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«The Five Organ Sonatas of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) Stephanie Burgoyne ARCCO Although much has been written about Sir Charles ...»

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The Five Organ Sonatas of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

Stephanie Burgoyne ARCCO

Although much has been written about Sir

Charles Villiers Stanford, it is still difficult to

understand why, (apart from his Anglican

Cathedral church music) so little of his large

output of over 200 compositions has remained

to be performed. Since it is a well-known fact

that none of us experience musical selections

quite the same, I ask the reader to keep in mind

that the intention of this submission is to only address the results of my own personal experience with Sir Charles Stanford’s Five Sonatas for Organ. It is my hope that this short essay will inspire others to explore these neglected Organ Sonatas.

Charles Stanford was born in a very musical family. His father, a lawyer in Dublin, was an amateur cellist and a noted bass singer, good enough to be chosen to sing the title role in Mendelsohn’s Elijah at the Irish premiere in

1847. His mother, an accomplished pianist, was capable of playing the solo parts in concertos at various concerts in Dublin. Stanford’s parents encouraged the young boy’s talent for music, employing a number of different teachers to provide him with instruction in violin, piano, organ and composition. Nevertheless, Stanford’s parents felt it beneficial that he pursue a university education as well, leading towards a degree in law. Even though Charles tried very diligently to satisfy his parent’s wish, he was unable to subdue his passion for music. He not only pursued his music study in Britain but early on started travelling to the continent every year to further increase his knowledge about a wide range of music subjects. It is quite obvious that his choice as teacher, composer and performer was the right one as he became very proficient in many different genres of composition. In fact, as one of his former students Vaughan Williams is reported to have said: Stanford could adopt the technique of any composer he chose. (Choral Music edited by Arthur Jacobs, page 268) (It is worth noting, in view of his study in Leipzig and Berlin, that his interest for study in Germany might have originated with his early teachers, three of whom had been students of Ignaz Moscheles, a Bohemian pianist of German parents, who spent a number of years in Britain. Moscheles returned to Germany in 1846 accepting the position of professor of piano at the Leipzig Conservatory.) An examination of the Sonatas soon reveals that Stanford utilizes many chorale–like phrases frequently as principal and/or as secondary material. Except for those melodies clearly identified and labelled by Stanford himself, I have decided not to identify any others. As many chorales have different text associations based on denominational history, I felt it best to let the reader identify the melody based on their own experience.

-1Sonata No. 1 in F, Opus 149 (Dated: May 1917) Dedicated to “my old friend Alan Gray” (1855 – 1935). (without subtitle).

The first movement (Allegro molto moderato) in common time, opens in F major and is basically in Sonata form, it also has some affinity with the style of the Organ Sonatas of Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), who in addition to the usual concluding fugue most of his Organ Sonatas would also periodically include a fugal section in the first movement.

The principal theme is a two measure Chorale–like phrase in quarter notes which is once restated complete with slight modification, then part of this motive is used for a number of measures ending with a C major chord. (The same two measure Chorale theme returns in the third and final movement, giving a cyclical structure to this sonata.) Following this, Stanford continues to develop this material for a page and a half (with the addition of a “trumpet call” on another manual). The exposition section then gets dynamically very soft while it is used as a modulating bridge, preparing for the second theme in the tonic minor.

This second theme consists of a two measure Fugato subject in sixteenth notes ending in four quarter notes, with the countersubject entering before the subject is complete. The opening sixteenth note section of the Fugato subject continues to appear frequently in different voices and there is interplay between it and the principal Chorale theme with episodes based on both. Part of the countersubject in augmentation serves as preparation for the recapitulation (in which one can almost hear shades of Stanford’s English style choral writing). A final restatement of part of the main and secondary themes signals the recapitulation proper and with the inversion of the “secondary theme” adding further interest, the movement ends very quietly on a single E flat.

The second movement (Tempo di Menuetto) in the relative major of f minor is very interesting as it is perhaps one of Stanford’s most light-hearted movements for organ. The opening features a dancelike motive in three-quarter time (modified and related to the principal theme of the first movement). This motive is stated sequentially twice and is extended by a two measure eighth note passage in tenths. Stanford then continues to develop both parts of the subject separately as well as combining them in such a way so that the main theme is never far away. The development section uses many different modifications such as, inversion, imitation and modulation. Duplet is changed to triplet motion and added to soprano, alto and/or pedal parts in turn. The movement concludes after a number of repetitions of the main thematic material and finishes quietly with a restatement of the two measure opening motive.





The third movement (Allegro maestoso) in common time, returns to the key of F minor and is basically an Introduction and Fugue (the same as many Rheinberger Sonatas). The Introduction uses the same Chorale-like phrase as the first movement. Whereas the first movement starts in F major and ends in F minor, this third and final movement starts in F minor and ends in F major (beginning with the “bridge” passage introducing the fugue subject).

In contrast to the first movement, where the quarter note Chorale-like phrase repeats a number of times without interruption, here it alternates each statement with passage runs in triplets and sixteenths (some of which are derived from the countersubject of the fugato subject of the first movement). After two “Solo Reed” additions, the section concludes with a modulation to F major, which introduces the key for the fugue subject (the fugue subject being related to the Chorale by using the same three note opening).

The Fugue begins with a fairly strict exposition that features a real answer and a “dotted rhythm” countersubject. As the movement continues, parts of both themes are used to create episodes. An

-2imitative passage based on the opening quarter-note motive leads to the dotted rhythm countersubject of the fugue over a final re-statement of the fugue subject in augmentation in the pedal. The recapitulation is prepared for by a repeated three note opening of the motto motive and is then established by the Chorale-like subject beginning at the final “Maestoso”. After the addition of a “Solo Reed”, the sequential three note opening of the Chorale subject is heard again a number of times before this third and final movement ends on Full Organ.

