Friday, 20 February 2009

Edgar L Bainton on Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

I recently came across a tribute to the great Charles Villiers Stanford in a copy of Music & Letters. These included words by Vaughan Williams, George Dyson, Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells. However the one that caught my eye was by the relatively unknown composer Edgar L Bainton.

AT a meeting of the Council of the R.C.M. in the early days, the late Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that a chapel should be added to the College buildings. Stanford immediately rose and said that if the proposal was carried, the council would have to erect one altar for the Roman Catholics, another for the High Churchmen, a third for the Low Churchmen, a shrine for the Buddhists and a bath for the Baptists, and that within half-an-hour of the opening there would be bleeding noses all round.

This incident, related to me by Sir Charles himself, is typical of the man. His broadmindedness in religious matters, his keen sense of humour, and perhaps a latent fear that the zeal of the students might outrun their discretion, were three dominant qualities in his character. The last, in particular, is an important factor in considering Stanford's work as a teacher. He always feared lest his pupils might " lose their heads."
In a recent conversation with the writer, Sir Charles indeed expressed the opinion that most of them had " gone too far," that they had carried their modernity beyond the limits of good sense. When it was pointed out to him that almost every one of his pupils differed entirely from every other, both in musical outlook and in manner of expression, and that this fact was surely the greatest possible tribute to his teaching, he merely shook his head and replied that [William]Hurlstone was almost the only one who had kept sane.

Stanford's teaching seemed to be without method or plan. His criticism consisted for the most part of " I like it, my boy," or " It's damned ugly, my boy " (the latter in most cases). In this, perhaps, lay its value. For in spite of his conservatism, and he was intensely and passionately conservative in music as in politics, his amazingly comprehensive knowledge of musical literature of all nations and ages made one feel that his opinions, however irritating, had weight. He expressed his judgments upon the work of his contemporaries with an almost naive candour, and in consequence made many enemies. Referring to Strauss's use of the tam-tam in the death-bed section of Tod und Verkldrung, he said: " I shouldn't like to go out to the sound of a tam-tam."

On the occasion of my last visit to him he showed me some parodies which he had written upon several modern composers. It is to be hoped that eventually his executors will permit their publication. Whatever opinions may be held upon Stanford's music, and they are many and various, it is, I think, always recognised that he was a master of means. Everything he turned his hand to always " comes off."

Whenever English musicians meet together, the conversation sooner or later centres upon Stanford. Only a big personality has this power of diverting the current.

EDGAR L. BAINTON


From:- Music & Letters Volume 5 No. 3 July 1924 Pages 200/201

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