J.B. Steane

J.B. Steane

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John Barry Steane was an English music critic, musicologist, literary scholar and teacher, with a particular interest in singing and the human voice. His 36-year career as a schoolmaster overlapped with his career as a music critic and author of books on Elizabethan drama, and opera and concert singers.

Among Steane's works are critical studies of Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

 and Tennyson, and a series of books on music, concentrating on singing and singers. He contributed to a range of musical journals, including Gramophone and The Musical Times
The Musical Times
The Musical Times is an academic journal of classical music edited and produced in the United Kingdom. It is currently the oldest such journal that is still publishing in the UK, having been published continuously since 1844. It was published as The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular until...

, and wrote articles for the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is the largest single reference work on Western music. The dictionary has gone through several editions since the 19th century...

and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Early years


Steane was born in Coventry
Coventry
Coventry is a city and metropolitan borough in the county of West Midlands in England. Coventry is the 9th largest city in England and the 11th largest in the United Kingdom. It is also the second largest city in the English Midlands, after Birmingham, with a population of 300,848, although...

, the son of William John Steane and his wife, Winifred. He was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry. While there, he became a member of the Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current bishop is the Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth....

 choir. When the cathedral was destroyed by bombing in 1940, Steane moved to the neighbouring Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
Holy Trinity Church, Coventry is a parish church in the Church of England located in Coventry City Centre, West Midlands, England.Above the chancel arch is probably the most impressive Doom wall-painting now remaining in an English church.-History:...

. After leaving school and before going up to the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, he undertook his national service
Conscription in the United Kingdom
Conscription in the United Kingdom has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1919, the second was from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963...

, where among those he met was Sergeant Edward Greenfield
Edward Greenfield
Edward Greenfield is an English music critic and broadcaster. He joined the Manchester Guardian in 1953, working as a lobby correspondent in the House of Commons. He has been a record critic for the newspaper since 1955, a music critic since 1964, and was chief music critic from 1977 until his...

, who became a lifelong friend and later a colleague of Steane in music criticism.

From 1948 to 1952 Steane attended Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College, Cambridge
Jesus College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The College was founded in 1496 on the site of a Benedictine nunnery by John Alcock, then Bishop of Ely...

, where he studied English under A. P. Rossiter from 1948 to 1952. Among the other influences on him at Cambridge was the controversial scholar F. R. Leavis
F. R. Leavis
Frank Raymond "F. R." Leavis CH was an influential British literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. He taught for nearly his entire career at Downing College, Cambridge.-Early life:...

. After graduating he joined the staff of Merchant Taylors
Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood
Merchant Taylors' School is a British independent day school for boys, originally located in the City of London. Since 1933 it has been located at Sandy Lodge in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire ....

' school Northwood, Middlesex
Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

, where he became a housemaster
Housemaster
In British education, a housemaster is a member of staff in charge of a boarding house, normally at a boarding school . The housemaster is responsible for the supervision and care of boarders in the house and typically lives on the premises...

 and head of English. An obituarist wrote in 2011 that Steane influenced many aspects of the school's life, including not only English, but also sport, music and drama, and "the breadth of his intellect and the warmth of his personality made him an inspirational guide for generations of students".

English literature


In 1964, the Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

 published Steane's first book, Marlowe: A Critical Study, giving a short (23 page) biographical study of the Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 playwright, Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

, together with a comprehensive (350 page) study of his works. Reviewing the book, The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

said of Steane, "He possesses the authority which derives from intimate knowledge … creative criticism of the highest quality." The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement is a weekly literary review published in London by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.-History:...

 (TLS)
wrote, "He has turned an acute and sensitive mind upon Christopher Marlowe and both the author and ourselves should be thankful to him." For the same publisher, Steane edited and introduced Thomas Dekker
Thomas Dekker
Thomas Dekker was an English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, a versatile and prolific writer whose career spanned several decades and brought him into contact with many of the period's most famous dramatists.-Life:...

's The Shoemaker's Holiday
The Shoemaker's Holiday
The Shoemakers' Holiday, or the Gentle Craft is an Elizabethan play written by Thomas Dekker. It was first performed in 1599 by the Admiral's Men. It falls into the sub-genre of city comedy.The play was first published in 1600 by the printer Valentine Simmes...

in an edition published in 1965, and Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's The Alchemist, in 1967.

