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Morning, Communion and Evening Service in G, Op 81
October 1902; dedicated to George Martin
author of text
Book of Common Prayer

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Evening Canticle 1: Magnificat  My soul doth magnify the Lord
Evening Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace

Morning, Communion and Evening Service in G, Op 81
On being asked to provide a work for the Coronation of Edward VII in August 1902 in Westminster Abbey, Stanford orchestrated his already well-known Te Deum from the Service in B flat, Op 10 (doing the same for the rest of the Service the following year). In October 1902, within months of the Te Deum’s performance, Stanford had completed his Morning, Communion and Evening Service in G, Op 81, his fourth major setting. Dedicated to another of his RCM colleagues, Sir George C Martin, organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Service in G looks back to the symphonic and cyclic paradigm of the Service in B flat, Op 10, though Stanford’s structural approach here is broader and tonally more wide-ranging than in its predecessor. The entire Service contains much fine music, but it is the Evening Canticles that have enjoyed enduring approbation, owing principally to the lyrical exuberance of the soloistic writing. In fact, beyond the seamless developmental process so characteristic of Stanford’s mature church music, it is the adoption of a lieder-orientated style—to match the ‘songs’ of Mary and Simeon—that is the miracle of these two enchanting movements.

In the Magnificat Stanford’s organ accompaniment immediately recalls the imagery of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, but it is Mary, with her exultant song (rather than Gretchen’s one of romantic longing) at the Annunciation, who is placed at the spinning-wheel. Throughout the movement (in effect a deliciously gentle scherzo) the form is punctuated by the treble’s joyous top G (‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’; ‘For he that is mighty’; ‘and hath exalted’; ‘As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham’) while a secondary motif (‘And my spirit hath rejoiced’), itself related to the opening phrase, is deployed as a concluding idea to both the first and last paragraphs (‘and holy is his name’; ‘for ever’). In addition to the admixture of phraseological and lyrical sophistication, Stanford brings an effortless sense of control to the tonal structure. The deft manner in which the music hovers on the dominant of E (‘And his mercy is on them’), avoids the platitude of the cadence (‘He hath filled the hungry with good things’) and strays yet further to the Neapolitan (‘his servant Israel’) only to recover to the tonic with consummate ease, demonstrates just how skilfully he had adapted those elements of Brahmsian instrumental technique for liturgical use.

The Nunc dimittis, taken by a solo bass, is composed around the seminal phrase ‘depart in peace’ heard at the opening on the organ. This motif is developed in the central section in combination with a new idea (‘To be a light’) before returning as the core of the choir’s hushed unison recapitulation (‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant’). The Gloria begins by reworking corresponding material from the Magnificat (itself drawn from the opening of the Te Deum), but any sense of a more muscular conclusion is dissipated by a return to tranquillity, first in the succession of wilting, valedictory phrases (‘world without end’) and secondly in the final ‘Amen’ which recalls the central motive of the Nunc dimittis one last time.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble 1998

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