Charles Villiers Stanford was born in Herbert Street, Dublin on 30 September 1852. His home was a stimulating and intellectual environment, encouraged by his mother (née Henn) from a distinguished Irish legal family, and his father, John James Stanford, a well-known lawyer. Stanford’s father was also a more than capable musician and was instrumental with others in founding the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1848. Though Charles was never a pupil at the RIAM, he nevertheless knew many of its teachers, among them the German cellist Wilhelm Elsner. An energetic man and the father of a large musical family, Elsner had been one of the central figures at the RIAM since his arrival from the Continent in 1851. Every year he gave a benefit concert for himself and appeared in the regular series of ‘Monthly Popular Concerts’ with R M Levey (also of the RIAM), and, from time to time, Joseph Joachim, in programmes of chamber music. Like several Continental cellists of his generation, he played the cello without a spike and cultivated a refined tone and character reminiscent of the eighteenth century. He would often visit Germany for his annual holiday and it was during one journey on 15 July 1884 that he met his tragic death ‘on a dark, wet and stormy night’ when he disappeared overboard from the Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) to Holyhead steamer, his body being washed ashore on the Isle of Man the following September.
Stanford wrote at least two works with Elsner in mind. A song, ‘O Domine Jesu’, was performed in Dublin on 23 September 1870 by the operatic soprano Thérèse Tietjens with Elsner taking the obbligato part for cello. The other piece, an unpublished Rondo in F major for cello and orchestra (without opus number), dedicated to the German cellist, was completed on 17 August 1869. An accomplished work for a young man not quite seventeen, it is work that owes much to Weber, Mendelssohn and Schumann in its gentle lyricism and deft scoring. The simple structure, which begins with a slow introduction (a common feature of nineteenth-century bravura pieces in this vein), is also not without touches of real imagination. Stanford’s recomposition of the recurrences of the rondo theme has a nimble subtlety, and the use of cadenzas at the end of the central and (especially) last episodes injects a sense of quasi-operatic rhetoric to the otherwise pleasing procession of melody.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2011