Thursday, 1 July 2010

Charles Villiers Stanford: A Short Appreciation by Sydney H. Nicholson

Certainly, Sir Sydney Hugo Nicholson (1875-1947) is not as well known as his illustrious teacher; however his name regularly crops up in many histories of British music. His greatest achievement was the founding of the Royal School of Church Music. Yet he was involved with so many aspects of music. He was a choir master, a composer and an organist. His posts in the organ loft included Eton College, Carlisle Cathedral, Manchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Perhaps his best known composition is the fine hymn tune Crucifer, which is usually sung to the word Lift High the Cross. He was held in high regard by the musical establishment and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

My first acquaintance with Sir Charles Stanford was made in the organ loft of St. George's Chapel, Windsor on a Sunday afternoon about 1890. I had come as a schoolboy, with an introduction to Sir Walter Parratt; the anthem was Stanford's ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’; the composer accompanied it and Sir Walter stood at his side. I directed the singing of this same beautiful work at the funeral of the composer [Stanford] in the [Westminster] Abbey.
Some years later the two musicians and Sir Frederick Bridge became my masters at the Royal College. Though I was only a ‘second-study’ composition student, I can never be sufficiently grateful for the privilege of Stanford's lessons. The strongest impression that remains in my mind is of his remarkable power of grasping one's ideas from an apparently hasty glance through an unfinished score; he seemed to have an unerring instinct for picking out the weak spots (very often just what one thought the best bits). “Cut that out, my boy, it's all bosh!" or "Work out this bit, develop it properly!" Then the test: “Sit down and play it slowly on the piano without any pedal, and see how it sounds!" Lessons truly were not always pleasant, but one felt at the worst that here was a man who was absolutely master of his job; and when he saw fit to praise, no one could be more encouraging, or more ready to discover any merit there might be. Stanford contributed to every form of church music: his splendid series of Services, surpassed by none and only equalled in merit by a very few - his anthems of all kinds, ranging from simple and exquisitely beautiful miniatures like the choruses designed to follow the Bible Songs, to notable compositions such as ‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ ‘O living will,’ or ‘Ye holy angels bright’ - his fine hymn-tunes, such as ‘For all the saints’ -and his organ music.

Sydney H. Nicholson Music & Letters July 1924 (with minor edits)

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