Stanford: To send my vessel sailing on beyond, Songs Vol. 2


  • Artist(s): Christopher Howell, Elisabetta Paglia
  • Composer(s): Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Mezzo-Soprano, Piano
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00608 Category:

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For many years, and still for many people, Stanford’s name was synonymous with music for the Anglican Church. In this role, he expressed an easy, trusting, but not smug or complacent, relationship with the Christian faith. The natural assumption is that Stanford the man held such a faith. Yet the truth is that we know nothing of his beliefs beyond what we may infer from the music. In the previous CD in this series, Stanford, in the Triumph of Love cycle, entered perfectly into the spirit of his friend Edmond Holmes’s belief in reincarnation while, in Die Wallfarht nach Kevlaar, he set Heine’s reworking of a Catholic Marian legend with total empathy. On a larger scale, we must note four Mass settings (two lost), a Requiem and a Stabat Mater. “Songs of Faith” is very far from a concert room equivalent to the well-known Bible Songs with organ accompaniment. Published as two mini-cycles, the first has texts by his friend Tennyson, for whom “There is more faith in honest doubt … than in all the creeds”, the second draws upon Walt Whitman. Stanford had already raised eyebrows back in 1884 with his Elegiac Ode, a cantata setting of Whitman’s lines “Come, lovely and soothing death” from his Elegy to Abraham Lincoln. Whitman’s belief in an afterlife was more complex than Holmes’s vaguely Buddhist creed, and Stanford seems once again perfectly at his ease.
According to the date in the published score, the cycle was completed in September 1906, but the Hudson catalogue shows the songs were written between May and December of that year, and not in the printed order. They were not published until 1908, but already in 1906 an SATB version of “God and the Universe” was issued without opus number. The general assumption has been that this was an arrangement of the voice and piano song, but the publication chronology and certain internal features of the writing suggest that it may have been the first version and that the cycle therefore grew from this seed – it was in fact the first to be completed in its solo song form, on 27 May 1906. In either medium, it achieved a rare sense of spiritual longing, giving way to mystic power.
Next to be completed were the Whitman songs Tears and To the Soul. The poem of the latter is the same as that set by Vaughan Williams in “Toward the Unknown Region”. Stanford’s setting was completed on 28 June 1906. The Vaughan Williams has been dated 1905 or 1906 and was first performed in October 1907 at the Leeds Festival. The principal conductor of the Leeds Festival was Stanford and, though Vaughan Williams conducted his own piece, Stanford would undoubtedly have received the score well in advance to approve its inclusion. But how far in advance? The suspicion is that Stanford was reacting to, even “correcting”, Vaughan Williams’s version, but this cannot be proved.
What we can say is that the two composers take a quite different view. Vaughan Williams embraces the unknown with a confident stride, while Stanford’s first section is hesitant, even groping, and almost grinds to a halt at “All is a blank before us”. The end is more stoic than ecstatic. If we can read into this anything of Stanford’s personal beliefs, and perhaps we should not, he would seem to belong among the honest doubters, the serenity of his Anglican Church music, and the fervour of his settings of the Catholic rite, being more a wished-for ideal than a constantly attained state of mind. At the end of the last song, Joy, Shipmate, Joy, the singer gives a final salute to the shipmate left behind and sails away into the unknown, his cries of “Joy” fading into the distance. In the remaining Tennyson songs, of which the opening Strong Son of God was actually the last to be completed, on 19 December 1906, Stanford gives great emphasis to the phrase “And lo! thy foot is on the skull which thou hast made” in this latter, while in Faith he makes much of the mystical opening by which Tennyson attempts to make sense of the contradictions he has raised.
Stanford later (1913) expanded and combined the first and last of the Whitman songs to create a choral work, Song to the Soul. It was intended for performance at the 1915 Norfolk Festival, Connecticut (USA), but this fell through and Stanford substituted orchestrated versions of the first two songs.

