Program Notes on Stanford, Elgar, Parry, Vaughan Williams, Howells and Britten, May, 2014

Northwest Choral Society
Crowning Jewels Program Notes
May 2014
 Compiled by Mary Jane Matecki & Alan Wellman


Sir Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924), like his contemporary Hubert Parry, produced many works for chorus and orchestra for provincial (town) festivals. However, he is best known for his Anglican liturgical music, and for the symphonic and cyclic dimensions he brought to the morning and evening canticles and communion texts.  Stanford’s Service in B-Flat Op. 10 is an example of the symphonic dimension that he brought to choral music and his Three Motets Op. 38 show his considerable sophistication in the use of diatonic harmony combined with lyrical flair.

Stanford was a member of the faculty of the Royal College of Music and a professor at Cambridge University.  As such, he influenced such notable musicians as Holst and Vaughan Williams.

Stanford’s interest in a new kind of British opera cleared a path for one of that country’s most notable twentieth century composers, Benjamin Britten.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was primarily self-taught as a musician.  At 15 he worked at a lawyer’s office briefly to earn a living and when plans to attend Leipzig Conservatory fell through for lack of funds, Elgar left business to become a freelance musician and never again held a permanent job.

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition, Elgar “drew inspiration for his music from the culture and landscape of his own country, resourcefulness from the study of his continental colleagues and contributed to all the major forms except opera, creating a significant body of symphonic literature, the finest oratorio by an Englishman, and in his popular music a style of direct national appeal.”

Elgar bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as one of the finest English composers since the days of Handel and Purcell.

Sir C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918), like his colleague, Sir Charles Stanford, is more often found in music encyclopedias than on the programs of modern orchestras. Parry had a strong reviving influence on the English musical life at a time when standards of composition, performance, criticism and education were low.

In 1866 he received a BMus from Eton but entered Exeter College, Oxford, to read law and modern history.  He worked at Lloyd’s of London which was his father’s and his future wife’s family’s wish.   During that time he continued to study piano but gradually shifted to the discussion and study of contemporary music. He worked at Lloyd’s until 1877 when he became confident that he could make a living as a musician.

Parry made his mark at the many choral society festivals throughout England and developed an English style noteworthy for its originality and wit.

Parry joined the staff of the Royal College of Music when it opened in 1883 and eleven years later succeeded George Grove as the RCM’s director.  Parry wrote extensively about music in “The Art of Music, Style in Musical Art.” He was also responsible for the third volume of the “Oxford History of Music, Music of the Seventeenth Century.” 

Parry’s profound influence on generations of composers during his years as Director of the Royal College of Music, earns him the title of the “Father of Music” in the British Isles.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) is a central figure in British music not only for his compositions, but also because of his long career as teacher, lecturer, and friend to so many younger composers and conductors.  He studied under Sir Hubert Parry and Sir Charles Stanford, among others, and as a teacher himself, Vaughan Williams “shared Parry’s gift for encouraging his pupils to be themselves.  He expected them to do as he did – seek the best advice, but use their own judgment” according to New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition.

Vaughan Williams’ compositions included orchestral works, songs, operas, various choral compositions and music for the movies.  When Williams discovered Englishfolk songsandcarols were fast becoming extinct because the oral tradition that kept them alive was being undermined by the availability ofprinted musicin rural areas, he travelled the countryside, transcribing and preserving many himself.  Later, he incorporated some songs and melodies into his own music. Williams’ efforts did much to raise appreciation of traditional English folk song and melody.He drew upon that rich tradition of English folksong and hymnody but his works fit into a larger European tradition and gained worldwide popularity

InAlbion: The Origins of the English Imagination,Peter Ackroydwrites, "If that Englishness in music can be encapsulated in words at all, those words would probably be: ostensibly familiar and commonplace, yet deep and mystical as well as lyrical, melodic, melancholic, and nostalgic yet timeless."

An artist of extraordinary creative energy, Vaughan Williams continued composing with undiminished powers until his death at 87.

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) showed a strong interest in composition at a very early age. He studied first under Herbert Brewer, who was the organist at the cathedral in his home town of Gloucester. At 20 Howells entered the Royal College of Music and studied under Charles Stanford and Hubert Parry among others.

Although he never collected or made direct use of English Folk songs as his mentor Ralph Vaughan Williams did, his compositional style is folk based. Howells’ imagination was stimulated by particular places and by people he knew and this is true even for his large body of church vocal and choral music. Although he wrote a substantial amount of fine instrumental and orchestral music, his choral and other vocal music is considered the work most likely to keep his memory alive. 

Howells held a number of teaching appointments during his lifetime including a position at the Royal College of Music. He retired from his St. Paul's position and the University of London post in 1964, but retained his professorship at the Royal College of Music and held classes there almost right up to his death at the age of 90.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), prophetically, ­­­­­­was born on St. Cecilia’s Day (patron saint of musicians!) in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England.  He began composing as early as 6 years of age.  In 1927, at 14, he met composer Frank Bridge who took him on as a private student. He entered the Royal College of Music at 17. After graduating, Britten found a job with the Royal Post Office film unit. During his three years there he worked on a tight budget forcing him to learn how to get the greatest variety of color and musical effectiveness from the smallest combination of instruments. He emerged as one of the most promising British composers of his time.  He worked with many collaborators such as W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster but the most important in Britten’s life was his collaboration with tenor Peter Pears.  Britten and Pears formed a lifelong relationship, both personal and professional. 

Britten produced copious amounts of music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, including symphonies, concerti and chamber and solo works.  However, he was especially inspired by the human voice which resulted in an impressive body of work Rejoice in the Lamb.

Britten composed steadily from about 1922 until his death in 1976.

Sources:
Sadie, S. & Tyrrell, J.(Ed.) (2001)New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd Ed.). London: Macmillan Publications Ltd.  (Vol. 24,)
(Vol. 19) (Vol. 8,)
Johnston, B. (No Date) http://www.allmusic.com/artist/charles-villiers-stanford-mn0001389837/biography   Retrieved on 3/15/2014
Staff, R. (No Date) http://www.allmusic.com/artist/edward-elgar-mn0000103249/biography Retrieved on 3/15/2014
Satola, M. (No Date) All Music Guide http://www.classicalarchives.com/composer/8734.html#tvf=tracks&tv=about, Retreived on 3/15/2-14
Staff, R. (No Date) http://www.allmusic.com/artist/ralph-vaughan-williams-mn0000204681/biography Retrieved on 3/15/2014
Stevenson, J. (2008) http://www.classicalarchives.com/composer/6452.html#tvf=tracks&tv=about, Retrieved on 3/30/2014
Brann, V. (No Date) http://opera.stanford.edu/Britten/bio.html, Retrieved on 3/31/14

Tags: Stanford,, Elgar, Perry, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Britten

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