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Hyperion Records

CDA66964 - Stanford: Sacred Choral Music, Vol. 1
Photograph by Derek Forss.

Recording details: April 1997
Winchester Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: November 1997
DISCID: 06123311
Total duration: 77 minutes 32 seconds

'This record is most welcome, as is the prospect of more to come' (Gramophone)

'An excellent initial survey of Stanford's superb contribution to the sacred choral repertoire' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hill and the Winchester Choir are superb. The choral tone is luscious, the discipline outstanding; the recording captures the sumptuous acoustics of the cathedral without blurring the musical details, and the performances are vivid and exciting yet carefully nuanced' (American Record Guide)

'Superb performances, supremely fine singing, magnificently directed. A delight for Stanford lovers' (Organists' Review)

Sacred Choral Music, Vol. 1

This is the first disc in an exciting new mini-series from Winchester Cathedral Choir which will provide a comprehensive survey of the sacred choral works by Stanford. Each recording will focus on a particular stage of the composer's life, and this first volume is dedicated to music composed during Stanford's years in Cambridge. He began as the Organ Scholar of Queen's College, but by the time he was just twenty he was in the employ of Trinity where he revolutionized the music-making of the college.

The Service in B flat of 1879 was Stanford's first major success, and remains one of his most enduring compositions. It features on this disc alongside the a cappella Three Motets, Op 38, familiar from concert and recital programmes as well as church services.

The disc also includes two more curious items: the Service in F, Op 36, is one of Stanford's least well known works, while the Pater noster of 1874 is an unpublished piece which has been specially edited by Jeremy Dibble for this its first recording.

The first eighteen years of Charles Villiers Stanford’s life were spent in his native Dublin. Modestly well endowed with music, Ireland’s capital took pleasure from the occasional visit of artists such as Hallé, Rubinstein, Thalberg, Vieuxtemps, Sivori, Bottesini, Clara Schumann and Joachim, and the city’s Theatre Royal revelled in the annual season of Italian opera made possible by the touring companies from London’s Covent Garden and Her Majesty’s Theatre. Home-grown music-making was largely amateur in constitution and during the first part of the nineteenth century (when much of its natural patronage, in the form of the country’s aristocracy, had migrated to London as a result of the Act of Union in 1800) it had struggled to survive. By the middle of the century there were signs of a modest revival. The ‘professional aristocracy’ of lawyers, physicians, clergymen, bankers, civil servants and academics—a quintessentially Protestant world—began to enjoy an increased prosperity after the slump of the 1820s and this was reflected in a growing enthusiasm for music through organizations such as the Antient Concerts Society, the Philharmonic Society, the Dublin University Choral Society and, most exclusive of all in its upper-class clientele, the Hibernian Catch Club. Professional musicians in Dublin made a living through their attachment to educational institutions (such as the Royal Irish Academy of Music, founded in 1848), to theatres (such as the Theatre Royal) or to the Church of Ireland.

Church music in Dublin was served by two cathedrals, the existence of which was, and still remains, unique within Anglican ecclesiastical polity. The Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, known as ‘Christ Church’, fulfilled the role of cathedral to the diocese, while the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St Patrick, situated close by, was the ‘national cathedral’. The musical traditions of both cathedrals had been entwined for centuries; they frequently shared organists, choirmasters and choral vicars, and during the nineteenth century the choirs were, to use Stanford’s apt description, ‘the cradle and the nursery of music in Ireland’. As the son of a prominent Dublin lawyer and keen amateur musician, Stanford imbibed a substantial proportion of his musical experiences from Dublin’s ecclesiastical institutions. His family church, St Stephen’s, was only a matter of yards along Herbert Street from his home at No 2 and there he often deputized as organist and wrote anthems for the services. One short anthem for Christmas, How beautiful upon the mountain, which is still extant in manuscript (dated ‘Christmas 1868’) was probably given at St Stephen’s. As he grew older, however, the more elaborate musical regimes of Christ Church and St Patrick’s superseded the standards of his local parish church; moreover, he was able to obtain more advanced teaching in composition and organ-playing from Dublin’s most prominent and respected musician, Robert Prescott Stewart. Stewart was organist at Christ Church from 1844 until his death in 1894 and ‘afternoon organist’ at St Patrick’s (William Murphy was ‘morning organist’) between 1852 and 1861 (though he continued to play unofficially for services at St Patrick’s well after he relinquished his post). He was a fine player, whose ability as a recitalist measured up to that of S S Wesley, W T Best and Stainer. He was well known for his impromptu transcriptions of orchestral works (played from the score), for his flamboyant registration and for his abilities as a choirmaster. Stanford thought highly of his teacher and, during the 1860s, spent many hours in the organ lofts of the cathedrals listening to the Sunday services. As a teenager he became familiar with a great deal of eighteenth-century repertoire—the works of Nares, Hayes, Clarke-Whitfield, Stevenson, Battishill, Greene, Travers, Wise, Kelway and Boyce, supplemented by excerpts from oratorios by Handel, Mendelssohn and Spohr—which was the staple diet of most Anglican cathedrals, and, by way of Stewart’s enthusiasm, he developed an admiration for the works of S S Wesley and for seventeenth-century service music by Gibbons and Purcell.

