Sunday, 21 July 2013

Charles Villiers Stanford: An Appreciation by Henry Walford Davies

This is one of man tributes paid to Sir Charles Villiers Stanford shortly after his death on 29 March 1924, It need no editorial comment. 

I had but one term of close contact at College with him. The things I remember most vividly in his teaching were: that the ground-plan of each movement had to be perfect; that he ‘sensed’ it in a wonderful way if any measurement was wrong; that he did not repair the disproportion there and then except so far as the ground-plan was concerned. He would go to the piano and hammer out the necessary scheme with a more or less definite bass and a vague super-structure which left a pupil quite free to fancy for himself, but in no doubt as to the exact measurements within which his fantasy was to range.
Parry seemed to have intimate concern for and sympathy with the pupil's thought itself; Stanford's concern was to see the thought through to the hearer, whatever it was; so when the design seemed right he simply nodded and that was done with. The two men made so splendid a combination that we who had lessons from both were uniquely fortunate; and I may be pardoned here for mentioning Brahms's remark to me that ‘he hoped I taught others as well as my teachers has taught me.’
‘Make my compliments to your teachers’ was his message as we parted, with greeting to ‘Sir Grove.’ Whenever I think of him now, my mind will go back as it has dozens of times with gratitude to a trivial kindness of his. In 1889 I had sent in a half-baked exercise for the Cambridge Mus. Bac., which failed. There came a gratuitous letter from the Professor to the unknown candidate, to say that he felt justified in ‘breaking the rule of silence’ and encouraging me ‘to try again.’ It ended with the sentence: ‘Remember that a degree is the reward for excellence attained, not for excellence attainable.’ A scholarship exam at the R.C.M. followed: and this being a search for evidence of excellence attainable, gave him a further chance; and I shall never forget Stanford's kindly eager handshake with me in 1890, when he found himself able to recommend me (mostly on the rejected exercise) for a year's trial scholarship, and followed me through a packed crowd (in the passage in the old College) to say how glad he was. The professor and the composer were-for good and all-one man. His whole being, as I knew him, was as fully in that slight endearing act as in his greater vein of lovable melody. And when unborn singers revel in ‘Cuttin' rushes on the Mountain,’ they will have the same joy of personal contact with Stanford himself as I had in 1890, and as I shall hope to have countless times yet, whenever I hear or think upon a strain of his lovely music. 
Henry Walford Davies   Music & Letters July 1924 (with minor edits)

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