Stanford in 51

Room 51(now 116) in the Royal College of Music contains a Steinway, a table, some chairs, a cupboard and a wardrobe. The fireplace is covered over with a wooden panel, painted blue like the walls; the windows overlook the roof of the Britten theatre. Above the mantelpiece is a grey stone tablet, and it is this which makes the room special. Carved into it are the words:’This tablet is placed here by his pupils in memory of Charles Villiers Stanford, Professor of Composition 1883-1924. He taught in this room from 1894 to 1924.’

Stanford is synonymous with English Church Music. Say ‘Stanford’ to an organist or chorister, and the associations will bounce back – Stanford in C, in G, in A, in B flat, referring to the settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for the Anglican service of Evensong. He wrote a great deal of other music too; his greatest legacy, however, lies in his contribution to the English choral tradition.

But it is Stanford the composition teacher who comes to mind whenever I turn the handle and walk into Room 51(116). Before me have walked – in no particular order – Vaughan Williams, Howells, Ireland, Bridge, Rebecca Clarke, Gustav Holst, Coleridge-Taylor and a host of others. That each of these named composers has a unique voice must be a tribute to a teacher who did not seek to clone Stanford sound-alikes.

Say ‘Stanford’ and the other strong association is ‘Parry’. How many billion people listened to ‘Jerusalem ‘, ‘I was Glad’ and ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’ broadcast from Westminster Abbey last week?! Stanford commissioned ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’; Parry dedicated the work to him. Parry also taught composition at the RCM – Vaughan Williams, Holst, Ireland and Bridge studied with him as well as with Stanford –  and became Director while Stanford was on the staff.

Here is my favourite Stanford  – the Magnificat in G. Enjoy!

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