John Stanley

Born: 1712
Died: 1786

Occupation: Baroque Composer, Organist and Violinist

Challenges overcome: Visual Impairment

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

John Stanley an organist and composer, was born in London on 17 January 1712, the third but eldest surviving child (of six) of John Stanley a Post Office official, and his wife, Elizabeth Davy.

When he was two years old he was blinded by falling on a marble hearth while holding a china basin in his hand. At the age of seven he began to study music and was placed under John Reading, then organist at St John’s, Hackney, but soon after he became a pupil of Maurice Greene, an organist at St Paul’s Cathedral. Evidently making rapid progress, in October 1723 John Stanley was appointed organist of All Hallows, Bread Street, which was his own parish and before he was twelve. Just three years later he won the more prestigious position at St Andrew’s, Holborn, where he succeeded Daniel Purcell and John Isham. In 1729 he presented as his exercise at Oxford the ode The Power of Musick and became the youngest person there to graduate with a Bachelor of Music Degree. He was elected organist to the Society of the Inner Temple in 1734, and held this post, with that at St Andrew’s, until his death. John Stanley’s reputation as a performer was such that, according to John Alcock:  ‘it was common, just as the service at St. Andrew’s church, or the Temple, was ended, to see forty or fifty organists at the altar, waiting to hear his last voluntary: even Mr. Handel himself I have many times seen at each of those places.’ (Universal Magazine, 79, July 1786, 44).

On 22 July 1738 John Stanley married his pupil Sarah Arlond, the daughter of Captain Edward Arlond, a merchant in the East India Company; they had no children.

His musical ear and memory were exceptional and he could remember and perform any piece after hearing it once, and even when he had to accompany a new oratorio his sister-in-law, Ann Arlond (who lived with John Stanley and his wife), needed to play it through to him once only. Having to accompany a Te Deum in D by Handel (probably the Dettingen), and finding the organ to be tuned a semitone sharp, he transposed the entire composition without hesitation, a feat that seems to have impressed his contemporaries. He played regularly in concerts in London, and sometimes too in the provinces, and he was in much demand as a teacher; among his earliest pupils was John Alcock, only three years his junior. John Stanley was a member of the Academy of Vocal (later Ancient) Music. He also played the violin, and led the subscription concerts at The Swan tavern in Cornhill and The Castle in Paternoster Row, using a Stainer violin for orchestral playing and a Cremona for solos. During this period Stanley was a prolific composer of cantatas. Most were published, including three sets (1742, 1748, 1751), and many of them have texts by John Hawkins. Yet he is much better known for his three sets of organ voluntaries (1748, 1752, 1754), and also for the six concerti grossi which rank among the finest of their type.

John Stanley directed the annual performances of Messiah in aid of the Foundling Hospital, where he had become a governor in 1770. In February 1779, on the death of William Boyce, John Stanley was appointed master of the king’s band, in which capacity he supplied fifteen new year and birthday odes; the music for all of them is now lost. He became, in addition, ‘Conductor of the Musick at the Balls at Court’ in 1782, after the sudden death of Charles Weidemann. His last composition was probably the ode, with a text by the poet laureate, Thomas Warton, written for the king’s birthday on 4 June 1786. It was duly performed, but John Stanley had died at his house in Hatton Garden on 19 May. He was buried on the evening of 27 May in the new ground attached to St Andrew’s, Holborn. On the following Sunday an appropriate selection was performed ‘on that organ on which Mr. Stanley had with much eminence displayed his musical abilities near sixty years’.

Challenges Overcome

John Stanley was blind from the age of two and despite this disability he went on to study music at the age of seven having developed an exceptional ability to remember and hear a piece of music only once which he could then play.

Disability Definitions

Visually Impaired

Visual impairment (or vision impairment) is a decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses or medication. Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, and infection. Visual impairment can also be caused by brain and nerve disorders, in which case it is usually termed cortical visual impairment.


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Information sources:

Please click on the information links below to find out more.

http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/c.asp?c=C571 (you can download Concerto’s by John Stanley on this website).
Peter Lynan, ‘Stanley, John (1712–1786)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26276, accessed 1 July 2015] – Please note that you will require library subscription or a library card to access the content on this site.

Image source: Wikicommons

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