seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Charles Villiers Stanford, Composer & Conductor

charles-villiers-stanfordSir Charles Villiers Stanford, composer, music teacher, and conductor, is born in Dublin on September 30, 1852.

Stanford is born into a well-off and highly musical family, the only son of John James Stanford, a prominent Dublin lawyer, Examiner to the Court of Chancery in Ireland and Clerk of the Crown for County Meath, and his second wife, Mary, née Henn. He is educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. He is instrumental in raising the status of the Cambridge University Musical Society, attracting international stars to perform with it.

While still an undergraduate, Stanford is appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1882, at the age of 29, he is one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he teaches composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he is also Professor of Music at Cambridge. As a teacher, he is skeptical about modernism, and bases his instruction chiefly on classical principles as exemplified in the music of Johannes Brahms. Among his pupils are rising composers whose fame go on to surpass his own, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conductor, he holds posts with the Bach Choir and the Leeds Triennial Music Festival.

Stanford composes 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 is a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regard him, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in music from the British Isles. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music is eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as former pupils.

In September 1922, Stanford completes the sixth Irish Rhapsody, his final work. Two weeks later he celebrates his 70th birthday and thereafter his health declines. On March 17, 1924 he suffers a stroke and dies on March 29 at his home in London, survived by his wife and children. He is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on April 2 and his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey the following day.

Stanford’s last opera, The Travelling Companion, composed during World War I, is premiered by amateur performers at the David Lewis Theatre, Liverpool in 1925 with a reduced orchestra. The work is given complete at Bristol in 1928 and at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, in 1935.

Stanford receives many honours, including honorary doctorates from University of Oxford (1883), University of Cambridge (1888), Durham University (1894), University of Leeds (1904), and Trinity College, Dublin (1921). He is knighted in 1902 and in 1904 is elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.

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Birth of Charles Wood, Composer & Teacher

Charles Wood, composer and teacher, is born in Vicars’ Hill in the Cathedral precincts of Armagh, County Armagh on June 15, 1866. His pupils include Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. For most of his adult life he lives in England, but preserves a lively interest in Ireland.

Wood is the fifth child and third son of Charles Wood, Sr. and Jemima Wood. He is a treble chorister in the choir of the nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His father sings tenor as a stipendiary “Gentleman” or “Lay Vicar Choral” in the Cathedral choir and is also the Diocesan Registrar of the church. He is a cousin of Irish composer Ina Boyle.

Wood receives his early education at the Cathedral Choir School and also studies organ with two Organists and Masters of the Boys of Armagh Cathedral, Robert Turle and his successor Dr. Thomas Marks. In 1883 he becomes one of fifty inaugural class members of the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry primarily, and horn and piano secondarily. Following four years of training, he continues his studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge through 1889, where he begins teaching harmony and counterpoint.

In 1889 he attains a teaching position at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, first as organ scholar and then as fellow in 1894, becoming the first Director of Music and Organist. He is instrumental in the reflowering of music at the college, though more as a teacher and organiser of musical events than as composer. After Stanford dies in 1924, Wood assumes his mentor’s vacant role as Professor of Music in the University of Cambridge.

Like his better-known colleague Stanford, Wood is chiefly remembered for his Anglican church music. As well as his Communion Service in the Phrygian mode, his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are still popular with cathedral and parish church choirs, particularly the services in F, D, and G, and the two settings in E flat. During Passiontide his St. Mark Passion is sometimes performed, and demonstrates Wood’s interest in modal composition, in contrast to the late romantic harmonic style he more usually employs.

Wood’s anthems with organ, Expectans expectavi, and O Thou, the Central Orb are both frequently performed and recorded, as are his unaccompanied anthems Tis the day of Resurrection, Glory and Honour and, most popular of all, Hail, gladdening light and its lesser-known equivalent for men’s voices, Great Lord of Lords. All of Wood’s a cappella music demonstrates fastidious craftsmanship and a supreme mastery of the genre, and he is no less resourceful in his accompanied choral works which sometimes include unison sections and have stirring organ accompaniments, conveying a satisfying warmth and richness of emotional expression appropriate to his carefully chosen texts.

Wood collaborates with priest and poet George Ratcliffe Woodward in the revival and popularisation of renaissance tunes to new English religious texts, notably co-editing three books of carols. He also writes eight string quartets, and is co-founder of the Irish Folk Song Society in 1904.

He marries Charlotte Georgina Wills-Sandford, daughter of W. R. Wills-Sandford, of Castlerea, County Roscommon on March 17, 1898. Their son is killed in World War I.

Charles Wood dies on July 12, 1926 and is buried at the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge alongside his wife.