Stanford’s particular favouring of the ‘fantasy’ form bore fruit in the work of many of his pupils—not merely Hurlstone and Bridge but, in later years, Armstrong Gibbs, John Ireland and Herbert Howells, all recipients of Cobbett prizes for chamber works. Howells’s name is especially significant, for not only did he win the Cobbett Prize in 1918 for his Phantasy Quartet, but the previous year had completed another very successful chamber piece, the Rhapsodic Quintet for clarinet and strings (recorded by Thea King and the Britten Quartet on). Note (a) the ‘fantasy’, for it is one, though not specifically so called; and (b) the clarinet. Surely these both had a bearing on Stanford’s own two Fantasies for clarinet and string quartet composed only a few years later (No 1 in 1921, No 2 early 1922)? They are among his last works (he died in 1924) and were not only not published (a surprisingly large proportion of Stanford’s vast output remains unpublished, particularly his later chamber music) but actually lost sight of completely until quite recently.
Stanford first wrote for the clarinet in 1880 (Three Intermezzi for clarinet and piano). There followed the Clarinet Concerto in 1902 (written for, but never performed by, the legendary dedicatee of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, Richard Mühlfeld). Around 1912 Stanford produced his Op 129 Sonata for clarinet (or viola) and piano; and finally the Fantasies, which Thea King calls ‘prime Stanford’. Yes, they are. Rarely, in him, were the twin claims of Irish fantasy (using the term in another, less specific, sense!) and the Austro-German tradition of craftsmanship so warmly and happily reconciled.
from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1992