Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
At age 29, a founding professor of the Royal College of Music, where he taught composition for the rest of his life.
Charles Villiers Stanford
Justorum Animae (1888)
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1902)
“In Stanford’s music the sense of style, the sense of beauty, the feeling of a great tradition is never absent. His music is in the best sense of the word Victorian, that is to say it is the musical counterpart of the art of Tennyson, Watts, and Matthew Arnold.”
— Ralph Vaughan Williams
Charles Villiers Stanford was a composer, conductor, and, for most of his adult life, professor of composition at Cambridge and at the Royal College of Music, of which he was a co-founder. He wrote music for the concert hall — seven symphonies, 11 concerti, nine operas, 28 chamber works — and sacred works for a worship setting.
His instrumental and operatic work was eclipsed at the turn of the century, partly by his former composition students including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Frank Bridge, who was an important influence on Benjamin Britten. Stanford is now known chiefly for his choral and vocal work.
Stanford was Irish, born in Dublin to musical parents. (His father was bass soloist for the Irish premiére of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.) He was a prodigy, giving his first piano recital at age 7 and already composing when he was 8. By the time he was 12, Stanford was able to play Chopin mazurkas at sight and whatever music his hands were large enough to play.
He was educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge, with organ and classics scholarships. He immersed himself in music and musical organizations, becoming assistant conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society. The Society consisted entirely of men and boys and resisted Stanford’s efforts to admit women. Stanford created the Amateur Vocal Guild, a group whose SATB performances were so successful that the Society agreed to merge and admit women.
Stanford also studied composition in Germany, where he met Johannes Brahms and others, becoming committed to classical forms (Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms). Although he admired modernists (Listz, Wagner), his conservative instructional approach to composition favored classical Brahms techniques.
In 1874, Stanford was appointed organist of Trinity College, a position from which he composed some of his best-known church music — not only anthems, but whole settings of the Anglican service. His biographer counted several among Stanford’s lasting accomplishments, including the Service in B-flat (1879), the anthem The Lord is my shepherd (1886) and the motet Justorum animae (1888).