At the end of the war Stanford, whose health was in steady decline, was ordered by his doctors to spend the nights out of London, especially while German bombing took place in the capital. At the RCM he had, like many of his colleagues, experienced the trauma of seeing his finest pupils go off to the front. Even his own son, Guy, had joined up in 1915 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Reserve Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and had been posted to the front line during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After developing appendicitis in late July, Guy did not fight again, but many of Stanford’s pupils were to be less fortunate, among them Bliss (wounded at the Somme), Moeran (severely injured in the head), Gurney (gassed at St Julien near Passchendaele) and Farrar (killed in September 1918 at the Battle of Epéhy Ronssoy). Others of Cambridge memory died late in the war, including Alan Gray’s two sons Maurice and Edward who were commemorated in Stanford’s Piano Trio No 3, Op 158 (1918). There was also, on 7 October 1918, only four weeks before Armistice, the unhappy news of the death of Parry. For years the two men had enjoyed a close friendship, but in recent times their relationship had become strained. Early in 1917 a serious rift occurred which Stanford bitterly regretted. Owing in part to his wife, who played the role of intermediary, the friendship was revived but scars remained. As a symbol of his affection Stanford composed his Magnificat in B flat, Op 164, for double chorus which was completed in September 1918. Unfortunately Parry died before the work was published the following year. As an indication of the composer’s regret, the piece bore the following inscription: ‘This work, which death prevented me from giving Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in life, I dedicate to his name in grief. C.V.S.’ In accordance with the a cappella orientation of the work, Stanford adopted traditional elements of motet style such as imitation and antiphony: yet, rather than espouse the sixteenth century wholesale, he instead looked to the eighteenth century, to the florid intricacy and counterpoint of Bach whose motets he knew intimately as the one-time conductor of The Bach Choir. One thinks particularly of the effusive eight-part Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
(which Stanford conducted numerous times), but one cannot help also drawing a parallel with Bach’s own Magnificat whose vigorous opening and closing music seems to re-echo in the corresponding pages of Stanford’s work.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1998