Few publications could be more complete and more charming than the beautifully bound 1892 Longman edition of “A Child’s Garland of Songs”. The poems were drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garland of Verse” (1884), but the poet lent his imprimatur by writing a prefatory poem, “Come, little children, here are songs for you”. At the head, and often at the foot, of each song is a black and white drawing by a sadly unnamed artist who should belong among the great illustrators of children’s books. The dedicatees were Stanford’s two children, Guy and Geraldine. What we are not told is whether the songs are for solo or unison singing. In 1914 they were reissued by Curwen specifically as unison songs, apart from three which were given a second part. This does not necessarily prove that the 1892 edition was also for unison singing, since Stanford made several revisions that seem designed to smooth out corners that might be awkward for collective singing. Also in 1914, Curwen issued Windy Nights as a solo song. If they were originally solo songs, the most likely singers, in a domestic setting, were Stanford’s wife Jennie, who had some ambition to become a professional singer when they first met, or Guy and Geraldine themselves. The IT-wise kid of the 2020s is likely to draw a blank before most of Stevenson’s conceits (Foreign Children would be untenable in an ethnically mixed classroom) and the songs are best appreciated today as a wonderfully imaginative evocation, humorous and touching, of the lost world of Victorian childhood. The Longman edition is used here, though it was a temptation to use the 1914 Windy Nights with its extra bars of galloping. .
A few notable touches, among many, are the conclusion out of key of Bed in Summer to set the child’s plaintive question (inexplicably, this ending was “corrected” in 1914), the toys coming alive at the end of Foreign Lands, the canon in My Shadow, the quotation from The British Grenadiers in Marching Song and the firing of the penny cannon at the end of My Ship and Me.

Murdoch Maclean’s “Songs of a Roving Celt”, the thoughts of a Scots traveller who returned home haunted with memories of a companion who had died, touched a chord with the public when they appeared in 1916. Stanford, many of whose pupils failed to return from the battlefield and both of whose children had been despatched to the war theatre – though they returned – was clearly moved by the poetry. In reality, Maclean himself (1885-1956) had been unable to serve in the war due to heart problems. His name remained alive thanks to The Pibroch, one of the handful of Stanford songs that never disappeared even when his reputation was at its lowest. Those who do not know the following songs have often been misled by the last line –“let us go” – into supposing that the singer has a companion beside him. As the next song tells us, the companion was buried at sea – a fact Stanford emphasizes with a quotation from Fare Well, the last of his Songs of the Fleet. There is a tone of deep sadness and resignation to this cycle which transcends the weak verse. There is also great variety, from the impressionistic sweep of The Pibroch to the bleak chords of Assynt of the Shadows, the ballad tone of The Sobbing of the Spey, the drama interlaced with tender memories of No More and the questing piano figuration of The Call. In the piano postlude to this final song, Stanford draws a comparison with better times as he recalls Back to Ireland, the last song of An Irish Idyll (1901), but without allowing it to reach its ecstatic conclusion.

The “Four Patriotic Songs” were not so-called or published as a set, but they are logically to be taken as such. One song for each of the four nations, each with words by the same poet, Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954), who proved a deft hand at mimicking Scottish and Irish dialect forms. Wales for Ever was given a Welsh translation by the Rev. Elvet Lewis. They were published in 1917 (St. George of England) and 1918 (the others). St. George might have elicited Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory treatment from Parry and Elgar respectively. Stanford was apt to treat such occasions jauntily, even cockily, but it is a good tune. The Fair Hills of Ireland naturally finds him on home turf. He had passed the same way several times before but this, if adding nothing new, is a generous, flowing melody. St. Andrew’s Land is perhaps the pick of the bunch, atmospheric and stirring. Wales for Ever reflects the rolling grandeur of the Cambrian mountains. It is a “good sing”, helped along with quotations from Men of Harlech and suggestions, rather than actual citations, of The Bells of Aberdovey and All Through the Night.

Another patriotic endeavour was A Carol of Bells to a poem by Louis N. Parker in which the Christmas bells of London salute the fallen bells of Flanders. The printed score is dated December 25th 1915 and it was immediately recorded by Gervase Elwes. It was also issued as a vocal duet and, in 1919, as a part-song for SATB. The so-called duet version, though, has no second voice part, or any indication of how the voices should alternate, if that was the intention. The only difference is that some of the words have been changed. This is the version recorded here. In spite of its obviously war connotations, this song remained popular for many years. It contains snatches of Oranges and Lemons, the Big Ben chimes and God Save the King.

As far as is known, this record offers the first complete recordings of opp. 30 and 157, the first of the Patriotic Songs and the first for over a century of A Carol of Bells. It was the first complete recording of op. 97 to be made, but not the first to be issued.

