Friday, 1 April 2011

Charles Villiers Stanford: His Irish Rhapsodies considered by Thomas Dunhill

A short extract from a major article by the composer Thomas Dunhill about Stanford's Irish Rhapsodies. Perhpas the referece to this work as being 'a mere expression of an Orangeman's sympathies' gives a clue to the 'what the fisherman saw?

Stanford's Irish Rhapsodies, founded on the traditional airs of his native land, will, I believe, outlive all his longer orchestral works. No. 1 [1] of these became obstinately popular to the exclusion of the others, a fact which so displeased him that he expressed extreme annoyance whenever he heard it was to be played. It is, nevertheless, a delightful work, though inferior at all points to No. 2 [2] or the later "Ulster " Rhapsody [3], which is, perhaps, his most beautiful orchestral composition. None of the Rhapsodies are really rhapsodical.
They are skilfully developed movements, perfectly proportioned and balanced with the greatest regard for thematic cohesion. This is not, however, the really vital quality which distinguishes them. Nothing Stanford did, except some of his songs, makes so strong an appeal, by reason of the wild natural poetry which is in them. The scoring, too, is more inspired than that of the symphonies, more full of light and shadow, of colour and glamour.
If I wanted to impress a foreign unbeliever with the real beauty of British music at its best I should take him to hear a performance of the "Ulster" Rhapsody, that he might have a glimpse of what the "Fisherman saw at Lough Neagh," and of what the great Irish composer was able to reflect of this vision in his music. "Dark and true and tender is the North" is the quotation attached to the closing page of the score-a mere expression of an Orangeman's sympathies, probably-but the three adjectives describe the loveliness of the music itself in a way that no other words could do. It is a work of imperishable quality.
From the Proceedings of the Musical Association, 53rd Sess. (1926 - 1927) with minor edits.

[1] Irish Rhapsody No. 1 in D minor, Op. 78 (1901) made use of the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) hence its one-time popularity.
[2] Irish Rhapsody No. 2 in F minor, Op. 84 "The Lament of the Son of Ossian" (c. 1903)
[3] Irish Rhapsody No. 4 in A minor, Op. 141 "The Fisherman of Lough Neagh and What He Saw" (1914)
[4] Dunhill did not refer to the Irish Rhapsodies Nos 3, 5, & 6. These were still in manuscript at that time.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Dunhill was not alone in saying that the Irish rhapsodies would outlive his longer orchestral works. In an anonymous article titled "The Future of Irish Music", dateline "Dublin", published in the Christian Science Monitor on 13 April 1925,the writer observed: "When Sir Charles Stanford wrote anything free of the Irish atmosphere, his music failed, but when he utilized an Irish melody or a fragment of one, the transformation was so great as to place him among the great composers."
I would, of course, disagree that Stanford's other music "failed", particularly given that it was usually very well received and continues to benefit today from numerous recordings and performances, including one of the third symphony about a decade ago in Washington, DC, where programming tended rarely to go beyond the safe and sure of the usual mainstream composers. Where we need more attention to Stanford's music now is to his operas.