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Stanford, Charles V: Eight Partsongs, Op. 127. SATB

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Unaccompanied SATB chorus

A major addition to the celebrations marking the hundredth anniversary of Stanford’s death, the reissuing of his Eight Partsongs Opus 127 with an introduction by Professor Jeremy Dibble confirms not only his outstanding position amongst English choral composers, but also his mastery of the German Chorlied tradition, inviting comparison with the secular choral works of Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms.

Like the Eight Partsongs Opus 119, also composed in 1910, Opus 127 pays homage to the memory of the remarkable poet Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861–1907), whose tragic early death inspired many artistic tributes. A treasury of words for musical setting, her verse was immortalised not only in Parry’s English Lyrics, but also in Stanford’s The Blue Bird from his Opus 119 – and here, in the eight exquisite choral gems of Opus 127, of which the best known, When Mary thro’ the garden went, is a benchmark for the quality of its companion pieces.

With unfailing insight, Stanford’s music reflects the darkness, melancholy and exultation of Coleridge’s vision: its romantic tropes – the ‘city under the sea’ for example, echoing Poe – its shifting moods and complex spirituality. Furthermore, in its richness of harmony and vocal colour, ever-imaginative textural diversity and myriad transformations of strophic, variation and ternary forms, Opus 127 transcends its Victorian background of partsongs by S. S. Wesley and Sullivan to stand on equal terms with classics of the European repertoire of secular choral song such as Brahms’s Fünf Gesänge Opus 104.

Performances of the Eight Partsongs, available as separate items only for many years, and now presented again complete and in fine modern engraving, will be a high point of the forthcoming anniversary year, in which Stanford’s achievement as a master of choral writing will be both celebrated and assessed anew.

  1. Plighted
  2. Veneta
  3. When Mary thro’ the garden went
  4. The Haven
  5. The Guest
  6. Larghetto
  7. Wilderspin
  8. To a Tree
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