In 1886 Stanford produced two further anthems: the immensely beautiful Blessed are the dead
(also known in its revised version as I heard a voice from heaven
), written for the memorial service of his colleague Henry Bradshaw in King’s College Chapel on 15 February 1886 and, more well known, a setting of Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd
, highly thought of by Bairstow and described by Howells as ‘one of the supremely lovely anthems of all our history’. Completed in May 1886, The Lord is my shepherd
is one of Stanford’s finest examples of musical prose. His technique of overlapping irregular phraseology, gleaned from Brahms, gives the overall musical fabric a seamless quality. This is impressively essayed in the pastoral sonata scheme of the first section and in the more contrapuntal finale (‘But thy loving kindness’) Stanford’s tonal thinking is equally imaginative. After firmly establishing F major in the much larger first part, the choral recitative provides both tonal and textural contrast with a shift to D minor (‘Thou shalt prepare a table’). A continuation of this tonal area, modally altered to D major, accompanies the beginning of the finale; but this is in fact only preparation for a return to F major, a move which both heightens the sense of tonal return but at the same time enhances the textual meaning (‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’). Stanford’s coda, which elusively recalls the opening material is also deliciously romantic with its yearning appoggiaturas.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1997