Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
String Quartet No.1 G Major, Op.44
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was without question one of Britain's most important 19th and early 20th century composers. He was fortunate in being able to study under two of the leading teachers of his day: Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. While studying abroad, Stanford met Brahms and became friends with him.
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. After his death, he was unfairly attacked for having been too heavily influenced by Brahms. While it is to some extent true that 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. 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.
Stanford's First String Quartet dates from 1891. The the opening Allegro assai is genial and full of good spirits. Stanford's inspiration and mastery of technique are very apparent. The following Poco Allegro e grazioso has the flavor of a Mendelssohnian intermezzo. The after-beat echo of the main theme in the lower voices give the music a slight dark and sinister aura. The middle section rather than being slower is a Presto. Against the rushing notes of the upper voices first the cello and then the first violin give forth a lovely cantilena melody. The slow movement, Largo con molto espressione, is sad but not a dirge. It has a stately processional quality. The finale, Allegro molto, begins as an Irish gig given offer fugal fashion. But suddenly in the development section one hears distant echoes from the scherzo of Schubert's famous cello quintet.
This is quartet with many excellent qualities to recommend it. It could to be heard in concert and it certainly will find a warm place on the stands of amateurs if the chance to make its acquaintance. It's been out of print for a very long time and we are pleased to make it available once again.