The Service in F, Op 36, was published by Novello in 1889 and it was sung on several occasions in Trinity College Chapel thereafter. Of all Stanford’s services it is the least well known. On its publication attention was drawn to the composer’s deliberately archaic style of writing which provoked The Musical Times
to suggest that the service ‘might have been inspired by Birde, Tallis, or any of the old English fathers of harmony’. Stanford’s interest in earlier English music was considerable. He had a profound admiration for Purcell which manifested itself in his membership of (and editorial work for) the Purcell Society. Moreover, he was a keen advocate of the English Church’s musical heritage of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but was saddened by its exclusion from contemporary worship. His enthusiasm for early music fuelled his desire to master the principles of modal harmony which he studied under Rockstro’s guidance at the RCM. The Service in F certainly provides glimpses of a bygone age and it seems clear that Stanford wished to infuse his own vocal technique with the discipline of an earlier vocal method. This is accentuated by the strong vocal orientation of the music (indeed the organ may be dispensed with altogether), the distinctly non-chromatic vocabulary and the inclination towards a more episodic structure, devoid of symphonic involution.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1997