Thursday, March 30, 8750

John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) - Drinking Song

John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) - To Anacreon in Heaven
(Drinking Song, a.k.a The Star Spangled Banner)

John Stafford Smith (March 30, 1750 – September 21, 1836) was an English composer born in Gloucester, church organist, and early musicologist. He was one of the first serious collectors of manuscripts of works by Johann Sebastian Bach.

He is best known for writing the music for The Anacreontic Song, which became the tune for the American patriotic song Star Spangled Banner following the war of 1812 and in 1931 was adopted as the American national anthem.

John Stafford Smith was baptised in Gloucester Cathedral on 30 March 1750, the son of Martin Smith, organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1743-1782. He attended the Gloucester cathedral school where he became a boy-singer. He furthered his career as a choir boy at the Chapel Royal, London and also studied under the famous Dr William Boyce.

By the 1770's he had gained himself a reputation as a composer and organist. He was elected as a member of the select Anacreontic Society which boasted amongst its membership such persons as Dr Johnson, James Boswell, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Henry Purcell.

About 1780 Smith composed music for the society's constitutional song entitled To Anachreon in Heaven. The words were by Ralph Tomlinson (1744-1778) president of the society, and were inspired by the sixth-century BC Greek lyric poet , Anacreon, who wrote odes on the pleasures of love and wine. The song became popular in Britain and also America following the establishment of several Anarchreontic Societies there.

Stafford Smith later became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1784, organist for the Chapel Royal in 1802 and Master of the Children in 1805. he also became lay-vicar of Westminster Abbey. He was organist at the Three Choirs Festival held at Gloucester in 1790.

John Stafford Smith is considered to be the first Englishman to be a serious antiquarian and musicologist. He began by publishing his A Collection of English Song in 1779. Smith's library included the Old Hall Manuscript as well as a copy of "Ulm Gesangbuch" from 1538. He also collected works that dated back to the twelfth century including some Gregorian chants. His publication "Musica Antiqua" (1812) included musical scores of works by Jacob Obrecht, Adrian Willaert, Jacob Clemens and Cristóbal de Morales with historical notes on each piece.

He died in 1836 at 96 allegedly caused by a grape-seed lodged in his windpipe [!].

In 1814 Francis Scott Key wrote the poem "The Defence of Fort McHenry" (later re-titled, "The Star-Spangled Banner"), which came to be sung to the tune of "Anacreon." This was officially designated as the national anthem of the United States in 1931. At one time, the same Stafford Smith tune was also used as the national anthem of Luxembourg, but their anthem has since changed.

[8750 Salieri / 8750 John Stafford Smith / 8746 Billings]