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Three Motets, Op 38

? 1888; for Alan Gray and The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge; published by Boosey in 1905
author of text
No 1: Wisdom 3: 1-3; No 2: Hymn at Ascensiontide; No 3: Psalm 119: 1

Of all Stanford’s anthems and motets, the Three Motets, Op 38, are the most regularly sung. Though published by Boosey in 1905, they were composed at a much earlier date. From a letter of 25 November 1891 we know that they were in the hands of Alfred Littleton at Novello: ‘Don’t forget to send my Latin introits back if you don’t want to publish them’, Stanford requested; ‘I have no other scores, and we use them pretty frequently.’ We know too that Justorum animae was sung in Trinity Chapel on at least two occasions (24 February 1888 and 24 February 1892 on the Feast of St Matthias, apostle and martyr). A motet entitled Beati omnes (a titular variant of Beati quorum via?) appears in the Trinity music lists on 1 February 1890. In his book English Cathedral Music from Edward VI to Edward VII (first published in 1941), Edmund Fellowes states that these motets were written as anthems to be sung in the Hall of Trinity College on ‘Gaudy Days’ (feast days), but this term is peculiar to Oxford and not Cambridge. However, it was the chapel choir’s duty to sing grace in hall at Trinity and it is possible that one or more of the motets was sung on special feast days. Justorum animae is a setting of the famous lines from the third chapter (verses 1–3) of the Book of Wisdom. Stanford’s concise ternary structure is based on the theme of eternal peace, a sentiment which frames a more turbulent central section that moves increasingly to the flat side. The truncated and modified recapitulation, replete with reharmonization and descant, is Stanford at his most affecting. A ternary design also frames the medieval hymn Caelos ascendit hodie celebrating Christ’s ascension. An exercise in antiphonal exchange for double choir, the motet’s sense of jubilation is captured finally in the concluding Amen, whose melody, issuing from a unison E, ‘ascends’ by step the interval of a tenth to an exultant G natural on the way to the final, euphonious cadence. For the small amount of text used for Beati quorum via (Psalm 119: 1), Stanford makes fertile use of sonata principles, not least in the exquisitely understated recapitulation where the original alternation of upper and lower voices is transformed into a richer, polyphonic texture. The imitative accumulation of voices in the coda is also quite lovely.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1997


No 1: Justorum animae
Track 7 on SIGCD514 [2'53] Download only 26 January 2018 Release
Track 3 on CDA68174 [3'23]
Track 2 on CDA66030 [3'02] Archive Service
Track 3 on CDA66519 [3'54] Archive Service
Track 4 on CDS44311/3 CD1 [3'16] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 12 on COLCD113 [3'30] Download only
No 2: Caelos ascendit hodie
Track 8 on SIGCD514 [2'06] Download only 26 January 2018 Release
Track 1 on CDA67680 [2'03]
Track 4 on CDA68174 [1'59]
Track 3 on CDA66030 [1'54] Archive Service
Track 7 on CDA66678 [2'08] Archive Service
Track 5 on CDS44311/3 CD1 [2'01] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 3: Beati quorum via
Track 9 on SIGCD514 [3'09] Download only 26 January 2018 Release
Track 5 on CDA68174 [3'29]
Track 4 on CDA66030 [3'26] Archive Service
Track 6 on CDA66374 [3'52] Archive Service
Track 6 on CDS44311/3 CD1 [3'46] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 15 on COLCD107 [3'21] Download only

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