After the war Stanford produced a number of large-scale works—among them A Song of Agincourt
, Op 168 (1919), the Piano Concerto No 3, Op 171 (1919), the Concert Piece for Organ and Orchestra, Op 181 (1921) and the Irish Rhapsody No 6, Op 191 (1922)—but publishers showed little interest in them. Yet in the province of church music Novello and Stainer & Bell were still eager to add new works to their catalogues and Stanford, perhaps keen to secure additional royalties, produced a clutch of late anthems which included Veni Creator
(1922), the three Anthems of Op 192 for Advent, Christmas and Easter, When God of old
(1923) and, arguably the finest, How beauteous are their feet
(1923). For the four verses of Isaac Watts’s hymn (published originally as six verses in Hymns and Spiritual Songs
of 1707) Stanford contrives a sophisticated variation form based on the opening melodic idea D-E-D-B-C-D. This fragment is used to initiate each of the first three verses; on each repetition, however, the polyphonic treatment is subtly varied and the consequent material is also quite different. In the fourth verse (‘The Lord makes bare his arm’) the tonic minor temporarily brings a moment of gravitas to the proceedings together with an imitative exposition of the principal idea in augmentation; but this is soon dispelled by the return of the major mode, which, still retaining the melodic augmentation, underpins the uplifting conclusion.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1998