John Henry Maunder was born in Chelsea and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He was organist at St Matthew’s, Sydenham 1876-7, and St Paul’s, Forest Hill 1878-9, neither of which now exists, as well as churches in Blackheath and Sutton, and accompanied concerts in the Albert Hall. He was conductor of the Civil Service Vocal Union from 1881, and also trained the choir for Henry Irving’s original production of Faust at the Lyceum Theatre in 1887.
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Maunder composed many church cantatas, which for a while were widely performed and admired, but in recent times have gone out of fashion - so far out, indeed, that we have yet to find a reliable picture of the man himself! Not long ago many choirs used to sing Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary (words by Shapcott Wensley - pseudonym for H S Bunce) regularly with Stainer’s Crucifixion at Passiontide in alternate years. Other seldom performed cantatas include Bethlehem; Penitence, Pardon and Peace; and one called The Martyrs for men’s voices. A largely forgotten piece he composed for Harvest is a paraphrase of several psalms called "Praise the Lord O Jerusalem."
Maunder also wrote operettas. His Daisy Dingle received its first performance in Forest Hill in 1885, and another operetta was called The Superior Sex. He also wrote a piece called Thor’s War Song.
In the 1955 edition of the Oxford Companion to Music Percy Scholes damns him with faint praise, writing that his ‘seemingly inexhaustible cantatas, Penitence, Pardon and Peace, and From Olivet to Calvary long enjoyed popularity, and still aid the devotions of undemanding congregations in less sophisticated areas.’ Phillip Tolley, in the website of British Choirs on the Net, writes: Olivet to Calvary ‘is a fine example of music written for the late Victorian/early Edwardian Anglican church. Considered by some to be over sentimental by modern tastes, it contains a sincerity and dedication which, despite being a definite product of its time, has carried the piece through to the modern era. Its popularity is in part due to its simplicity, needing only organ, choir, bass and tenor soloists, it is a work which can be performed by the smallest choirs. ‘Described as a sacred cantata, Olivet to Calvary recalls the scenes which mark the last few days of Christ's life on earth. Part 1 starts with Christ's jubilant journey to Jerusalem and ends with the scene on the Mount of Olives. Part 2 begins with the Feast of Passover with Christ's commandment to his disciples to 'Love one Another' and ends with the Crucifixion at Calvary. It is interspersed with congregational hymns which reflect on the scenes. ‘While a slight and somewhat outdated work Olivet to Calvary, like Stainer's more substantial Crucifixion, rewards sincere performance.’ Contemporary performances Several English choirs perform Olivet to Calvary occasionally, and the oratorio-choir ‘Exultate Deo’ of Voorschoten, near The Hague, in Holland, regularly gives concerts of Maunder’s music, with accompaniments adapted for a small orchestra.
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