Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
At age 29, Stanford became a founding professor of the Royal College of Music, where he taught composition for the rest of his life.
Charles Villiers Stanford
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A (1880)
“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 nearly all 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, and his mother was a pianist who played solo parts in concertos at Dublin concerts.) 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 could sightread 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, so Stanford created the Amateur Vocal Guild, an SATB chorus. Partly because it could present a wider variety of music, the Amateur Vocal Guild’s performances were so successful that the Society agreed to merge and admit women. The Musical Times called Stanford’s achievement “a bloodless revolution.”
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 (Liszt, Wagner), his conservative instructional approach to composition favored classical Brahmsian techniques.
As an undergraduate 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. One of his biographers ranked the services in A (1880), F (1889) and C (1909) among Stanford’s most important and lasting accomplishments.
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis
From Morning, Evening and Communion Service in A major, Op.12 (1880)
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath magnified me and Holy is His Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm.
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel as he promised to our forefathers Abraham and his seed forever.
From Morning, Communion and Evening Services in A, Op. 12 (1880)
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end.