In spending the nights of the war out of London, Stanford lived at Windsor where, according to scholar, editor and church musician E H Fellowes, he regularly attended daily evensong at St George’s Chapel. Lighten our darkness
was written as a special tribute to the choir in March 1918. Fellowes recalled that it was sung on one or two occasions at St George’s in that year, but after that it was forgotten. In November 1935 it surfaced after Fellowes was sent the manuscript score by Walford Davies. The intention then appears to have been a desire to publish it, but for reasons unknown the work remained in manuscript. On this premiere recording, the anthem is sung in an edition by Jeremy Dibble. The text is taken from the Third Collect of the Order for Evening Prayer, ‘for aid against all perils’ which, like its predecessor For lo, I raise up
, seems to embody something of the composer’s own personal commentary on the war. Certainly the ‘perils and dangers’ of the night loom large, appearing to support Fellowes’ suggestion that Stanford ‘had the raids in his mind when setting this Collect’. More profound, however, are the passionate, full-voiced entreaties of the opening (‘Lighten our darkness’), while the imitative phrase ‘and by thy great mercy’ expresses a deep inner longing; but more emotional still is the last phase of the anthem (‘for the love of thy only Son’) whose fervent melody must surely rank as one of the most poignantly beautiful in all English church music of the period.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1998