Friday, 4 March 2011

Charles Villiers Stanford: Symphony No.1 in B flat major – a Contemporary Review.

I recently noted on my ‘blog’ that Classic FM had included Charles Villiers Stanford’s First Symphony in Bb in their playlists. I found this review of the first performance at Crystal Palace in a copy of The Graphic for Saturday, March 15, 1879. It is worthy of reprinting here with a few annotations.
The concert, which was conducted by Sir Augustus Manns (1825-1907) included a ‘souped up’ version of Franz Schubert’s Fantasia in C, with orchestral ‘adjuncts and other improvements’ by Franz Liszt. Miss Marie Krebs was the soloist in this work that would have astounded no one more that Schubert himself!
The same soloist gave an excellent performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E minor: the reviewer certainly felt that this was far more preferable that the Liszt concoction.
Other works included an aria from Handel’s Siroes, King of Persia and a duet from The Flying Dutchman. The singers were Miss Emma Thursby and Sir George Henschel. Included in the long concert were Weber’s Overture: Der Freishutz and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.

'At Saturday’s concert there was something new, in the form of an English work of pretension –a Symphony in B flat major, by Mr C. Villiers Stanford, organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. Although as yet comparatively unknown to fame, Mr Stanford has won the respect of amateurs and musicians of note, while at Cambridge, his own vantage-ground, he enjoys high consideration. The Laureate [1] especially confided to him the task of composing the lyrics and incidental orchestral music [2] for Queen Mary, when that poetical drama, or dramatic poem, was to be produced at the Lyceum, and an overture written for the Gloucester Festival, [3] which was frequently performed at Sydenham, again brought him under the ordeal of public opinion. The Symphony given on Saturday, though it has no claim to be regarded as an exceptional production, is, in the present dearth of original works of the kind, decidedly of more that genuine merit, and as such made a corresponding effect upon its hearers. The second movement - a scherzo in the rhythm of a German slow waltz, or Ländler, with two trios-one presto in two-four, the other moderato, in three-four measure-seemed most to please that is if applause may be accepted as criterion.
The entire symphony, however, is clearly the effort of a musician who looks after his art from a serious point of view, and thus, if for no other reason, would be creditable to its author. The performance, under Mr Manns, was in all respects satisfactory.'
The Graphic for Saturday, March 15, 1879

[1] Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) wrote the drama Queen Mary in 1875. It was what was regarded as a ‘chronicle’ play. It presents the vicissitudes of the queen’s life in connection with the principal persons of the Court, the Church and the Parliament of her time.

[2] Stanford wrote a number of important works based on the works of Tennyson including The Revenge, Op.24, Merlin and the Gleam, Op.172, and music for his play Beckett.
Charles Porte wrote that ‘the incidental music to Queen Mary was written at the request of Tennyson himself, who was a friend and admirer of Stanford. He backed up the composer's request for more room for the orchestra of the producing theatre, and offered to pay for the two rows of stalls that would have had to have been removed. The management refused to consider the music or musicians to this extent, however, and so Stanford had a taste of the difficulties of musical composers with business men.’

[3] Festival Overture 1877. First given at the ‘Three Choirs Festival’ in Gloucester, 1877.

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