Christopher Howell © 2022


Christopher Howell: He was born in London. After picking up a few rudiments from his grandfather, a piano tuner whose father had published a couple of marches in his youth, he had his first piano lessons from the resident teacher of the Caldecott Community, Betty Rayment. He conducted a composition of his own at the age of 14 and gave his first piano recital before leaving school. He also played the organ in the school chapel and has maintained an interest in the organ. Subsequent teachers included two professors of the Royal Academy of Music, Alexander Kelly and Else Cross. He obtained the L.R.A.M. and a B.Mus. with honours at Edinburgh University, where he studied piano with Colin Kingsley and composition with Kenneth Leighton and Edward Harper. In this period he appeared as soloist and chamber musician and formed and directed a small choir. He won a scholarship to complete his piano studies in Milan with Ilonka Deckers-Küszler and gave recitals in Italy and the UK. He has also appeared in Germany (Munich) and France (Nice). In 1993 he recorded a CD of piano music by Cyril Scott. He later recorded a CD of music by Harold Craxton and, with the cellist Alison Moncrieff Kelly, the cello sonatas of C.V. Stanford on Meridian. His compositions have been performed in Milan, Magenta, Turin and Munich. In 2009, at the Spazio Tadini, he collaborated in a homage to Gianandrea Gavazzeni, in which works for voice and piano by the maestro were interpreted by Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni.
Christopher Howell has recorded extensively for Sheva Collection including, with the leading Italian violinist Alberto Bologni, the complete music for violin and piano by C.V. Stanford. His recording of the complete works for solo piano by Stanford, in three double-CD volumes, has been widely acclaimed. His recording of the complete works for solo piano by Mackenzie, on three single-CD albums, has recently been issued, as has a CD containing five sonatas by Haydn.

Elisabetta Paglia: After obtaining a diploma in singing at the Conservatorio “Gesualdo da Venosa” of Potenza with prof. Pina Buono, Elisabetta Paglia followed post-diploma courses in Milan with Sylvia Rhys-Thomas, Enrico Fissore, Vincenzo Manno, Francesca Scaini, Marco Munari and Gabriella Sborgi. In 1998 she sang the role of Maria in Respighi’s Lauda per la Natività del Signore at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Other solo appearances have included Vivaldi’s Gloria, Stabat Mater and Nisi Dominus, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Haydn’s Nelsonmesse, Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle, Brahms’s Liebeslieder and the roles of Eugenia in Il Filosofo di Campagna (Galuppi), Cherubino and Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dorabella in Così fan Tutte, Siébel in Faust (Gounod), the Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte and Tisbe in La Cenerentola (Rossini). She has collaborated as soloist with various choirs and instrumental groups under conductors including M. Beltrami, M. Benaglia, M. Valsecchi, E. Breda, A. Iannarone, Xiang Zhang, A. Ceccato, H. Rilling, Jader Bignamini, Ruben Jais, Erina Gambarini, Claus Peter Flor, Shi-Hung Young. She is a founder member of “Le tenere armonie”, a quartet which organizes themed concerts embracing chamber music, opera, operetta, Neapolitan and American song, as well as solo arias and duets. She has a wide repertoire ranging from the 18th century to the present day and has appeared with numerous concert organizations in Milan, Turin, Brescia, Lecco, Roma, Florence, Aosta, Massa Carrara, Munich, Vienna, Wittenberg and Salzburg. She has appeared on RAI and LA7 television. She has recorded 3 CDs for Sheva Collection: “Passé”, dedicated to romantic song in Italy, “My Heart is like Singing Bird”, settings of Christina Rossetti by British composers, mostly from the early 20th century, and “Sweet Evenings Come and Go, Love”, a recital of songs by F.H. Cowen. The present Stanford disc is the first of two.


Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (b Dublin, 30 Sept 1852; d London, 29 March 1924). British composer, teacher and conductor. A prodigiously gifted musician of great versatility, he, along with Parry and Mackenzie, did much to forge the new standards of the so-called ‘renaissance’ in British music at the end of the 19th century. As a composer he brought a technical brilliance to almost all genres, though success in opera, in which he aspired to excel, generally eluded him until the end of his life. In spite of his stature as a composer (particularly in the province of church music), he is perhaps best known as a teacher of sveral generations of British composers who passed through his hands at the RCM and Cambridge University.