Steane's literary interests were not confined to the Elizabethans; in 1966 he wrote a volume on Tennyson for a new series, "Literature in Perspective", to which his fellow contributors included Margaret Drabble, Norman Sherry
Norman Sherry
Norman Sherry is an English born American novelist, biographer, and educator who is most well known for his three-volume biography of the British novelist Graham Greene. He has an older brother Thomas Taylor Sherry and a twin brother called Alan Sherry...

 and Fred Inglis
Fred Inglis
Fred Inglis is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Sheffield in the UK. Previously Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Warwick, he has been a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Fellow-in-Residence at the...

; the TLS thought Steane's book "brilliant, informative and admirably written", and much the best of the four. In 1969 he edited, and wrote the introduction to, the Penguin
Penguin Books
Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

 edition of Marlowe's plays. In 1972 he published his last contribution to English literary scholarship, an edition of Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret .-Early life:...

's, The Unfortunate Traveller
The Unfortunate Traveller
The Unfortunate Traveller: or, the Life of Jack Wilton by Thomas Nashe is a picaresque novel set during the reign of Henry VIII of England....

and other works.

Music criticism


Music was a lifelong passion with Steane. During his years at Merchant Taylor's he regularly played the organ for chapel services. An obituary in The Times, noting that choral music, and particularly the music of the Anglican liturgy, remained one of his greatest loves, observes, "his beautifully observed and straightforwardly expressed views about the art of singing brought him to the attention of the EMI
EMI Records
EMI Records is the flagship record label founded by the EMI company in 1972 and launched in January 1973 as the successor to its Columbia label. The EMI label was launched worldwide...

 record producer Walter Legge
Walter Legge
Harry Walter Legge was an influential English classical record producer, most notably for EMI. His recordings include many sets later regarded as classics and reissued by EMI as "Great Recordings of the Century". He worked in the recording industry from 1927, combining this with the post of junior...

, who suggested to the editors of Gramophone magazine that he would be a useful adornment to its panel of contributors."

Steane began writing for Gramophone in 1972. In 1974 he took over from Desmond Shawe-Taylor
Desmond Shawe-Taylor (music critic)
Desmond Christopher Shawe Taylor, , was a British writer, co-author of The Record Guide, music critic of The New Statesman, The New Yorker and The Sunday Times and a regular and long-standing contributor to The Gramophone.-Biography:Shawe-Taylor was born in Dublin, the elder of two sons of...

 the long-running quarterly feature, "The Gramophone and the Voice", giving a second opinion on vocal issues reviewed in recent issues of the magazine. An editor of the magazine commented that Steane's views were "beautifully judged, invariably generous and always elegantly crafted". In 1999, the magazine published in book form a collection of these articles from the previous 25 years.

In 1974 Steane published his book The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record, 1900-1970 which covered the history of recorded singing. It was enthusiastically received by the critics. The TLS wrote that singers had found in Steane "their Keats or Baudelaire, the poet of the sensations they create." The reviewer praised his ability to characterise a singer with phrases of "poetic refinement", though not eschewing humour, quoting his description of Nellie Melba
Nellie Melba
Dame Nellie Melba GBE , born Helen "Nellie" Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and the early 20th century...

 changing in the course of one song "from Juliet at the ball to a knees-up-mother-Brown pearly-queen". In The Musical Times
The Musical Times
The Musical Times is an academic journal of classical music edited and produced in the United Kingdom. It is currently the oldest such journal that is still publishing in the UK, having been published continuously since 1844. It was published as The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular until...

, Harold Rosenthal
Harold Rosenthal
Harold David Rosenthal OBE was an English music critic, writer, lecturer, and broadcaster about opera. Originally a schoolmaster, he became drawn to music, particularly opera, and began working on musical publications...

 vigorously dissented from some of Steane's opinions, but he too praised his gift for the "apt choice of a word or phrase to sum up a singer's art or voice". Music & Letters
Music & Letters
Music & Letters, also known as Music and Letters, is an international journal published quarterly by Oxford University Press with a focus on musicology. Its ISSN is 00274224...

called it "a book for the connoisseur". American Record Guide
American Record Guide
The American Record Guide is a classical music magazine. It has reviewed classical music recordings since 1935.Since 1992, with the incorporation of the Musical America editorial functions into ARG, it started covering concerts, musicians, ensembles and orchestras in the US.The magazine prides...

called Steane's erudition "formidable" and the book "essential".

In the 1980s Steane began writing articles and reviews in The Musical Times. Many of his contributions were about famous singers of the past, or reviews of books about them. These included Claudia Muzio
Claudia Muzio
Claudia Muzio was an Italian operatic soprano, whose international career was among the most successful of the early 20th century.-Early years:...

