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ClassicsOnline Home » STANFORD, C.V.: Piano Quartet No. 2 / Piano Trio No. 1 / Legend / Irish Fantasies (Gould Piano Trio)
Stanford’s chamber music occupies an important position in his oeuvre. The Piano Trio No. 1 was dedicated to the great Hans von Bülow and is an impressively large-scaled and lyrical work, exuding both elegance and vigour. The Piano Quartet No. 2 was revived by the Gould Trio after long neglect in 2010. It too is an exceptional work, melodically profuse, including folkloric elements and balancing its clement and turbulent aspects with utter assurance. The violin pieces supply appealing qualities of tuneful playfulness. The Gould Trio’s recording of Stanford’s Piano Trio No. 3 [8.570416] was “welcomed with open arms” (Gramophone).
By James Inverne
By Andrew Achenbach
By Elaine Fine
American Record Guide
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924)
Piano Trio No. 1 • Legend • Jig • Hush Song • Piano Quartet No. 2
Born in Dublin in 1852 of a prominent legal family, Charles Villiers Stanford was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge where he was also organ scholar. Migrating to Trinity College in 1873, he was organist and choirmaster there until 1892. With permission from the Seniority (nowadays the College Council) at Trinity, he was able to take leave to study in Leipzig and Berlin between 1874 and 1876. Mentored principally by Joseph Joachim, Stanford rose to fame meteorically during the 1880s. By 1889 he had become a composer of considerable reputation in both Britain and Europe. As a composer he was already the author of four symphonies, the third of which (the ‘Irish’) had been given its première in 1887 in London by Richter to much acclaim. His enviable list of choral works included the Elegiac Ode (1884) for the Norwich Festival, the oratorio The Three Holy Children (1885) for Birmingham and The Revenge (1886) for Leeds, and his catalogue of service music and anthems had established him as a central figure in music for the Anglican church. His national standing was also enhanced in January 1889 by a concert entirely of his own music in Berlin, an event unequalled by any other compatriot composer of his generation, including Sullivan. His institutional reputation had also been established in 1883 with his appointment as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, and this was additionally recognised by the unanimous decision to appoint him to the chair of music at Cambridge University in 1887 after the death of Sir George Macfarren. Stanford held these two positions for the rest of his life and was responsible for teaching many of Britain’s next generation of composers. He was also an active freelance conductor and held the positions of conductor of the Leeds Philharmonic Society (1897–1909) and Leeds Triennial Festival (1901–10) both of which did much to promote British music under his direction.
As a composer of chamber music, an idiom he believed to be one of the most essential representations of ‘absolute music’, Stanford was prolific and enormously inventive. The Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat, Op. 35, was completed in 1889 and dedicated to the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, a personal friend. First performed at the Oxford Musical Union on 25th November 1889, it was given its first London hearing at Edward Dannreuther’s chamber concerts at Orme Square, Bayswater in January 1890. As expansive technically and emotionally as the Piano Quintet in D minor, Op. 25, finished three years earlier for Joachim, the Trio is a spacious, confident work, full of organic artifice and an almost flawless sense of the trio idiom. Of particular note is the emphasis Stanford places on the lyrical dimension of the work. This is evident in the elegant second subject of the first movement and in the affecting pathos of the third movement. The second movement, marked Allegretto con moto, is a capriccio, the opening Schumannesque idea punctuating a series of highly contrasting episodes. The traditional dance movement, not a Scherzo in this case but a sedate Menuetto, is cast in C major and recalls the importance of that tonality in the first movement (especially at the point of recapitulation). In terms of its expressive profundity this somewhat unconventional movement also seems to take the place of the traditional slow movement. The finale, a turbulent sonata rondo, similarly makes much play on the C/E flat relationship through the striking initial statement of C minor at each recurrence of the rondo theme before E flat is restored.
Stanford published his Legend for violin and piano with Augener & Co. in 1893 at a time when he was moving home from Harvey Road in Cambridge to Holland Street, Kensington. A tuneful first section, strangely reminiscent in parts of Grieg, is contrasted by a playful central paragraph which raises its whimsical head just before the conclusion. The Six Irish Fantasies, Op. 54, were completed in October 1893 and published by Stanley Lucas in 1894. They were dedicated to the violinist Lady Wilma Hallé (Madame Norman-Néruda) who often played them. The Jig is an engaging theme-and-variations structure in which the simple formula of melody and harmony is reworked with increasing abstraction, a sophisticated process which becomes evident when the original Jig is restated teasingly at the end. Replete with its repetitive ‘charm’, the Hush Song is an appealing lullaby which gains its hypnotic effect not only from its delicious diatonic harmonies but also from its unexpected tonal divergencies.
Stanford completed his Piano Quartet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 133, on 10 January 1913 at his Kensington home and it was given what was probably its only public performance by members of the Wesseley Quartet and the pianist Johanne Stockmarr at the Bechstein Hall (now better known as the Wigmore Hall) on 14 March 1914. A few weeks before, Stanford’s Fourth Irish Rhapsody, a work enshrining both the composer’s protests against Home Rule for Ireland and his support for Carson’s cause in Ulster, had also been given its première in London at the Philharmonic Society. The Fourth Rhapsody has a serious, determined sense of purpose in both its lyrical demeanour and rhythmical drive, and the Piano Quartet No. 2 shares a similar disposition in the passionate gravity of its first movement, the thematic seeds of which lie in the brooding introduction. The two fine principal ideas in the exposition—a restive first subject in C minor and a wonderfully generous melody in E flat major—are skilfully transformed in the recapitulation, the first appearing in a glowing, languid C major, the second, entirely rescored in the minor (before the familiar opulent version is restored). The slow movement, which fluctuates metrically between 5/8 and 3/8, is inspired by Irish folk-song, an influence felt in much of Stanford’s orchestral and chamber music. The spirit of the more turbulent central section of the slow movement re-emerges in the demonic Scherzo, a tour de force of polyphonic writing for the ensemble. The trio, a more robust, heroic statement, provides due contrast before the Scherzo material, reworked with breathless intensity, returns. The finale in C major exudes an air of confidence and well-being symbolized particularly by the broad, self-assurance of the opening cello melody. The movement is also infected by a cyclic dimension: with the second subject we hear deft yet fleeting reminiscences of the slow movement incorporated into the melodic material and, just prior to the coda, Stanford recalls the opening of the first movement in a cathartic transformation marked tranquillo.
The Piano Quartet No. 2 remained unpublished at the composer’s death in 1924 and was not heard until it was revived at the Corbridge Festival, Northumberland, in August 2010 by the Gould Trio. It has been edited from the autograph manuscript (housed in the Robinson Library of Newcastle University) by the Stanford scholar, Professor Jeremy Dibble of Durham University.
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