The fluency Stanford was able to bring to extended chamber music was also exercised with equal panache in the province of instrumental miniatures. Learning much from the examples of Schumann and Brahms, he was equally inventive in the creation of fantasy pieces, intermezzi and character pieces, all of which exhibit a high level of refinement. The Three Intermezzi
, Op 13 (1879) for clarinet, written for his Cambridge friend Francis Galpin, are an early example of his ability in this area of composition. It was not until 1893, however, that Stanford turned his attention once again to the solo instrumental miniatures. By this time the market for solo violin music had grown apace. Publishers considered the market for small-scale pieces to be potentially lucrative and many sets of pieces began to appear in their catalogues. Of those that survive today one thinks for example of Mackenzie’s Six Short Pieces
, Op 37, of 1888 (which includes the famous ‘Benedictus’) and Elgar’s violin pieces, Opp 13, 15, 17 and 24; Parry’s exquisite Twelve Short Pieces
(recorded on Hyperion CDH55266
) were published in 1895. Stanford’s Six Irish Fantasies for Violin and Piano
, Op 54 (composed in 1893 but not published by Boosey until 1900) were clearly written as a response to this area of the market, but they were also intended to capitalize on the buoyant demand for music based on the Irish traditional repertoire in Britain, Ireland and the United States during the 1890s and 1900s. The commercial prospects of the Irish Fantasies were further enhanced by their dedication to Lady Hallé‚ (née Norman-Neruda) who was one of London’s most prominent recitalists along with her husband and accompanist Sir Charles Hallé.
The Six Irish Fantasies (or 'Sketches' as they were originally called) were composed in October 1893 and consist of six varying styles of Irish song and dance—the Caoine, Boat Song, Jig, War Song, Hush Song and Reel—nearly all of which follow simple ternary designs. Four of them, which included the Caoine, Op 54 No 1 (pronounced ‘keen’), were first given at a Saturday Popular Concert at the St James’s Hall on 3 February 1894 by Lady Hallé and Henry Bird. Bernard Shaw, who reviewed the concert for The World (7 February 1894), was delighted with what he heard and, with characteristic anti-academic prejudice, felt that Stanford’s pieces ‘made excellent fiddling, and gave us at their best points a sense of the thatched roof, the clay floor, the potcheen, and the entire absence of professorial spirit proper to genuine Irish violinism’.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1999