Stanford was educated at Bassett’s school in Lower Mount Street, Dublin. Henry Tilney Bassett, an Englishman of fiery temperament, was a fine classicist who instilled in his pupil a love of classical literature. It was largely he who recommended that Stanford should apply for entrance to Cambridge University in order to read for a degree in classics. Stanford’s father had in mind a career for his son at the Bar, but by 1870, with a prodigious reputation behind him in Dublin, Charles Villiers was adamant that music could be the only course of his life. It was agreed therefore with his father that he would study for a degree in the first instance, in order to obtain a general education, but consent was also given for a further period of purely musical instruction in Germany after his university education had been concluded.

After trying for but failing to secure a place at Trinity Hall, Stanford gained an organ scholarship (one of the first in the university) and, later, a classics scholarship to Queen’s College. On entering Cambridge University in the autumn of 1870 he soon attracted attention as a fine organist, choirmaster and conductor. Music, rather than classics, rapidly began to occupy a large proportion of his time and he was soon a conspicuous member of the Cambridge University Musical Society (CUMS). At Queen’s, occasional special services and performances of sacred music took place in the chapel. His one and only piece from this time, dated ‘Queen’s Coll: Camb. Dec. 20/1872’, was the Evening Service in F major which may have been written for one of the chapel’s ‘special services’.

On 5 June 1871 Stanford was elected to the office of Assistant Conductor to CUMS in order to be of help to the ailing John Larkin Hopkins who had conducted the Society for many years. Hopkins was organist at Trinity College and had held the position since 1856. However, in October 1872, he was forced to leave Cambridge on account of his poor health. The post of organist at Trinity was temporarily filled by Gerard Cobb, a Fellow at the college and an able amateur, but on some occasions Stanford was asked to deputize. With Hopkins’ continuing illness, Stanford was offered the post of Assistant Organist by the Master and Fellows in March 1873 which brought with it a stipend of £80 per annum, rooms and commons. This he accepted and at the same time he migrated from Queen’s to Trinity as an undergraduate. In April 1873 Hopkins died and the post of organist became officially vacant. Stanford was appointed the following year (in February 1874) at a salary of £100 per annum for the next two years, after which time the pay and responsibilities of the position would be reviewed. For Stanford, acceptance of the position was conditional upon permission to be absent during the last six months of both 1874 and 1875 so that he could pursue his studies in Leipzig. This the Seniority granted along with further period of six months in 1876 which Stanford passed in Berlin.

Stanford arrived at Trinity College at an auspicious time. Hopkins had been enterprising in the time before his illness. He had instigated the rebuilding of the Father Smith organ and, on its completion, had instituted a series of organ recitals in the chapel (in which Stanford appeared from May 1872). At the same time he had also fulfilled his ambition of forming an independent choir school for the Trinity choristers. In 1856 the choirs and organists of Trinity and St John’s had become separate entities (having been joined since 1799). Connections with King’s College were also dissolved in 1870, the arrangements of a joint choir school shared with St John’s were wound up and an entirely separate establishment for the education of the boys was constituted for the beginning of the Michaelmas Term 1872. Stanford also inherited a body of singers with some experience, if somewhat lacking in finesse. Records of attendance in 1870 show that there were ten choristers and four probationers; under Stanford’s initiatives, this grew to sixteen choristers in 1875 and to twenty-two by 1878. There were eight salaried Lay Clerks (one of whom was the schoolmaster) and this number was augmented on several occasions by two or three additional singers.

