The composer was born German Edward Jones in Whitchurch in 1862, the second of five children.
He was the elder of two sons of John David Jones, a liquor merchant, brewer, church organist and local preacher, and Betsey (Elizabeth) Cox, a teacher of Bible classes for young women.
He began to study piano and organ with his father at the age of five. At the age of just six, he formed a boys concert band to perform locally, teaching himself the violin, composition, and music arrangement in the process.
He later sang alto in the church choir and participated in family entertainments above his uncle's grocery shop, often playing piano duets with his elder sister Ruth, who died when he was 15.
When he was in his mid teens, German's parents attempted to apprentice him to a shipbuilding firm, as they believed their son had an aptitude for engineering.
His studies at a boarding school in Chester had been delayed by a serious illness, however, so he was eventually turned away for being too old to begin an apprenticeship.
In his teens he formed a second band, a quintet, including himself on the violin, his sister on the pianoforte or the bass and three friends of the family, for which German prepared the orchestrations. He also led the town orchestra, did some amateur acting and sang comic songs in local village halls.
At the age of 18, following private study with Walter Hay, the conductor of the Whitchurch Choral Society, German entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he eventually changed his name to J E German (and later simply Edward German) to avoid confusion with another student named Edward Jones. He continued his studies of violin, organ and composition.
In 1884, the Academy appointed German a sub-professor of the violin. During his time as an instructor he was well regarded and won several medals and prizes, such as the Tubbs Bow for his skill with the violin.
In 1885 he won the Charles Lucas Medal for his Te Deum for soloists, choir and organ, leading him to change his focus from violin to composition. He wrote a light opera, The Two Poets, in 1886, and his first symphony.
German also composed music to several Rudyard Kipling texts, including the Just So Song Book in 1903. He received a steady flow of orchestral commissions, leading to works such as his Welsh Rhapsody for the Cardiff Festival in 1904, featuring as its climax Men of Harlech.
German also returned to writing comic operas, achieving another success with Tom Jones for the Apollo Theatre in 1907.
As he grew older he only composed on rare occasions - these included a march and hymn for the coronation of King George V in 1911, his Theme and Six Diversions in 1919, and his final major work, the Othello-inspired tone poem The Willow Song in 1922.
in 1911 he became the first composer to write music for a British film. He was commissioned for 50 guineas to write 16 bars of music for the coronation scene in a Henry VIII motion picture.
However, German was a perfectionist and continually revised his works and produced new arrangements.
He was injured in a road accident during the First World War but he continued to be a highly sought-after conductor, accepting many conducting engagements until he suffered an eye condition that left him blind in his right eye in 1928.
German was knighted that year, when the respect in which he was held by fellow musicians was shown by the number of eminent musicians attending the celebratory dinner: Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Hugh Allen, Sir Landon Ronald and Lord Berners.
In 1934, German received the Royal Philharmonic Society's highest honour, its gold medal, presented by Sir Thomas Beecham at an RPS concert.
German lived long enough to witness a decline in the popularity of his orchestral works.
A note found after his death said: "I die a disappointed man because my serious orchestral works have not been recognised."
However, his best-known orchestral pieces are still occasionally performed and his light operas Merrie England and Tom Jones continue to receive productions, at least by amateur companies.
German died in 1936 of cancer at his home in Maida Vale, London, at the age of 74 and was cremated. His ashes are interred in Whitchurch Cemetery.