Sunday, 29 May 2016

Another Contemporary Review of the Premiere of Stanford’s C minor Piano Concerto (1915)

Further to my last post on the premiere of Charles Villiers Stanford’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.126, I found this contemporary review in the New York Tribune (6 June 1915). It needs little commentary, however I have provided a few notes.

‘The absence of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was greatly deplored. [1] His presence would have given the festival a crowning glory, like that lent to the festival last year by the presence of Mr. Sibelius. Stanford has gathered unto himself nearly all the titular honors within the gift of British institutions, including the throne. He is D.C.L., and LL.D., and doubly a Mus. Doc. Of Oxon and Cantab. He was knighted in 1901: is not only an Irishman, but is a patriot at least musically. [2] [3] To his patriotism and his love of learning he bore testimony when on the score of his Irish Symphony he wrote a Latin distich, saying “Graciously favour thy native isle and him who sings of thy native land, O Phoebus, thou who singest with a crowned lyre.” [4] That symphony was to have been played under his direction at the last concert on Tuesday evening. Of all Sir Charles’s works it is the best known in New York, where it was performed by the Symphony Society under Mr. Walter Damrosch in January, 1888. It had been composed only a few months before, but before it reached New York it had been heard in London, at the Norwich Festival, in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna. It has been played in New York several times since, the last time I believe, by the Philharmonic Society, under the direction of Mr. [Gustav] Mahler, in February, 1911. It lives in pleasant memory, as does also the opera “Shamus O’Brien” which had a series of representations in New York. Irish, delightfully Irish, to the core are the symphony and this opera, and it was in the expectation of hearing what Celtic idioms might be made to sound like in a piano concerto, no doubt, that many looked forward to the novelty of Thursday evening.

Mr. Harold Bauer has prepared the solo part with care, and played it with complete devotion. The orchestra, under Arthur Mees, did its duty fully, and the audience found the work greatly to its taste an liking, for one thing, because it was to its understanding and strove straightforwardly and consistently to express pure musical beauty. Of nationalism like that disclosed in “Shamus O’Brien”, the Irish symphony, and presumably the Irish rhapsodies, and Dances for orchestra, the Irish Idyll for pianoforte and orchestra, and the Irish fantasies for violin and orchestra [5] which are in the list of Sir Charles’ compositions, there is not a trace.
Its key is C minor and it is marked op.126. It was written, I believe, a year or more ago, but its performance was reserved for the Norfolk Festival. It is in three movements, the conventional three movements, one is obliged to say in this case, the middle slow one bearing the greatest burden of simple, soulful though not profoundly poetic beauty. The last movement in triple time with a theme proclaimed at the outset in full chordal harmony, is bright and militant, with a retrospective glance at the slow movement as a short episode. Good, sound music all of it, with a spirit that proceeded from Schumann. Most admirably pianistic it is throughout and scored with a master hand. Our musical Hotspurs will decry it as smugly academic, but it has a clear musical face, it knows its purpose, it achieves it, and if Mr. Bauer plays it in the musical capitals of America next season he will bring delight to thousands who love music for what it is rather than what the so-called modernists say they think it ought to be.
The New York Tribune 6 June 1915 H.E Krehbiel

[1] Jeremy Dibble, in his biography Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician, Oxford Univeristy Press, 2002) has given a detailed explanation of the circumstances leading up to the composer being unable to attend the 1915 Norfolk Festival. Unsurprisingly, it was due to the wartime situation, and the danger in crossing the Atlantic by ship. Scarily, Stanford and his wife had been booked on the Lusitania on 15 May 1915.  She was sunk by the Germans on 7 May, with the loss of 1198 passengers and members of the crew.
[2] Stanford received many honours during his lifetime,  including the honorary degrees of DMus (Oxford, 1883), MusD (Cambridge, 1888), DCL (Durham, 1894), LLD (Leeds, 1904), and MusD (Trinity College, Dublin, 1921). He was knighted in 1902 and in 1904 was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts of Berlin. (National Biography)
[3] There is no doubt about Charles Villiers Stanford’s patriotism, either musically or politically. It must be recalled that he was a Unionist, who was politically opposed to Home Rule. He was exceptionally proud of Ireland and  retained his Irish ‘brogue’ through all his years in London. He had no difficulty in regarding himself as ‘patriotic Irishman and British loyalist.’ Many of his works evoke the spirit of the land of his birth.
[4] “Ipse fave clemens patriae patriamque canenti,/Phcebe, coronata qui canis ipse lyra." This was seemingly made up by Stanford and is not a quote from classical authors. 
[5] The author of the review would seem to be confusing the Irish Idyll in Six Miniatures for voice and piano, op.77 for something a little more substantial. The Irish Fantasies, op.54 were for violin and piano, not orchestra. 

1 comment:

Webrarian said...

Listening to the slow movement of the concerto, I am strongly reminded of the slow movement of Sullivan's "Irish" Symphony. Triple time, with a sustained melody beginning on the mediant of the scale.

The echo is probably just a coincidental as the long sustained note of Sullivan's movement is reminiscent of the similar Holst's "Saturn".

And, as Sullivan is supposed to have said, "We only have twelve notes to choose from" (or words to that effect).