In the first few years of his employment at Trinity, Stanford did little to alter the choice of music sung in chapel services. He was to be away half the time studying in Germany and, anyway, the selection of music was ultimately the responsibility of the Precentor, Louis Borissow. Many aspects of the repertoire at Trinity corresponded with those he had experienced in Dublin. There was a prevalence of eighteenth-century anthems and service music augmented by the usual extracts from Mendelssohn and Spohr. There was, however, a substantial portion of Victorian works by Macfarren, Hopkins, Elvey, Garrett, Dykes, Oakeley and Best that recurred with monotonous regularity; only the names of Attwood, Walmisley, Stainer, Goss and S S Wesley lifted the levels of musical imagination above the commonplace. During this period Stanford produced a number of liturgical works, the first of which were the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in E flat (for SSATBB), written during October and November 1873. So far no record of performance has come to light. They do not appear in any of the chapel music lists, though they may conceivably have been sung on a special college occasion. Just as in the service written at Queen’s, one is conscious of the ‘verse’ conception, but the approach to structure and harmony is more sophisticated. In the Magnificat the contrast of verse and full choir is more fully integrated into a ternary design where two outer sections in E flat, distinctly secular in style, frame a central 6/8 paragraph in B (‘And his mercy is on them that fear him’) of a pastoral character. It is also interesting to note how the Gloria, which in so many Canticle settings delineates a new section, is here subsumed into the restatement (beginning ‘He remembering his mercy’). The same contrast of solo and choir inhabits the Nunc dimittis, though here it is used to emphasize the opening statement in E flat minor (sung principally by the soloists) and the counterstatement in the tonic major (sung by the choir). There are other nice touches such as the recapitulation of the first line of the text (‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant’), transformed both by its initial elongated progression and its appearance in the major mode rather than the minor. Moreover, Stanford brings an effective unifying touch to the Gloria by recalling the same material from the Magnificat.

In the summer of 1874 Stanford departed for Leipzig where, as a private student, he took piano lessons with Papperitz and composition with Reinecke. His first sojourn in Germany was productive, in spite of his complaint that Reinecke was an uninspiring teacher. He completed The Resurrection (an Osterlied for tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra), a set of Heine songs, some piano music, a Commemoration Anthem In memoria aeterna (SSAATTBB and organ), presumably for use at Trinity, and a setting of the Pater noster dated ‘August 28/[18]74’. It is plausible that the Pater noster, an unpublished work, was written as an exercise in vocal composition for eight parts. The surviving manuscript bears several corrections, probably by Reinecke; it is recorded here for the first time in an edition prepared by Jeremy Dibble. The manner of writing suggests the model of Mendelssohn’s a cappella motets which would have received Reinecke’s wholehearted approval. The quality of Stanford’s invention, however, transcends any pedagogical cliché. The climax of ‘sed libera’, where the full choir shifts from a root triad of C major to a second inversion of E flat, is a moment of true inspiration worthy of Bruckner, as is the return of the opening line text (‘Pater noster’) prior to the uplifting ‘Amen’.

