Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
3 Intermezzi for Clarinet or Violin or Cello & Piano
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was born in Dublin. He had a good all-round education not only studying music but also classics at Cambridge University. Following this, Stanford went to Germany where he studied composition with Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and then with Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. While abroad, Stanford met Brahms and became an admirer. He was a prolific composer who worked in nearly every genre. Stanford was knighted in 1901 for the tremendous contribution he made to British music.
The once high reputation that he enjoyed all but disappeared by the end of his life with critics writing him off as nothing more than a German “copycat” and another Brahms imitator. This criticism is both unfair and wide of the mark. While it is to some extent true his early works show a German influence (sometimes Mendelssohn, sometimes Schumann, and sometimes Brahms), this should really come as no surprise for two reasons. First, during the last part of the 19th century, the British, unlike the French and the Russians, had yet to develop anything that could be called a national style. Second, one must not forget that in the 1870's, Stanford studied with two world-famous German teachers and composers. Since the time of Mozart, the leading composers of Austria and Germany were held up as the models to follow: Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann showed the way. Later, men like Reinecke and Kiel, (who were admirers of Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn) transmitted this influence to their many students, a prodigious amount of whom, like Stanford, became famous in their own right. It should be noted that very few who studied in Germany escaped or wanted to escape this German influence. Men from such disparate backgrounds as Borodin, Busoni, Respighi, Grieg and the American George Chadwick, to name but a few, are examples. As such, it seems particularly unjust to Stanford to complain that some of his early works show German influence, especially in view of the fact that he ultimately went on to help found an English style and contributed to the renaissance of British music. This was particularly true in the realm of chamber music where Stanford almost single-handedly jump-started the British repertoire. Among his many students were Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, Frank Bridge, Ernst Moeran, Arthur Bliss, and Percy Grainger.
The 3 Intermezzi were composed in 1879. Stanford clearly intended the work for the clarinet but his publisher insisted that he make arrangements for the violin as well as the cello. This he did and in excellent fashion. However, he must have been surprised to see the violin listed ahead of the clarinet on the title page. No doubt this was done for sales reasons, there being more violinists than clarinetists. While all three versions are very effective, Stanford’s clarinet writing is particularly noteworthy as its anticipates Brahms’ works by over a decade. One might well say, Brahms borrowed from Stanford! The first intermezzo, Andante espressivo, interestingly is dreamy and meditative although there is a sprightly middle section. The second, Allegro agitato, races out of the starting gate a cross between a tarantella and a quick galloping rondo. The slower middle section provides fine contrast. The finale, Allegretto scherzando, begins playfully. The slower middle section, again providing a fine contrast, is dignified and more serious.
Either out of print or very hard to obtain, we are please to make these charming and effective works available. For clarinetists, this is a must have recital piece. But violinists and cellists will also find these effective works well worthwhile.