Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Blue Bird - Charles Stanford

Charles Villiers Stanford
1852 - 1924
Charles Stanford was an Irish composer, teacher and conductor. Not only did Stanford study at the University of Cambridge, he also studied music abroad in Berlin. As a teacher, he was one of the founding members of London's Royal College of Music - and taught composition there for the rest of his life. Many of his pupils became great composers as well, including Gustav Holst (Planets Blogpost) and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although he wrote a lot of operatic works, Stanford is known for his choral music, and is often linked with British composer Hubert Parry (Parry Blogpost).

I first started to get to know the compositional style of Stanford in my secondary school choir, when we started learning his Magnificat in G. The Magnificat is mainly a treble solo (often sung by a very red-faced and out of breath 11 year old boy), accompanied by a full choir beneath. This is a good example of the kind of choral music that Stanford wrote for church. In particular, the harmonies and choral textures (frequently homophonic) demonstrate the kind of writing style that became comfortable for Stanford.

The piece that I wanted to post about is in fact very different to the grand, Parry-esque style of Stanford's Magnificat in G. Like all a capella pieces, Charles Stanford's 'The Blue Bird' is extremely difficult to hold in tune, and to balance the dynamics between each of the parts. However, when sung properly - it is one of the most beautiful yet simple choral pieces I have ever come across. One similarity to the Magnificat is the way the piece is structured with the sopranos carrying a sort of solo line, whilst the rest of the choir moves mostly together and as an accompaniment. I always find that the harmonies in this piece are extremely cathartic, and are a perfect representation of the words. The words are taken from a poem written by British poet: Mary Coleridge.

For me, the most striking thing about the piece is the way Stanford writes the soprano part; with occasional notes after the choral phrases simply to enhance the effect of the chords, then following this with a soprano melody that develops the choral accompaniment into so much more. Although repetitive, the serenity of the music is guaranteed to wash away any stress that I may have, and the ambiguous cadence at the end of the piece always leads me to imagine that the listener has fallen asleep,  and therefore needs no fancy cadence to signify the end of the piece.

1 comment:

  1. I've not heard much choral music before, and had never heard of Charles Stanford. Just listened to this piece, and it is stunning. I will definitely make some time to seek out similar works. Thanks for another informative post. :)