Saturday, 17 December 2016

Charles Villiers Stanford: A (Very) Short Anecdote by Plunket Greene

Harry Plunket Greene (1865-1936) was a hugely popular Irish baritone and fly fishing enthusiast. He was the baritone soloist in the premiere of Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. Greene was also the son-in-law of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. In 1935 he published what was for many years the only biographical study of Charles Villiers Stanford.

The protagonist in this tale is Sir Robert Prescott Stewart (1825-1894), an all-round Irish musician: a composer, organist, conductor and teacher. He was ‘afternoon’ organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral between 1852 and 1861. Stewart was an inspiration to the young ‘Charlie’ Stanford. If this story is true, the composer would have been about nine years old…
Greene (p.36) wrote:
“Mr Henry Williams, late Secretary of the Board of Works in Dublin and himself a fine organist, tells me that one Sunday at St Patrick’s [Cathedral] Stewart was called away before the end of the service. He turned to Stanford who was in the organ loft with him and said, ‘Here, Charlie, play something,’ and left him to his fate, and Charlie promptly played the St Anne Prelude and Fugue from memory.” 

Any organist knows how difficult this work is, even for a technically accomplished recitalist: it was a rare achievement for Stanford.  

No comments: