Stevenson, Sir John Andrew (1762–1833), composer, was born in November 1761 at Crane Lane, Dublin, son of John Stevenson, violinist in the city's state band; his mother's name is not known. In 1771 he became a chorister at Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, and later sang (1775–80) in the choir of St Patrick's cathedral. He had a rich bass voice and received important vocal training from Richard Woodward (qv) and Samuel Murphy. Despite little formal instruction in composition he began writing various pieces, drawing inspiration from the sacred music of Joseph Haydn. His first vocal work, twelve canzonets, was published in Dublin c.1780 and he followed this with numerous songs, duets, catches, and glees. He also contributed music for three of the operatic farces of John O'Keefe (qv) during 1781–2. Awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Dublin University in 1791, he was appointed successively vicar choral at St Patrick's (1793) and then at Christ Church (1800). In 1797 he published his First selection of French and English songs to much acclaim. At a viceregal dinner in 1803 one of his works, ‘Give me the harp of epic song’, made such an impression on Lord Hardwicke (qv) that he was soon after awarded a knighthood. The first Irish composer to receive such an honour, he was subsequently referred to as ‘the musical knight’.
Stevenson is best remembered for his collaborations with Thomas Moore (qv). He put Moore's Irish melodies to music with a sophisticated collection of ‘symphonies and accompaniments’ which quickly became popular, though they were later criticised for being over-elaborate and even incongruous. Four volumes of A selection of Irish melodies were published with Moore (1807–21) and A series of sacred songs were also prepared with him (1816–24); all showed the discernible influence of Haydn in technique and approach. Working with the writer and spy Henry Brereton Code (qv) on two operas, Stevenson composed the music for ‘The patriot’ (1811) and ‘The Russian sacrifice’ (1813). Code recorded that almost the entire music for the former was written in one evening.
In 1814 Stevenson became the first organist and musical director at the Castle chapel. He continued to contribute a number of works to the repertoires of Christ Church and St Patrick's, and eight services and twenty-six anthems remain extant. Many of his church compositions were written to be performed by himself and his close friend Dr John Spray and were rich in tenor and bass solos. Perhaps the best anthem was ‘Lord, how are they increased that trouble me’ from the third psalm. He achieved one of his greatest successes with the song ‘Faithless Emma’, which Spray helped to popularise.
Stevenson died 14 September 1833 at Headfort House, Kells, Co. Meath. He married (date unknown) the widow of a Mr Singleton (née Morton); they had two sons and two daughters. Highly regarded in his own time, Stevenson's work was reevaluated in the twentieth century. While he was undoubtedly talented, his compositions betray a lack of formal training and too slavishly imitate Haydn without capturing his depth or profundity.