The significance of Stanford

At our next Evensong (5pm, Saturday 9 July) we’ll be singing Stanford’s Evening Service in C. 

Stanford was a prolific composer who enjoyed great success with the British public, but whose works – apart from his sacred compositions – have been largely forgotten. For some, Stanford may have the reputation for being a bit pedestrian, especially compared to later generations of his compatriots such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten. But his compositional craftsmanship cannot be denied, and it is impossible to imagine the 20th century flowering of English sacred music without him. Composer and academic Phillip Cooke describes Stanford’s influence on Herbert Howells, perhaps last century’s greatest exponent of this style: 

‘It is the settings of Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) that provide the antecedent for Howells, the subtlety of craft, technique and sympathy to text that is characteristic of Stanford’s work can all be found in Howells’s canticle settings. It would be fair to suggest that the level of sophistication in canticle settings increased as much in the hands of Stanford as it would in his highly thought-of pupil. It would be Stanford’s two most celebrated settings, the Evening Service in G (1902) and the Evening Service in C (1909) that influenced the younger composer most and seem to pave a way for the aesthetic developments that Howells made in the 1940s.’

Come and hear us sing the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C by this significant and influential composer! 

The photo shows a window of the chapel of Trinity College Cambridge, where Stanford was organist 1874-1893.  

Source: Phillip Cooke, 2013, A Wholly New Chapter in Service Music, in Phillip Cooke & David Nicholas Maw (eds), The Music of Herbert Howells, Boydell and Brewer. 

Photo: GCFitzpatrick Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

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