During the years 1875 and 1876 Stanford had produced only one other sacred piece for liturgical use, the eight-voice In memoria aeterna mentioned above. During his time abroad in Leipzig (1875) and Berlin (1876) he preferred to concentrate on secular music which included work on a violin concerto (1875), a symphony (composed for the Alexandra Palace prize in 1876), chamber music, and incidental music for Tennyson’s play, Queen Mary (1876), performed at the Lyceum Theatre. On returning to Cambridge in January 1877 Stanford had already begun to forge a reputation as a brilliant prospect for British music. Trinity College was also conscious of the emerging stature of their young organist and took action to secure his expertise. On 16 May 1877 Stanford was appointed permanent organist (officially from Lady Day) on a salary of £250 per annum. A new contract was also drawn up by the Seniority in which two full weekly practices were instituted and, for the boys, six hours of instruction per week during term time (with a reduction to four hours during the vacation). Choral services took place on Saturdays and Sundays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Festival of the Circumcision and Epiphany, and the choir also sang certain grace anthems in Hall. Stanford was resolved to ameliorate the standard of singing at Trinity and during the next fifteen years he sought to weed out old and weakening voices, introduce undergraduate exhibitioners (taking advice from Parratt at Magdalen College, Oxford, and A H Mann at King’s College, Cambridge), and, most importantly, improve the standard of music sung in chapel. This was less straightforward than it appeared. On being appointed as permanent organist in 1877, it was agreed that Stanford and the Precentor, Borissow, would choose (and purchase) the music for chapel jointly (as is evident from the joint signatures in the Trinity music lists). However, this proved to be a contentious plan of action and in 1885 Stanford declined to continue this practice, refusing to append his name to the music lists over which, he claimed, he had no control.

Notwithstanding his frustrating predicament, Stanford did his best to break the monotony of the chapel repertoire. Works such as Gibbons’ Hosanna to the Son of David, Stainer’s I saw the Lord, S S Wesley’s The Wilderness and Brahms’s How lovely are thy dwellings fair were introduced along with Stanford’s own ‘Queen’s’ service. A red-letter day, however, was to be 25 May 1879 when his Jubilate Deo and Te Deum in B flat, Op 10, were first sung at Matins. Later the same year, during the long vacation, the Te Deum was sung again with the Benedictus on the morning of 24 August and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis were sung in the evening. The Service in B flat, Op 10, marked a major step forward in Stanford’s setting of the morning and evening canticles. As a composer he had fully assimilated the symphonic intellectualism of Brahms as evidenced by his first Symphony (1876), the Cello Sonata, Op 9 (1877), the Violin Sonata, Op 11 (1877), and the Piano Quartet, Op 15 (1879), and looked to adapt this compositional approach to the setting of familiar canticle texts and the ordinary of the communion service. In bringing an instrumental orientation to the music of the Anglican liturgy, Stanford challenged the accepted norm of ‘choral’ primacy where emphasis on the words, the clarity of their delivery, meaning and, most of all, their comprehension was paramount. This is not to say that Stanford (any more than his hero Brahms) ignored the textual dimension—far from it—but other issues, such as the sense of musical and structural cohesion came to warrant equal consideration. To add weight to this change of emphasis, the organ was emancipated from its customary accompanimental role and, building on the example of Walmisley’s Evening Service in D minor, assumed instead one of quasi-orchestral character. This not only suited Stanford’s own colourful style of organ-playing inherited from Stewart, but also exploited the resources of the new instrument at Trinity. A further feature of the Service in B flat is the parallel drawn between the various canticles and conventional symphonic movement style-forms. The Te Deum is, for example, analogous in tempi and treatment to a first-movement Allegro, the Magnificat, a Scherzo (a ternary structure in which the Gloria functions as a recapitulation) and the Nunc dimittis, a slow movement. Other unifying elements include the repetition of the Gloria (in the Benedictus, Jubilate Deo and Nunc dimittis), the cyclic reference to common material and specific tonalities (notably D flat and C major) shared among the individual movements, and, special to the Service in B flat, the prevalence of Gregorian material (for example, the intonation to the Te Deum and the ‘Dresden Amen’ used in the Gloria).

The Evening Service in A, Op 12, was commissioned by John Stainer for the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral where it was performed on 12 May 1880 with a chorus of over three hundred singers and an orchestra of fifty players under Stainer’s direction. Unlike Stanford’s other major settings of the canticles, which were initially conceived for organ and choir, the Op 12 Service began life as a conception for chorus and orchestra, a fact borne out by the technical difficulty of the organ transcription. Completed in February 1880, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis sought to consolidate and expand the symphonic processes of the Service in B flat. This is particularly apparent in the ABA' design of the Magnificat which owes its cohesion to the thorough working-out of a single motivic idea (C sharp, D, E, A) heard at the opening. The double-choir Gloria is likewise based on the same figure. The Nunc dimittis is one of Stanford’s finest essays in this genre. Based on a duet in the tenor register (originally conceived for divided cellos), the movement contrasts a mood of sombre lyricism with the dramatic acclamation ‘and to be the glory of thy people Israel’. In these climactic bars one surely hears, albeit fleetingly, shades of the Valhalla of Das Rheingold that Stanford had experienced for the first time at Bayreuth in 1876 (the majestic trumpets of the orchestral version certainly confirm this impression).

