In the first few years of his employment at Trinity, Stanford did little to alter the choice of music sung in chapel services. He was to be away half the time studying in Germany and, anyway, the selection of music was ultimately the responsibility of the Precentor, Louis Borissow. Many aspects of the repertoire at Trinity corresponded with those he had experienced in Dublin. There was a prevalence of eighteenth-century anthems and service music augmented by the usual extracts from Mendelssohn and Spohr. There was, however, a substantial portion of Victorian works by Macfarren, Hopkins, Elvey, Garrett, Dykes, Oakeley and Best that recurred with monotonous regularity; only the names of Attwood, Walmisley, Stainer, Goss and S S Wesley lifted the levels of musical imagination above the commonplace. During this period Stanford produced a number of liturgical works, the first of which were the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in E flat (for SSATBB), written during October and November 1873. So far no record of performance has come to light. They do not appear in any of the chapel music lists, though they may conceivably have been sung on a special college occasion. Just as in the service written at Queen’s, one is conscious of the ‘verse’ conception, but the approach to structure and harmony is more sophisticated. In the Magnificat the contrast of verse and full choir is more fully integrated into a ternary design where two outer sections in E flat, distinctly secular in style, frame a central 6/8 paragraph in B (‘And his mercy is on them that fear him’) of a pastoral character. It is also interesting to note how the Gloria, which in so many Canticle settings delineates a new section, is here subsumed into the restatement (beginning ‘He remembering his mercy’). The same contrast of solo and choir inhabits the Nunc dimittis, though here it is used to emphasize the opening statement in E flat minor (sung principally by the soloists) and the counterstatement in the tonic major (sung by the choir). There are other nice touches such as the recapitulation of the first line of the text (‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant’), transformed both by its initial elongated progression and its appearance in the major mode rather than the minor. Moreover, Stanford brings an effective unifying touch to the Gloria by recalling the same material from the Magnificat.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1997