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Charles Villiers Stanford was born in Dublin, of a family of lawyers and highly skilled amateur musicians, in 1852. His musical talent was noticed very early, and short compositions were being performed locally before he was ten. This Dublin background was of the greatest importance to him and to his music, not only in such obvious places as the Irish Rhapsodies and the opera Shamus O’Brien, but also in his church music.

His autobiography, Pages from an Unwritten Diary, contains a vivid account of the highly colourful church-music scene of his childhood, when one organist (the highly talented Robert Stewart, who would accompany whole oratorios from memory and play the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an organ piece) and one choir sang in three different churches (Trinity College Chapel and St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals). The Sunday service at St Patrick’s at thee was so blatantly a musical occasion, rather than a strictly religious one, that it was called ‘Paddy’s Opera’; the congregation would leave after the anthem, having already left their seats to stand closer to the choir. Stanford records his disapproval of this, as would have been expected at the time he wrote (1914); but his affection for this kind of semi-operatic experience is quite clear throughout this part of the autobiography.

Stanford’s service music, in one way, rejects excessive glorification of the singers, the texts are set without excessive elaboration or repetition of the words, and its clear that he wanted this to be liturgical music, tailor-made for the requirements of the Church of England service as it stood at the time. The fact that two of the services he wrote for, Matins and the Prayer Book Communion, are all but dead letters liturgically, is a matter of historical irony, of course. However, it is perhaps for his service music’s non-liturgical character that it will be remembered. For he was the first major modern composer to introduce what Frederick Hudson calls a ‘symphonic-cyclic treatment’ in setting the words of the church canticles and Communion service; both of the full services recorder here show Stanford’s desire to make the whole day’s liturgical music a thematic and musical unity. This is achieved both by melodic and motivic echoing and also by structural means, such as by using similar keys and modulations throughout the setting. Some of this is due to Stanford’s style generally, of course; both services have extended episodes in the flat mediant major (D flat in the B flat service. E flat in the C), and the use of this key-relation is common to much of Stanford’s music. However, the extensive use in parts of the B flat service of the supertonic C major and in the C service of the submediant A major and minor and the flat submediant (A flat) major gives each set of movements a more individual character.

This treatment was, basically, new when the B flat service appeared in 1879, and must have been very exciting at the time; earlier full services, even highly-regarded ones such as Wesley’s E major setting, were not constructed so as to link all movements in this obvious way. The ‘symphonic’ treatment is also apparent in service settings by Stanford’s own pupils, such as George Dyson’s morning and evening service in D. And in Stanford’s case, this secular influence of the concert-hall (which is even more pronounced in the orchestral version of the B flat service) was further enriched by the influence of the opera house. He was an admirer of Wagner as well as of Brahms, and wrote more operas than symphonies; Vaughan Williams once suggested that an Italian or German Stanford ‘would have been celebrated in every opera house in his country’, and his operas thoroughly deserve to be performed again; but for now it is interesting, in the light of his half-admitted admiration for the mid-nineteenth century services at St Patrick;s (which would currently be thought extremely outrageous) that there is a certain operatic touch to the music recorded here, in the sense that this is highly dramatic music; and whatever else the atmosphere in St Patrick’s was, it certainly must have had this quality of drama.


The Service in B flat, opus 10, is an early work, but the first seven bars heard on this recording - a fanfare for the organ - were added for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902. The first phrase, setting the words ‘We praise Thee, O God’, is basically a commonly-used Gregorian intonation for the Te Deum; it forms a motif which is used throughout the movement. Within the first few pages there are already elements which will be picked up later in the day’s music; the cries of ‘Holy, holy, holy’ are recalled at ‘And I look for the resurrection of the dead’ in the Creed, and the move into E flat major at ‘The glorious company’ is recalled in the Magnificat at ‘And His mercy is on them’. After this E flat episode, the music begins to move into more remote keys: first G flat (‘The holy church’) and then D flat (‘Thou art the King of glory’), which introduces a ‘fanfare’ motif. After a short episode in the minor (which is quite unusual in this fundamentally major service) the fanfare returns to usher in a section for solo quartet (‘We therefore pray thee’) in the even more remote key of A major. A fairly short link leads to a recapitulation of the opening music (‘Day by day we magnify Thee’).