Heartened by the popularity of the Opp 10 and 12 Services, Stanford produced an enviable corpus of liturgical works for the Trinity choir during the 1880s and early 1890s. Awake my heart, Op 16 (entitled ‘Hymn’), a setting of Klopstock translated by his Cambridge colleague H F Wilson, was composed for the ninth Annual Festival of the London Church Choir Association and was sung at St Paul’s Cathedral on 3 November 1881. Its first performance at Trinity followed soon afterwards on 20 November. Another extended anthem, If ye then be risen with Christ based on the Easter hymn known as ‘Salisbury’ (‘Jesus Christ is risen today’), was completed in January 1883 and subsequently sung in chapel on 29 April. This anthem, or ‘Rise again’, the English translation of his earlier Die Auferstehung, was often used for Easter celebrations. The two short anthems (or introits) And I saw another angel, Op 37 No 1, and If thou shalt confess with thy mouth, Op 37 No 2, were probably composed in or around 1885. And I saw another angel, its text taken from Revelation (Chapter 7, verses 2, 3, 9, 10 and 12), was intended for All Saints’ Day. A miniature sacred drama, the visionary scene is set by the solo tenor (the voice of John of Patmos) who ushers in the angel (‘Hurt not the earth’). This choral recitative, somewhat reminiscent of S S Wesley, is answered by the chorus whose role varies from one of commentary (‘And lo, a great multitude, which no man could number’) to that of acclamatory ‘turba’ (‘Salvation to our God’). The text of If thou shalt confess with thy mouth is taken from the Epistle for St Andrews’s Day (Romans 10: 9–13) and dwells on the central Christian articles of faith, resurrection and eternal life. Reflective in mood, the anthem relies on an AA'BB'C structure in which the sustained melody of the lower solo voices alternates with a variegated version for full choir. To point up the text’s theological culmination (‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord’) in the final section, Stanford allows for a gentle, but striking tonal shift from the tonic (E major) to the Neapolitan (F major) which is poignantly counterbalanced by a hushed conclusion (‘shall be saved’).

In 1886 Stanford produced two further anthems: the immensely beautiful Blessed are the dead (also known in its revised version as I heard a voice from heaven), written for the memorial service of his colleague Henry Bradshaw in King’s College Chapel on 15 February 1886 and, more well known, a setting of Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, highly thought of by Bairstow and described by Howells as ‘one of the supremely lovely anthems of all our history’. Completed in May 1886, The Lord is my shepherd is one of Stanford’s finest examples of musical prose. His technique of overlapping irregular phraseology, gleaned from Brahms, gives the overall musical fabric a seamless quality. This is impressively essayed in the pastoral sonata scheme of the first section and in the more contrapuntal finale (‘But thy loving kindness’) Stanford’s tonal thinking is equally imaginative. After firmly establishing F major in the much larger first part, the choral recitative provides both tonal and textural contrast with a shift to D minor (‘Thou shalt prepare a table’). A continuation of this tonal area, modally altered to D major, accompanies the beginning of the finale; but this is in fact only preparation for a return to F major, a move which both heightens the sense of tonal return but at the same time enhances the textual meaning (‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’). Stanford’s coda, which elusively recalls the opening material is also deliciously romantic with its yearning appoggiaturas.

The Service in F, Op 36, was published by Novello in 1889 and it was sung on several occasions in Trinity College Chapel thereafter. Of all Stanford’s services it is the least well known. On its publication attention was drawn to the composer’s deliberately archaic style of writing which provoked The Musical Times to suggest that the service ‘might have been inspired by Birde, Tallis, or any of the old English fathers of harmony’. Stanford’s interest in earlier English music was considerable. He had a profound admiration for Purcell which manifested itself in his membership of (and editorial work for) the Purcell Society. Moreover, he was a keen advocate of the English Church’s musical heritage of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but was saddened by its exclusion from contemporary worship. His enthusiasm for early music fuelled his desire to master the principles of modal harmony which he studied under Rockstro’s guidance at the RCM. The Service in F certainly provides glimpses of a bygone age and it seems clear that Stanford wished to infuse his own vocal technique with the discipline of an earlier vocal method. This is accentuated by the strong vocal orientation of the music (indeed the organ may be dispensed with altogether), the distinctly non-chromatic vocabulary and the inclination towards a more episodic structure, devoid of symphonic involution.

