Charles Villiers Stanford

Charles Villiers Stanford
Charles Villiers Stanford

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) was an eminent English-domiciled (though Irish-born) composer who was particularly notable for his choral music. He was professor at the Royal College of Music and University of Cambridge.



Charles Villiers Stanford - caricature by Leslie Ward

Stanford was born in Dublin, the only son of John Stanford, examiner in the city's Court of Chancery and clerk of the Crown, County Meath. Both parents were accomplished amateur musicians; his father sang bass (and was also a cellist [1]) and his mother was a pianist. Charles trained under R. M. Levey (violin), Miss Meeke, Mrs Joseph Robinson, Miss Flynn and Michael Quarry (piano); and Sir Robert Stewart taught him composition and organ. His precocious ability was recorded in an article in The Musical Times in December 1898.

He came to London in 1862 as a pupil of Arthur O'Leary and Ernst Pauer, and in 1870 won a scholarship to Queens' College, Cambridge.[2] Three years later he moved to Trinity College (for whom he wrote his Three Latin Motets), succeeding J. L. Hopkins as college organist, a post he held until 1892. His appointment as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society gave him great opportunities, and the fame which the society soon achieved was in the main due to Stanford's energies.

During his tenure many interesting performances and revivals took place. From 1874 to 1877 he was given leave of absence for part of each year to complete his studies in Germany, where he studied first with Carl Reinecke and then, more fruitfully, with Friedrich Kiel. He took his BA degree (Classics) in 1874 and MA in 1878, and was given the honorary degree of D.Mus. at Oxford in 1883 and at Cambridge in 1888.

He first became known as a composer with his incidental music to Tennyson's Queen Mary (Lyceum, 1876); and in 1881 his first opera, The Veiled Prophet, was given at Hanover (revived at Covent Garden, 1893); this was succeeded by Savonarola (Hamburg, April, and Covent Garden, July 1884), and The Canterbury Pilgrims (Drury Lane, 1884). His later operas were Shamus O'Brien (Opera Comique, 1896), Much Ado About Nothing (Covent Garden, 1901) (libretto - Julian Sturgis), The Critic (Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 1916), and The Travelling Companion (David Lewis Theatre, Liverpool, 1925).[3]

He was appointed professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in 1883; was conductor of The Bach Choir from 1886 to 1902; was professor of music at Cambridge, succeeding Sir George Alexander Macfarren from 1887; conductor of the Leeds Philharmonic Society from 1897 to 1909, and of the Leeds Festival from 1901 to 1910. As conductor, he programmed works by contemporaries such as Parry, Elgar, Debussy, Sullivan and Vaughan Williams. He was an exacting but respected teacher whose pupils included Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Gustav Holst,Thomas Dunhill , Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Frank Bridge, Charles Wood (who succeeded him as music professor), Geoffrey Shaw, Ivor Gurney, Cecil Forsyth, Rebecca Clarke, Herbert Howells and Clive Carey.

In 1878 Stanford was married, after initial parental opposition, to Jennie Wetton, whom he had first met while studying in Germany. They had two children. His principal leisure pursuits were angling and cards. Being possessed of a fiery and undiplomatic temperament, Stanford often had short-lived disagreements with his contemporaries, including, it is said, Elgar (this is disputed by Harry Plunket Greene) and Parry (to whose memory, however, he dedicated his Latin Magnificat, as well as making musical reference to Parry's song O World, O Life, O Time in his Piano Prelude Addio). He was knighted in 1902.[4] Stanford's ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey, alongside Henry Purcell.


Stanford was particularly known in his day for his choral works, chiefly commissioned for performances at the great English provincial festivals. These include two oratorios, a Requiem (1897), a Stabat Mater (1907), and many secular works, often with a nautical theme, including The Revenge (1886), The Voyage of Maeldune (1889), Songs of the Sea (1904), and Songs of the Fleet (1910). His church music still holds a central place among Anglican compositions; particularly popular examples include his Evening Services in B flat, A, G, and C, his Three Latin Motets (Beati quorum via, Justorum animae, and Coelos ascendit hodie), and his anthems For lo, I raise up and Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem.

His instrumental works include seven symphonies, six Irish Rhapsodies for orchestra, several works for organ, concertos for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano, and many chamber compositions, including eight string quartets. He also composed songs, part-songs, madrigals, and incidental music to Eumenides and Oedipus Rex (as performed at Cambridge), as well as to Tennyson's Becket. His music shows the influence of Brahms and Schumann, and to a lesser extent of Irish folk music; he was generally unsympathetic to more modern developments. Although his chief importance is often held to be as a teacher of many English composers of the next generation, the last two decades have seen a revival of interest in his larger compositions (particularly the orchestral ones) after a long period of neglect. He published several books, including an informal autobiography, Pages from an Unwritten Diary (1914) and "Musical Composition" (1911), which includes an interesting passage on pure intonation.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


See also


  • Harry Plunket Greene - Charles Villiers Stanford (London, Edward Arnold, 1935)
  • Jeremy Dibble - Charles Villiers Stanford: man and musician (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • Paul J. Rodmell - Charles Villiers Stanford (Aldershot, Hampshire: Scolar Press, 2002)
  • Liam Mac Cóil - An Chláirseach agus an Choróin (Indreabhán, Leabhar Breac, 2010)


  1. ^ "Charles Villiers Stanford". The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular (Musical Times Publications Ltd.) 39 (670): 785. December 1, 1898. doi:10.2307/3365844. ISSN 0958-8434. JSTOR 3365844. 
  2. ^ Stanford, Charles Villiers in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  3. ^ Vocal score of The Travelling Companion
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 27494. p. 7165. 11 November 1902. Retrieved 2008-01-16.

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
John Larkin Hopkins
Organist and Master of the Choristers of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Alan Gray

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