Manual of Plainsong (1902): PDF

Edited by others:

Hymns for the Church of England (1862 / 1865): WorldCat / WorldCat
Sarum Hymnal (1868): PDF
Hymns Ancient & Modern

with Appendix (1868): PDF
2nd ed. (1875): PDF
with Supplement (1889): PDF
Historical Companion (1889): PDF

The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer (1870): PDF
The Hymnary (ed. Joseph Barnby, 1870): PDF
Supplemental Hymn Tune Book (1871): PDF (4th ed)
The Service Book with the Music to be Used at the Choral Festival of the Nottinghamshire Church Choral Union (1870-1891): WorldCat

Church Hymns with Tunes, ed. Arthur Sullivan (1874): PDF
New Mitre Hymnal (1875): PDF
An Order of Service for a Festival of Parish Choirs (1875): WorldCat
Carols for Use in Church During Christmas and Epiphany (ed. R.R. Chope, 1875): PDF
The Song of Praise, or Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1875): WorldCat
The Sunlight of Song (1875): PDF
The Child’s Book of Praise . . . with Accompanying Tunes (ed. C.A. Barry, 1879): WorldCat
Psalms and Hymns for the Church (ed. William Irons, 1883): PDF
Westminster Abbey Hymn Book (ed. John Troutbeck, 1883): PDF
Home Hymn-Book (ed. Edwin Moss, ca. 1885): WorldCat
Congregational Church Hymnal (ed. George Barrett, 1887)

Part 1: PDF
Part 2: PDF

The Church Monthly (London, 1888-): WorldCat
Congregational Mission Hymnal (ed. George Barrett, 1890): PDF
Day School Hymn Book, (ed. Emma Mundella, 1890): WorldCat
An Order of Service for Children (ed. Bertrand Bouverie)

1st ed. (1884): WorldCat
2nd ed. (1891): WorldCat
3rd ed. (1894): PDF

Novello’s School Songs (periodical, ca. 1892-1900): WorldCat
Richmond and Kingston District Church Choral Association (1892): WorldCat
A Christmas Service of Song (1893): WorldCat
Harvest Festival Book (1894): WorldCat
An Easter Service of Song (1896): WorldCat
College Hymnal ? (1897): PDF
The Children’s Supplement (ed. Edward Handley, 1897): WorldCat
A Flower Service for Children (1890): WorldCat / (1898) WorldCat
Hymn Tunes for the Use of Rugby School (1898): WorldCat
Church Missionary Hymn Book (1899): PDF
Norwich Diocesan Missionary and Colonial Exhibitions, Bi-Centenary (1900): WorldCat
Baptist Church Hymnal (1900): PDF

Note: For an index of Stainer’s tunes, see his Hymn Tunes (1900); for lists of works, see Charlton (1984) or Dibble (2007).

Additional Works:

A Theory of Harmony, Founded on the Tempered Scale (1871): PDF

A Treatise on Harmony and the Classification of Chords (n.d., multiple eds.): PDF

A Dictionary of Musical Terms, with W.A. Barrett (1876): PDF

The Organ (1877): HathiTrust

Music of the Bible (1879): PDF / revised by Galpin (1914): PDF

Music in its Relation to the Intellect and Emotions (1892): PDF

Early Bodleian Music (1898): WorldCat 

Find it on Amazon:

Related Resources:

Christmas Carols New and Old, First Series [Review], The Musical Times, vol. 13, no. 310 (Dec. 1868), p. 616: JSTOR

Christmas Carols New and Old, Second Series [Review], The Musical Times, vol. 14, no. 334 (Dec. 1870), p. 714: JSTOR

Christmas Carols New and Old, Illustrated [Review], The Musical Times, vol. 15, no. 346 (Dec. 1871), p. 308: JSTOR

Christmas Carols New and Old, Third Series [Review], The Musical Times, vol. 19, no. 429 (Nov. 1878), p. 618: JSTOR

F.G. Edwards, “John Stainer,” Musical Times, vol. 42, no. 699 (1 May 1901), pp. 297-309: PDF

W.G. McNaught, “Some Reminiscences of the Late Sir John Stainer,” Royal Academy of Music Magazine, no.4 (1901), pp. 1–4: WorldCat

“Sir John Stainer,” Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. J.A. Fuller Maitland, vol. 4 (NY: MacMillan, 1908), p. 670:

E.H. Fellowes, “Sir John Stainer,” English Church Music, vol. 21 (1951), pp. 4–7: WorldCat

Peter Charlton, John Stainer and the Musical Life of Victorian Britain (Newton Abbot, 1984): WorldCat | Amazon

W.J. Gatens, “John Stainer (1840–1901) and Joseph Barnby (1838–96): the High Victorian Idiom,” Victorian Cathedral Music in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 170–201: WorldCat | Amazon

Paul Westermeyer, “John Stainer” Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago: GIA, 2005), pp. 263-264.

Jeremy Dibble, John Stainer: A Life in Music (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2007): Amazon

Nicholas Temperley, “Ancient and Modern in the Work of Sir John Stainer,” Studies in English Church Music, 1550–1900 (Farnham, 2009), pp. 329–44, 349: Amazon

Nicholas Temperley, “Sir John Stainer,” Grove Music Online:

Jeremy Dibble, “Sir John Stainer (1840-1901),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Jeremy Dibble, “John Stainer,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

John Stainer,