The other two movements in the morning services are alternatives; liturgically one would not hear all three movements together. The Jubilate uses he ‘fanfare’ motif from the Te Deum (first heard after ‘not we ourselves’), but is mainly based on a new motif, also like a fanfare, which is announced in the opening phrase (‘O be joyful in th e Lord, all ye lands’). (The orchestral version uses a good deal of brass for these ‘fanfare’ sections.) This movement has a Gloria Patri, a rather neutral kind of movement directed to be sung ‘with dignity’; it is repeated after the Benedictus and Nunc Dimittis. It ends with the ‘Dresden Amen’, which is a recurring feature of the whole service. The Benedictus is also based on a melody which is announced in the opening phrase, and heard again at ‘To perform the mercy’ in the alto part, with descant for two treble parts. At ‘And thou, Child’ the music moves abruptly into D flat major and again into a fanfare style. After this the modulations become quite remote (C flat major at ‘Through the tender mercy’, for example), but quite quickly, the security of the home key is reached at ‘and to guide our feet in to the way of peace’ (matching the security of the words).

The communion service, like that in C, opens with a movement called ‘Kyrie’ which is fact not the Kyrie eleison of the Catholic Mass but the responses to the reading of the Commandments at the beginning of the English rite. On this recording the Summary of the Law is chanted and the responses to the tenth commandment used (echoing the phrase ‘from generation to generation’ in the Jubilate). (There are also brief responses to the Gospel and for the Sursum Corda, as well as a final Amen, in both services, but these are the only pieces of music not recorded here).

The Creed is based on another Gregorian intonation, actually intoned by a bass voice before the movement begins. It often moves between B flat and C major (which is first heard at ‘and in one Lord Jesus Christ’), rather than the D flat major of other movements, but there are also many resemblances to moments in the Te Deum: the key-change at ‘and was incarnate’ (like ‘The holy church’) and the use of the ‘fanfare motif’ from ‘And He shall come again with glory’ onwards. After a final pianissimo move to C major for ‘the life of the world to come’, the more familiar territory (tonally and metaphorically) of B flat is reached for another ‘Dresden Amen’.

Of the nest three short movements, only the Sanctus is an original part of the service. The Benedictus qui venit and Agnus Dei, though part of the Catholic Mass, are not in the Book of Common Prayer and are not usually set in full services until the latter part of the nineteenth century (and then only rarely). Wesley’s earlier, in-fluential service in E, for example, omits them. Here the Sanctus is clearly part of the 1879 setting, with its Dresden Amen, but the other two movements, with their very high bass parts which are almost always independent of the ‘real’ bass part in the organ pedals, are characteristic of Stanford’s later style and date from 1910. The settings of these movements in F can also be used for the B flat service, and those who can program their CD players could try this option.

The final movement of the Communion service (following the English rite) is the Gloria in excelsis, also based on a Gregorian intonation which is heard in the first phrase. The ‘fanfare motif’ returns at ‘We praise Thee’, but the music soon moves into a slow ¾ section in G minor, the only extended use of a minor key in the whole setting (‘O Lord, the only-begotten Son’). The final section is a recapitulation of the first, recalling the Kyrie (and Jubilate) at ‘in the glory of the Father’.

The evening service was well known already by the end of the nineteenth century, and is now probably the best-known setting of these words - a remarkable achieve-ment for music written in a style which has been unpopular for so long in critical circles (though popularity is itself often the cause of unpopularity in critical circles). Though the patterns of modulation link it clearly to the rest of the Service the Magnificat uses basically new melodies and repeats it opening music for the Gloria Patri, rather then the one used for the other movements. The Nunc Dimittis, however does use the ‘standard Gloria Patri; it is scored for tenors and basses only, a frequent feature of Victorian and Edwardian services (compare, for example, Noble’s Nunc Dimittis in A minor and the greater part of Dyson’s Jubilate in D).