Of all Stanford’s anthems and motets, the Three Motets, Op 38, are the most regularly sung. Though published by Boosey in 1905, they were composed at a much earlier date. From a letter of 25 November 1891 we know that they were in the hands of Alfred Littleton at Novello: ‘Don’t forget to send my Latin introits back if you don’t want to publish them’, Stanford requested; ‘I have no other scores, and we use them pretty frequently.’ We know too that Justorum animae was sung in Trinity Chapel on at least two occasions (24 February 1888 and 24 February 1892 on the Feast of St Matthias, apostle and martyr). A motet entitled Beati omnes (a titular variant of Beati quorum via?) appears in the Trinity music lists on 1 February 1890. In his book English Cathedral Music from Edward VI to Edward VII (first published in 1941), Edmund Fellowes states that these motets were written as anthems to be sung in the Hall of Trinity College on ‘Gaudy Days’ (feast days), but this term is peculiar to Oxford and not Cambridge. However, it was the chapel choir’s duty to sing grace in hall at Trinity and it is possible that one or more of the motets was sung on special feast days. Justorum animae is a setting of the famous lines from the third chapter (verses 1–3) of the Book of Wisdom. Stanford’s concise ternary structure is based on the theme of eternal peace, a sentiment which frames a more turbulent central section that moves increasingly to the flat side. The truncated and modified recapitulation, replete with reharmonization and descant, is Stanford at his most affecting. A ternary design also frames the medieval hymn Caelos ascendit hodie celebrating Christ’s ascension. An exercise in antiphonal exchange for double choir, the motet’s sense of jubilation is captured finally in the concluding Amen, whose melody, issuing from a unison E, ‘ascends’ by step the interval of a tenth to an exultant G natural on the way to the final, euphonious cadence. For the small amount of text used for Beati quorum via (Psalm 119: 1), Stanford makes fertile use of sonata principles, not least in the exquisitely understated recapitulation where the original alternation of upper and lower voices is transformed into a richer, polyphonic texture. The imitative accumulation of voices in the coda is also quite lovely.

During the 1880s Stanford’s career began to expand beyond the organ loft of Trinity College Chapel: he had two operas, The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan (1881) and Savonarola (1884), given in Germany; another, The Canterbury Pilgrims (1884), given by Carl Rosa in London; commissions began to flow from Norwich, Birmingham, Leeds and elsewhere; Grove invited him to become the Professor of Composition and conductor of the orchestra at the newly instituted Royal College of Music in 1883; and as recognition of his prowess increased, he succeeded Otto Goldschmidt as conductor of the London Bach Choir in 1885. His academic responsibilities increased in 1887 when, after the death of Sir George Macfarren, he was unanimously elected to the Professorship of Music at Cambridge. All these commitments served to distract him from his duties as organist and choirmaster at Trinity. Assistant organists were appointed, among them Thomas Tertius Noble (who worked under Stanford from 1890 until 1892), to plug the gaps created by Stanford’s regular leaves of absence, but in the end the pull of London was too great. He played his final service in chapel on Christmas Day 1892 before handing over to Alan Gray, his one-time deputy and dedicatee of the Three Motets.

As for Trinity College choir, circumstances were soon to change. Shortly after Stanford’s departure the new Master, Montagu Butler, began to question the educative merits of the choir school with its one salaried schoolmaster. After consultation with other cathedral and collegiate institutions and with parents, the College Council resolved to close the school in 1896 and most of the boys were transferred to the Perse Grammar School. In all, therefore, the life of Trinity’s own independent choir school lasted but a total of twenty-four years, most of which had elapsed under Stanford’s superintendence.

Jeremy Dibble © 1997

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