Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
Piano Quintet in d minor, Op.25
The Piano Quintet in d minor, Op.25 was perhaps the most performed of all of Stanford's chamber music. It is certainly a fine work and as far as piano quintets go, must after the Brahms, Dvorak and Schumann, be placed, along with 3 or 4 other works, near the top of its class.
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was born in Dublin. Took a classics degree at Cambridge University and then went to Leipzig Conservatory where he studied composition with Carl Reinecke in Leipzig, followed by stint in Berlin where he studied with Friedrich Kiel. While abroad, Stanford met Brahms and became an admirer. 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), so did the music of other composers such as Borodin, Busoni, Respighi, Grieg and the American George Chadwick, to name but a few, who came to study composition in Germany and came away influenced by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. It is 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 Piano Quintet dates from 1886. Stanford received much advice and support from Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist, and leader of one of Europe's outstanding string quartets. The work is conceived on a grand scale and as a successor to the works of Schumann and Brahms. The opening Allegro moderato ma agitato is written on a colossal scale. The opening theme in the minor is troubled and ruminative with an elegiac tinge. The lovely second theme is not so gloomy. The melodies and harmonies are lush and the music richly scored. The following energetic Scherzo is rhythmically is original and captivating while the mood is redolent of goblins. The writing and ideas are superb. The trio is based on a simple folk melody. The substantial Adagio espressivo showcases Stanford gift for expansive, self-developing lyrical melodies and is clearly the work's center of gravity. It begins leisurely and flows along calming for quite some time before it suddenly rises to a huge dramatic climax in the middle of the movement. The finale, Allegro risoluto, is in the major and serves as an affirmation of hope setting aside the troubled moods which have preceded it.
Although it enjoyed popularity in England, if the composer of this work had been German, it would have entered the repertoire and been heard world-wide. That fact that a Briton had written it led to a different result. We are pleased to make it available after more than a century of being out of print. It belongs in the concert hall and will be a joy to amateurs.