A musical trinity: Mr Chipp, Mr Bennett and Mr Mendelssohn

To fossick in the basement of the Central City Library amongst the music collection is like being a child in a sweet shop – there is so much to explore it can be overwhelming and it is difficult to know where to start. One of the delights though, is discovering the stories behind some of our lesser known treasures. The music score of “Twenty four sketches for the organ” by Edmund Thomas Chipp and donated to Auckland Libraries by John F. Bennett, presented such an opportunity to do a little research into this little known composer and uncover his unique story. What was revealed was a deeper connection between Mr Chipp and Mr Bennett than one might have first imagined.

Mr Chipp was not a prolific composer, in fact he only composed eight works plus his Twenty four sketches for the Organ op. 11. Auckland Libraries is fortunate enough to have two of these in its collection: The Harmonious Blacksmith for the organ and God preserve the Emperor: variations on Haydn’s Austrian hymn composed for the organ.

Chipp wrote the Twenty four sketches because he had a desire for his music to be practical and useful. In the ‘Prefatorial remarks’ he writes:

The Organist is not at all times able to make use of the larger compositions of the great masters and too frequently from the want of smaller and lighter pieces, has recourse to arrangements from works which were never intended to be turned to such a purpose. I therefore offer these detached compositions trusting they may in some degree fulfil their mission.”

Image: E.T. Chipp. Twenty four sketches for the organ op. 11. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b1617918.

Edmund Thomas Chipp

Edmund Thomas Chipp was born in London on Christmas Day 1823. He was educated in the Chapel Royal White Hall as a chorister from the age of seven until he was 17. On 28 June 1838, Edmund Chipp found himself in the choir that sang at the coronation of Queen Victoria. One could imagine that experiencing the pomp and ceremony of such an auspicious occasion would make a profound impression on the young 15 year old. Edmund developed to be a very versatile musician, studied the organ under George Cooper, the organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as the violin. However, the Organ seemed to be his predominant instrument. Edmund’s skills as an organist were not restricted to only serving the Church and he became so proficient that he was often employed to demonstrate new organs at the organ factories, showing off their new and exciting features.

Image: Edmund Thomas Chipp. Public domain.

Edmund went on to obtain a music degree in 1859 and then was the first to gain a doctorate in 1861 from Cambridge University under the mighty Sir William Sterndale Bennett. Sterndale Bennett had developed a very close relationship with the composer Felix Mendelssohn. He naturally introduced Edmund to the great Mendelssohn and fostered in him a love for Mendlessohn’s music. Such was the friendship that grew between the two composers Edmund was the first to perform one of Mendelssohn’s Six Grand Organ Sonatas op. 65 at the Walkers Organ Factory a very short time after they were first published.

Image: Cover of Mendelssohn's Werke, Serie 12. 1967. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b1624137.

A couple of years later he performed all six sonatas to great acclaim, receiving glowing comments from the composer himself. He then went on to collate and transcribe the full scores of all of Mendelssohn’s unpublished works in his own leisure time.

Edmund Chipp died while convalescing in Nice, France in December 1886 after enjoying a very rich musical life. But the other thread of interest in this story is the donor of the Twenty four sketches for organ and his connection to Chipp and Sterndale Bennett.

Mr John F. Bennett

In searching through Papers Past an article from July 1930 entitled Literary Lineage reveals that still living in New Zealand during that time were several direct descendants of William Sterndale Bennett “the greatest of Victorian composers”. It turns out that John F. Bennett’s father, Frederick James Bennett, was in fact a nephew of William Sterndale Bennett.

John F. Bennett was a very prominent and well respected musician in the Auckland community fulfilling many different roles. Early in his career he became a music critic for the Press, the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Star.  As a result he had an exceptionally wide knowledge of music and musicians and collected a fine library of scores and books over his 40 year career. He was also organist at Knox Presbyterian Church in Parnell, and Choirmaster at the Devonport Presbyterian Church from 1890 where he remained for 8 years.

Image: Frederick George Radcliffe. The Prebyterian Church St Pauls in Albert Road, Devonport. Between 1910 and 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 35-R107.

He also ran a music school at His Majesty’s Theatre which opened with much fanfare in 1903 boasting 4 grand pianos in his teaching studios. Of course there were numerous concerts over the coming years giving opportunity for his students to perform and showcase their talents.

Image: Les Downey. His Majesty's Theatre on Durham Street West. 1972. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 314-6-28.

Mr Bennett generously donated a significant collection of over 200 volumes of music and books to the Auckland Public Library and Twenty four sketches for organ by E.T Chipp is just one of many treasures in our basement waiting to be explored.

Image: John F. Bennett's bookplate. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b1617918.

Author: Marilyn Portman, Senior Librarian Music, Heritage Collections. 


Obituary. Death of Mr. John F. Bennett. Auckland Star Volume LXI, issue 249, 21 October 1930.

Literary lineage. NZ Herald, volume LXVII, issue 20617, 16 July 1930.

Obituary: Edmund Thomas Chipp. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular. Musical Times Publications Ltd. 28 (528): 100–101.  February 1887. JSTOR 3360878. (May require login)

William Sterndale Bennett. Wikipedia.