Charles Villiers Stanford

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Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), Irish composer, conductor and teacher, is considered to be a major influence in the English “musical renaissance” of the 20th century.

He showed musical ability as a child in Dublin, gained an M.A. and Doctorate in Music at Cambridge and studied composition in Germany, where he became a friend of Brahms, whose works he would champion. He became known as an excellent choral conductor, and fine organist and became involved in many of the large English choral festivals. He founded the Bach Choir.

He composed in all musical forms but has been considered a minor composer; his name kept alive by occasional performances of his symphonies and “Irish Rhapsodies”, certain choir pieces to religious texts, the much-loved part song “The Blue Bird”, [1] a number of ballads, usually of the sea to words by the Victorian and Edwardian “imperial” poets - and much loved by baritones - and one of his Anglican services that is still in use. In recent years his star has brightened with recordings of most of his major works now available. They show a composer of fine technique, definite spirituality, proud of his heritage and with a feeling for words – possibly from his interest in Irish folksong.

As a teacher his reputation has always been secure. He taught at the Royal College of Music from 1883, and at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1887, and influenced a generation of composers, notably Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge, John Ireland, and Herbert Howells. Even those he fought with admired him and testified to his legacy.

He was knighted in 1901. His ashes lie in Westminster Abbey.

See also: