Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) was an Irish composer, teacher and conductor. Born to a well-off and highly musical family in Dublin, Stanford was educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. He was instrumental in raising the status of the Cambridge University Musical Society, attracting international stars to perform with it.
While still an undergraduate, Stanford was appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1882, aged 29, he was one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he taught composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he was also the professor of music at Cambridge. As a teacher, Stanford was sceptical about modernism, and based his instruction chiefly on classical principles as exemplified in the music of Brahms. Among his pupils were rising composers whose fame went on to surpass his own, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conductor, Stanford held posts with the Bach Choir and the Leeds triennial music festival.
Stanford composed a substantial number of concert works, including seven symphonies, but his best-remembered pieces are his choral works for church performance, chiefly composed in the Anglican tradition. He was a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regarded Stanford, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in English music. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music was eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as former pupils.
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Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 126
The opening of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 126 is surely reminiscent of Rachmaninov's Second Concerto which Stanford had conducted at the Leeds Festival, with Rachmaninov himself as soloist, only a few months before he started work on his own composition. The concerto is dedicated to 'Two friends on either side of the Atlantic: Carl Stoeckel of Norfolk, Conn., USA and Robert Finnie McEwen of Bardrochat'. Although completed in July 1911, the concerto was not performed until June 1915 when it was heard at the Festival of American music at Norfolk, Connecticut, whose president was Carl Stoeckel, musical patron and son of the longstanding Professor of Music at Yale Gustave J. Stoeckel. The soloist on that occasion was the London-born pianist Harold Bauer and the conductor the eminent American Arthur Mees. The British premiere had to wait until a concert in Bournemouth in December 1916, while the London premiere,with the young Benno Moiseiwitsch, took place on 29 April 1919 at Queen's Hall to very considerable acclaim.
Stanford did not write an extended cadenza in either of the large-scale concertante works recorded here. Although 'Cadenza' is marked twice in Down among the Dead Men (at the very opening and at the end of Variation VII), both are brief, and in the concerto there is no cadenza at all. The concerto is one of the most romantic by a British composer, the glorious first movement opening with the soloist at first unaccompanied, but soon joined by the horns whose rising motif proves to be a motto that will recur at the end of the concerto. The first subject group is completed by a rising figure in the strings and an upward leaping dotted idea. After this virile start the sudden contrast of the second subject is perfectly judged: the piano sings out a heart-felt theme with a rocking accompaniment in the left hand.
A particularly effective moment occurs during the development in a Molto tranquillo section where the piano is joined by solo cello and two clarinets. The second movement is characterised by chordal piano writing, marked to be played arpeggiando throughout. The serene melody is shortly contrasted in an equally poised middle section. If there are Irish inflections in this work, they are to be found in the repeated notes of this quiet music, which would seem to evoke some distant folksong. The finale starts loud and brash with a stamping dance tune. Two quieter sections follow, the second revisiting the music of the slow movement. With the opening horn call the stamping tune returns and propels the concerto to a vigorous conclusion.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 126 (1911)
Charles Villiers Stanford - Irish Rhapsody No. 6 in D Minor Op. 191 (1922)