In 1891 Sir Harold Boulton published an anthology with the Leadenhall Press titled Twelve New Songs: By Some of the Best and Best-Known British Composers
. Though the collection in itself may not have been ground-breaking in terms of its quality of invention, it nevertheless represented a significant milestone in the development of the English art-song. In the preface to his anthology Boulton was keen to re-echo the commonly received view that England’s indigenous musical prowess for song-writing had languished since the late seventeenth century, but that hopes were high for a rebirth of creativity. To some extent Boulton blamed the low esteem in which song-composition had been held in the past, and some criticism was directed at poets who had ‘not sufficiently laid themselves out for fellowship with the sister art’. Yet, so Boulton believed, the contemporary position had changed so markedly that composers no longer had sufficient poetic material to work with, a predicament which amply justified the production of his texts for all twelve invited composers (Barnby, Cellier, Corder, Cowen, C H Lloyd, Mackenzie, MacCunn, Parry, Somervell, Stanford, Goring Thomas and Charles Wood).
Stanford’s setting, For ever mine, arguably the finest of the whole set, was completed in July 1889. Though Boulton’s words are undistinguished, their preoccupation with delicate simile inspired Stanford to produce a miniature of exceptional tenderness. Fragile strands of melody in the introduction – the falling-sixth intervals of the opening bars – permeate the vocal contours in subtle forms (e.g. ‘to a gossamer’, and its inversion ‘on my wings to bear’) and are given textual definition at the close of verse one (‘So pure, so rare’). This intervallic motive is subsequently central to the next two verses which skilfully incorporate and develop the music of the introduction. Of particular note within this highly imaginative, modified-strophic design is the deftness with which this material is subsumed into the conclusion of verse two (‘to welcome her to her fairy throne’) and further reworked both into the vocal climax (‘of my heart to twine’) and the coda (‘O may she peacefully nestle there, for ever mine.’) of verse three.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000