Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
Piano Trio No.3 A Major, Op.158
In discussing Stanford's Piano Trio No.3, the editor of The Chamber Music Journal wrote:
"Several factors contributed to Stanford's Third Piano Trio being unjustly ignored upon its publication in April of 1918. First was the timing, the closing months of the First World War, which was not a particularly auspicious time for a work to come out. Second, was the fact that it was written in a romantic idiom and for many years during and after the War, such works were, en masse, viewed as entirely irrelevant, without any examination as their intrinsic merits. As a result, many outstanding compositions, such as this trio, fell into instant oblivion and sadly have stayed there."
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was one of Britain's most important 19th and early 20th century composers. He studied Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and Friedrich Kiel in Berlin, two of the most outstanding teachers of the time. While in Germany, he met and became friends with Brahms. Upon his return to England, he helped found an English national 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. During his lifetime, he and his compositions were held in the highest regard.
Yet, after his death, he was unfairly attacked for having been too heavily influenced by Brahms. This was an unfair criticism in view of the fact that since the time of Mozart, Austrian and German composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann were universally regarded as models. 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.
Despite the fact that Stanford was 64 at the time he composed the Third Piano Trio, it shows the vigor of a much younger man. Although the work is dedicated to the memory of the sons of two of his friends who had been killed in the First World War, the music does not commemorate their deaths. The main theme to the opening Allegro moderato ma con fuoco is thrusting and energetic while the second theme is lyrical and reflective. The middle movement, Adagio, is sweet and a bit sad, but not funereal. Even when it rises to moments of heightened passion, there is no bitterness. The finale, Allegro maestoso, begins ceremonial with a celebratory, jovial melody and continues on in a triumphant vein.
Other than the explanation provided above, it is hard to understand why fine work such as this trio was ignored. It has been out of print for more than 50 years and we are pleased to make it available again. It can be recommended to both professionals and amateurs.