John Henry Maunder

John Henry Maunder (February 21, 1858 – January 21, 1920) was an English composer and organist best known for his cantata "Olivet to Calvary" .


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.


Maunder's music goes unmentioned in Baker's and Grove's dictionaries, as well as in the Oxford Companion to Music, probably because he did not emerge from the cathedral tradition. His works are characteristic expressions of the Victorian era – a style replaced by the music of Stanford, Parry, Wood and Noble, among others.

Maunder's many church cantatas were widely performed and admired, but have gone out of fashion. However, there is a revival of interest in his music, notably in The Netherlands, and in parts of the United Kingdom. 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 initially written for men’s voices.

The harvest anthem Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem (1897), perhaps one of his finest, is a typically multi-sectional work of 150 measures (bars). Maunder wrote a number of part-songs, including a piece called Thor’s War Song (from Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn), and a musical setting of the Border Ballad by Sir Walter Scott.

Maunder also wrote operettas. His Daisy Dingle received its first performance in Forest Hill in 1885. Another, a Comic Opera, entitled The Superior Sex, was performed at the Empire Theatre, Southend, in March 1909, and again at the Cripplegate Theatre, London, in February 1910. Set in 2005 A.D., it takes a humorous look at female emancipation by setting an inept army regiment (the 125th Indefencibles) against legendary female-warriors, the Amazons. The balance of power then shifts from one side to the other, and receives much comment, before reverting in a dramatic final scene.

Critical opinion

In 1922, an American reviewer for The New Music Review wrote the following: "An enthusiastic choirmaster once declared that the organists and choristers of the English-speaking world should unite to raise a monument to J. H. Maunder as a great benefactor of the human race in general and of church musicians in particular, because of the fact that he combined in his voluminous writings for the church two factors which are both most highly to be commended and yet which are seldom found in the same composer, i.e., a good musical style and great technical facility. The music of Maunder is always well-written and thoroughly musical and devotional in feeling, and yet it is always easy to sing. Any amateur parish choir can attempt it, and yet it is worth the attention of even the best choral organizations. There is always a fresh and apparently inexhaustible flow of melodic ideas and the harmonic fabric is always full of interest and color and yet never unduly complicated. These remarks apply to all his writings, and may be made of the service [i.e. The Service in G] suggested for this day."[1]

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.’

In 1966, the critic Basil Ramsey wrote in the Musical Times of the LP recording of Olivet to Calvary by Barry Rose and the Guildford Cathedral Choir: "Here is a perplexing problem. Does this work warrant the preparation that has resulted in such an irresistible performance? Sweeping transformations can be made to music, however questionable its worth; and even poor words take on a superior air in such circumstances. The delusion will work for some and not others."[2] These almost cryptic, yet bitter remarks suggest that he was troubled at being moved by "the irresistible performance" of music whose style he had been taught to despise. It should be noted, however, that the performance accurately follows the printed score, and undergoes no such "sweeping transformations", its only three cuts being of a minor nature, namely the first presentation of "Another temple waits Thee, Lord divine" by the Trebles, "Come unto Him, all ye that labour" by the Baritone soloist, and the organ "March to Calvary", music which in each case is later repeated by the chorus.

According to Robert Young, author of The Anthem in England and America (1970), Maunder's music was probably more esteemed by volunteer church choir singers than his peers.[3]

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.’

List of works


  • Rongyao da jun wang ge = O worship the King : anthem for congregation and choir / William Croft ; arr. J.H. Maunder ; [words by] Robert Grant (1898)
  • Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem. Abridged Edition, arr. by Rob Roy Peery (1957)
  • Sing unto the Lord. - Abridged Edition. - Anthem (1896)


  • The Martyrs. Cantata for Soli, Chorus and Orchestra ... Mixed voice edition (1908)
  • Olivet to Calvary. [Orchestral parts.] (1905)
  • Penitence, Pardon and Peace. [Band parts available from Goodwin and Tabb Ltd. (now part of the Music Sales Group)] (1901)
  • Song of Thanksgiving. [Orchestral parts.] (1905/06)





  • Border Ballad. For Mixed Voice Chorus, words by Sir W. Scott (1912)
  • Lil Brack Sheep. Negro Spiritual, freely arr. Leslie Woodgate. (No.1) in E♭ = Low Voice & piano. (1945)
  • Lil brack Sheep. Negro Spiritual. Melody by J. H. Maunder. Freely arranged for Mixed Voices by Leslie Woodgate (1947)
  • The Song of Thor, for SATB & piano (G major version) (1911)
  • The Song of Thor. [Orchestral parts.] (1908)


  • Espagnola. Caprice for the Pianoforte (1885)





  1. He was giving notes for the Suggested Service List (provided by the American Guild of Organists) for February 5th, 1922. The New Music Review and Church Music Review, official bulletin of the American Guild of Organists, Volume 21, No. 43 (New York: H.W. Gray Co., on behalf of Novello, Ewer & co., 1922) p. 61
  2. The Musical Times, Vol. 107, No. 1475 (Jan., 1966), p. 64
  3. Young, Robert H. & Elwyn A. Weinandt, The Anthem In England and America (New York: The Free Press, 1970) pp.290-291
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