, Beniamino Gigli
Beniamino Gigli
Beniamino Gigli was an Italian opera singer. The most famous tenor of his generation, he was renowned internationally for the great beauty of his voice and the soundness of his vocal technique. Music critics sometimes took him to task, however, for what was perceived to be the over-emotionalism...

, Lauritz Melchior
Lauritz Melchior
Lauritz Melchior was a Danish and later American opera singer. He was the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and has since come to be considered the quintessence of his voice type.-Biography:...

, Enrico Caruso, and Margaret Burke-Sheridan. His literary expertise was employed in a piece about the poets whose music Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

 chose to set. Other articles drew on his long and wide experience of opera and song, from Puccini
Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire...

 to Hugo Wolf
Hugo Wolf
Hugo Wolf was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or lieder. He brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music, somewhat related to that of the Second Viennese School in concision but utterly unrelated in...

. He also contributed many reviews and articles to Opera
Opera (magazine)
Opera is a monthly British magazine devoted to covering all things related to opera.Based in London, the magazine was founded in 1950 by George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood. It was launched at the house of Richard Buckle, under the imprint 'Ballet Publications Ltd'...

(from 1981), Opera Now (from 1989), and Classic Record Collector
Classic Record Collector
Classical Recordings Quarterly is a quarterly British magazine devoted to vintage recordings of classical music, across the range of instrumental recordings, chamber music, orchestral, vocal and opera....

.

Steane contributed numerous entries in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is the largest single reference work on Western music. The dictionary has gone through several editions since the 19th century...

and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera
New Grove Dictionary of Opera
The New Grove Dictionary of Opera is an encyclopedia of opera, considered to be one of the best general reference sources on the subject. It is the largest work on opera in English, and in its printed form, amounts to 5,448 pages in four volumes....

. The online combined edition of Grove at May 2011 listed 359 articles by him, mostly about singers, but with some about other subjects such as the conductor Tullio Serafin
Tullio Serafin
-Biography:Tullio Serafin was a leading Italian opera conductor with a long career and a very broad repertoire who revived many 19th century bel canto operas by Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti to become staples of 20th century repertoire...

 and the pianist Graham Johnson. He wrote the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Roy Henderson and Nellie Melba. Steane's Voices, Singers and Critics was published in 1992, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: A Career on Record (with Alan Sanders) in 1995, and his three-volume Singers of the Century appeared between 1996 and 2000.

Steane retired from Merchant Taylor's in 1988. In 2008 he was honoured by the Worshipful Company of Musicians
Worshipful Company of Musicians
The Worshipful Company of Musicians is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. Its history dates back to at least 1350. Originally a specialist guild for musicians, its role became an anachronism in the 18th century, when the centre of music making in London moved from the City to the...

, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He died at the age of 82. His final contribution to Gramophone, an appreciation of a vintage recording of The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's comedy Le Barbier de Séville , which was originally an opéra comique, or a mixture of spoken play with music...

with Maria Callas
Maria Callas
Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice and great dramatic gifts...

 and Tito Gobbi
Tito Gobbi
Tito Gobbi was an Italian operatic baritone with an international reputation.-Biography:Tito Gobbi was born in Bassano del Grappa and studied law at the University of Padua before he trained as a singer. Giulio Crimi, a well-known Italian tenor of a previous generation, was Gobbi's teacher in Rome...

, was published posthumously in May 2011.

Author

  • Marlowe: A Critical Study, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1964, second edition, 1970.
  • Tennyson, Evans Brothers (London), 1966, Arco (New York, NY), 1969.
  • The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record, Scribner (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted, Amadeus Press (Portland, OR), 1993.
  • Voices, Singers and Critics, Amadeus Press, 1992.
  • Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: A Career on Record (with Alan Sanders and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf), Amadeus Press, 1995.
  • Singers of the Century, Amadeus Press, Volume 1, 1996, Volume 2, 1999, Volume 3, 2000.
  • The Gramophone and the Voice: 25 Years of Quarterly Writings from the Pages of Gramophone, Gramophone, 1999.

Editor

  • Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker's Holiday, Cambridge University Press, 1965.
  • Ben Jonson, The Alchemist, Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Christopher Marlowe, The Complete Plays, Penguin (Harmondsworth), 1969.
  • Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works, Penguin, 1972.

Sources

  • http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n50-24313Steane bibliography at WorldCat
    WorldCat
    WorldCat is a union catalog which itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories which participate in the Online Computer Library Center global cooperative...

    ]