Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Anthems and Services
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was one of the seminal figuresof the British musical renaissance in the late nineteenth century. Born inDublin, he demonstrated talents as a composer from his teens and won an organscholarship to Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1870. During 1874 and 1875 healso studied with Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. From1874 to 1892 he was organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, and his skills as aconductor led to appointments that included CUMS (Cambridge University MusicalSociety) and the Bach Choir. His two principal academic appointments were asprofessor of music at Cambridge from 1887 to 1924 and as professor ofcomposition at the Royal College of Music from 1883 to 1924. He taught twogenerations of British composers including Vaughan Williams, Holst, Ireland,Moeran and Howells, and was knighted in 1902. Brahms was Stanford's musical'god', and his own music reflects his influence. During his life hiscompositions were highly successful at home and abroad. His legacy includesseven symphonies, of which the Third, the 'Irish' (1887), is best known, choralworks large and small, ranging from the Requiem (1896) and Songs of the Fleet(1910), to the exquisite part-song The Bluebird (1910), and operas such asShamus O'Brien (1894-5).
Itis for his contribution to Anglican church music, however, that Stanford isprincipally remembered. This included major settings of the canticles as wellas anthems, hymns and organ works. In his first important setting of theServices, in B flat (1879), it is clear that he is sweeping away the moribundapproach of earlier Victorian composers and is establishing new expressivemeans through applying Brahmsian procedures in cyclical unity, thematictransformation and symphonic structure. The r??le of the accompanying organ isalso heightened to superb effect. These tenets, subsequently enriched anddeveloped with maturity, mark all the Services that followed.
Stanford'slast important setting of the Morning, Communion and Evening Services, in Cmajor, was composed in 1909. It is arguably his grandest and the one in whichthe thematic ideas are most closely knit together to provide a unifying force.The opening of the Te Deum is sonorous and expansive, its curvaceous melodic line,like the arches of a great cathedral, permeates the settings. So too the themeintroduced by the basses at 'The glorious company of the Apostles', and theorgan's accompaniment figure at the section beginning 'When thou tookest uponthee to deliver man'. At the end the opening idea returns to sweep the music toits resplendent climax at 'O Lord in thee have I trusted'. Superficially themusic of the lilting Benedictus is unrelated to the Te Deum, but links arepresent in the key scheme underlying its two principal ideas, and in theGloria, when the opening phrase of the Te Deum returns in the glorious,affirmatory 'Amen'.
Theunaccompanied Three Latin Motets have justly remained among the most enduringof Stanford's sacred works. Although published in 1905, they were composedearlier in 1887-8. The words of Justorum animae derive from the third chapterof the Book of Wisdom. Cast in ternary form, the calm of the first section iscontrasted by a more animated middle part with the voices entering in imitation.Coelos ascendit hodie is a setting of a medieval hymn whose words describe theglory of the ascended Christ. Conceived for double choir, the music is exultantthroughout, and utilises antiphonal effects such as the pervasive crisp,fanfare-like call on the words 'Alleluia' which is tossed exuberantly betweenthe choirs. Psalm 119 provides the words for the Beati quorum via which isscored in six parts. Particularly beautiful is the still moment when the upperand lower voices in turn hover between major and minor chords on the word'Beati', and the tender, arched phrase at 'quorum via' near to the end.
Forhis Evening Service in C major Stanford wrote an Allegro moderato movementaround sonata-form principles with the verses of the canticle divided into fourshort sections. It begins with a majestic, ecstatic statement of praise;notable too is the contrast of textures at the start of the fourth section ('Hehath filled the hungry'), when the full choir is pared down to trebles, thentenors and basses at the words 'the rich he hath sent empty away'. The Nuncdimittis is conceived in one span and builds resplendently to its final climaxon the phrase 'and to be the glory of thy people Israel' which is a variant ofthe opening of the Te Deum. Both canticles end with the Gloria from theBenedictus thus achieving further thematic integrity.
Inthe late nineteenth century it was not standard practice to set the whole ofthe Communion Service so that in the Communion Service in C the principalsections are the Credo, Sanctus and Gloria. During Stanford's lifetime,however, choirs began to sing the Benedictus and Agnus Dei. In 1909 he addedthese to his earlier Service in F, but tonally they match the C major and Bflat settings as well. A complementary Kyrie eleison was arranged by C.S.Phillips and C.E.S. Littlejohn in 1935 from Stanford's Responses to theCommandments of his Communion Service in G. By this, a complete version of theMass is achieved as is heard on this recording. In the Credo, Sanctus and Gloriathe clarity of the words are emphasized for the communicant by vocal writing inwhich all parts move together, whilst in the Kyrie, Agnus Dei and Benedictusthe lines are more independent. The latter begins with a melody of serenebeauty for the basses which is marked by an expressive fall at the repetitionof the word 'Blessed'.
ThePrelude in G major and Postlude in D minor for organ that frame this recordingof the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G were composed in 1907. Within the Gmajor Services composed in 1902, the evening canticles have remained the mostpopular. This is partly owing to the composer's striking use of the solo trebleand bass voices, emphasizing that the texts are the 'songs' of the Virgin andSimeon respectively. The fleet Magnificat has a weaving arpeggiatedaccompaniment, which Sir Edward Bairstow perceptively likened to the image ofthe spinning-wheel that is invariably present in Renaissance paintings of theAnnunciation. Throughout soloist and choir are interwoven in a seamless weft,with the soloist soaring high as if reflecting the Virgin's heart leaping withjoy at the angel's news. By contrast the Nunc dimittis is solemn, growing fromthe organ's introductory bars to which the crucial words 'depart in peace' arelater set. The Glorias of both canticles are for choir alone and in Stanford'scustomary manner utilise the same music but to entirely different effect.
Forlo, I will raise up is one of Stanford's most powerful utterances: an anthemthat in its scope is akin to an operatic scena with contrasting emotions,tempos and choral colours. It was composed in 1914, and Stanford's choice ofwords from the Book of Habakkuk is significant, given the onset of hostilitiesand his abhorrence of war. The opening section is ominous, restless, with anagitated accompaniment that seems to set in motion implacable and relentlessforces of destruction. Vivid musical images arise from the words, for instancethe sound of the galloping horses' hooves at 'Their horses