Sonata Eroica No. 2, Opus 151 (Dated: August 1917) Dedicated to “Charles Marie Widor and the great country to which he belongs”.

The first and third movements of this Sonata refer to two specific battlegrounds where the French troops faced some very fierce and costly battles during the First World War. Even though Stanford does not quote the French National Anthem in its entirety anywhere in the three movements, it does appear in various guises throughout.

The first movement (Allegro moderato) in G minor and in three-four time is subtitled “Rheims”.

The main theme is similar to a tune composed by Jean Tisserand in the 15th century, the text of which denotes new life and Resurrection. Stanford may have chosen this tune to relate it to the importance of the great Cathedral at Rheims, which in addition to its religious function, was (historically) the site for the crowning of the Kings of France.

The first line presents the main theme in octaves concluding with a perfect cadence and this unison theme re-occurs regularly throughout the movement in various voices. After the first line, Stanford uses sixteenth note passage work (relating it to some of Widor’s Symphonies for Organ) and while it does not quote the Marseillaise directly, it uses its melodic rhythms frequently. The different themes alternate between extreme agitation (designating the hostility of war) and quiet reflection during periods of rest.

Stanford continues to add new material in the middle section, visiting a number of keys (such as E-, Ab+) and it is then developed and held together by reminders of the opening material. This development even returns to G minor briefly; nevertheless, the movement concludes with a stately reminder of the main theme in G major.

The second movement (Adagio molto) in E flat major in common time presents two distinctly different themes. I suggest that Stanford might have intended this as part of a “Requiem Mass” setting (to deal with the many deaths on the battlefields). In that case, the first meditative theme might function as the Introit: “Requiem aeternam”, while the second theme, with its agitated dotted rhythm motive, depicting the horrific reality of the continued conflict, would be considered the Sequence: “Dies irae”. This agitated second theme is fairly extensive and appropriately questions the reason for all the suffering of both, soldiers and civilians. Stanford in that way expresses the extreme emotions generated by the war, using the same four note opening motive for both subjects.

In the loud and boisterous second section, he uses punctuating chords supported by sixteenth notes passage in the pedal to denote “The day of wrath”. This in turn is followed immediately by a four measure imitative polyphonic counterpoint and a restatement of the dotted half-note section, this time in A-flat major. From here on, the Chorale-tune enters (in part) now and then, prepared for by polyphonic imitation and is periodically interrupted by the dotted half-note motive, sometimes in diminution. Toward the end there is a complete mood

-3change by the use of once again the same four note motive. This then takes us back to the very beginning and the movement ends as it began, with the “Requiem aeternam” The third movement, subtitled Verdun. The battle for Verdun was one of the fiercest and costliest battles between the French and German armies during the First World War and with the constant attacks and counterattacks cost an estimated 1,000,000 lives, without gaining any advantages on either side. This movement is designated “Allegro moderato” and quotes the French Anthem melodically and rhythmically more strongly than any of the other movements. It opens with a few loud chords which are followed immediately by agitated two part scale-like passages in sixteenths.

The chordal sections continue to alternate with fast moving sixteenth note episodes which include parts of the French National Anthem. Stanford then develops the themes using modulation, sequence and imitation. Although the movement does contain many quiet sections, it is generally loud and the Sonata ends with the complete first line of the “Marseillaise” (beginning with a Solo Trumpet).

Sonata Britannica No. 3 in d minor, Opus 152 (Dated: November 1917) Dedicated to Sir Walter Parratt. (English organist composer 1841 to 1924).

This sonata contains the most recognizable melodies as the first movement is based on the tune St Mary and the third movement is built on the tune Hanover.

The first movement in D minor provides some very interesting developments as this movement opens with dotted half note accumulating chords in twelve-eight time. Even though there are a number of different texts for the St. Mary tune, based on the “forte” dotted half-note opening section (which repeats in various ways throughout the movement), it is hard to imagine any other text fitting the music except that of which was composed by Cardinal John Henry Newman, the first verse of this Hymn beginning with the Creedal statement “Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three and God is One”. This Stanford keeps quoting selected phrases of the “St. Mary” tune in different voices and maintains interest by alternating loud and soft sections using both themes. There is a short section in the key of D major before returning to D minor and the movement concludes with some wonderfully quiet melodic sections using the St. Mary tune.

The second movement, in B flat major, titled “Benedictus”, emerges from an opening plainsong melody in common time. In the sixth measure, Stanford adds what might be perceived as an instrumental interlude (or comment) on the plainsong melody. This alternating pattern continues until the “piu mosso” designation in D flat major, where the manual parts make a “hesitating”’ octave jump before the plainsong melody continues and the pedal adds to the hesitancy with offbeat eighth notes. Following this, we hear the “Hosanna” section of the Benedictus, identified by upward chordal octave skips where Stanford asks for reed stops to be added to the ensemble. There then follows a continuous development, utilizing all of the previous themes and the movement ends very quietly with the opening plainsong melody.

The third movement in three-four time and overall in D major is based on the tune “Hanover” and although it is sixteen pages long, presents little in new or innovative ideas. It variously quotes parts of the different phrases of the tune and uses this as material for further development. There are many short imitative lines, loud emphatic chordal statements, as well as equally short melodic lines with varied accompaniment. The movement ends with a setting of the complete chorale and a repeat of the last line, which does add an energetic close to this sonata.

Sonata Celtica No. 4, Opus 153 (Dated: 1918 or 1920)

–  –  –



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