Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

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Cello Sonata No.2 in d minor, Op.39

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.

Stanfordís Second Cello Sonata dates from 1889 and was written for the Alfredo Piatti, one of the leading cellists of the day. It combines old ecclesiastical modes with Irish melodies. The first movement, Allegretto con moto moderato, begins in a sad but not tragic vein. However, as the music moves forward we encounter many dramatic climaxes.

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