The service in C, opus 115, is a much later work. The movements are even more obviously thematically linked than those in the B flat service, with two motifs in particular dominating the whole day’s music. The first, a simple rising-and-falling melody, is heard in the first three bars of the Te Deum (‘We praise Thee, O God’) and is immediately developed at some length. Some tonal centres which are prominent in the rest of the Service are also introduced: A minor at ‘To Thee all angels cry aloud’ and, in a march-style episode, E flat major (‘The glorious company of the apostles’). At ‘Thou art the King of glory’ the music changes to an A minor tonality again and into ¾ time, and the organ part accompanying ‘When Thou tookest upon Thee’ begins to use the other main motif of the service. This motif is heard more obviously in the organ (now in A major) at ‘Thou sittest at the right hand of God’. A short linking passage leads into a new melody in E flat for trebles (‘We therefore pray Thee’), though the first motif is still to be heard in the organ part. This episode speeds up, then slows dramatically ( a dramatic sense is rarely absent). Modulating into remote keys and becoming very quiet, before reaching C major and the original speed again for a triumphant conclusion.

The Jubilate is based on the second main motif (in ¾ time) throughout, developing it around C major and (at ‘ O go your way into His gates’) A flat major, another main tonal centre of this service. The Gloria Patri is used for all movements which require it, and is fanfare-like to begin with but dominated by the first (rising-and-falling) motif by the final ‘Amen’. The Benedictus is mainly based on its opening phrase (which is rather like an inverted version of the end of the Nunc Dimittis), in ¾ time, but at ‘And Thou, Child’ moves into E flat and 4/4 time for perhaps the most attractive melody of either service, sung by trebles with accompanying lower voices. A rather operatic linking passage describing the ‘way of peace’, after which the Gloria Patri is repeated.

The Communion follows the pattern of the B flat service. In the Kyrie the words ‘we beseech Thee’ are set to a motif which forms the basis of the Magnificat later. The Creed open confidently in 4/4 time, moving towards slower ¾ section based on the main theme of the Benedictus (‘And was incarnate’). The music of ‘And was crucified’ is similar to that in the B flat service, and equally the creation of Stanford the opera-tic composer; indeed, this Creed is one of the most operatic movements in the recording, with its final section building through dramatic sequences in very remote keys to a sudden resolution in ‘the life of the world to come’. Equally dramatic is the A minor opening of the Sanctus, its blaze of glory at ‘Glory be to Thee’, and the passionate ‘Amen’ based (like the other ‘Amens’ in the service) on the first main motif.

The Benedictus qui venit and Agnus Dei in F, designed for possible use with the services in B flat and A as well as that in C, nevertheless fit the C service particularly well by having been composed in the same year (1909). As is often the case in later Stanford, the bass part is high, almost like a baritone; it is surely relevant that Stanford was writing his great orchestral songs for the Irish baritone Harry Plunkett Greene at this period (Songs of the Sea, 1904, and Songs of the Fleet, 1910). The Glora in excelsis which follows is, however, fully part of the service, with many instances of the second main motif; like the B flat service, there is a minor episode for the section ‘O Lord, the only-begotten Son’.

The music for Evensong is almost as well-known as that in the B flat service. The motif heard at  the end of the Kyrie is very prominent in the Magnificat, first heard at ‘For He hath regarded’. As in the rest of the service, E flat major and related keys are also well-used. The Nunc Dimittis uses the second main motif of the service (in the organ part after ‘according to Thy word’, and ends with a recollection of the opening melody in the Benedictus. Both evening movements use the same as Gloria Patri as is used throughout.

© Aidan Cruttenden, 1992

Stanf1.mp3

Choral Works of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford Volume 1

PRCD 437

£10.-

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B flat Op.10 & C Op. 115

B FLAT SERVICE Op. 10

Te Deum laudamus

Jubilate Deo

Benedictus

Kyrie eleison

Credo

Sanctus

Benedictus qui venit

Agnus Dei

Gloria in excelsis

Magnificat

Nunc Dimittis


C SERVICE Op. 115

Te Deum laudamus

Jubilate Deo

Bendictus

Kyrie eleison

Credo

Sanctus

Benedictus qui venit

Agnus Dei

Gloria in excelsis

Magnificat

Nunc Dimittis