About this Recording
8.571356 - STANDFORD, P.: Symphony No. 1 / Cello Concerto / Prelude to a Fantasy (Wallfisch, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Lloyd-Jones)

Patric Standford (1939–2014)
Symphony No. 1 (The Seasons – An English Year) • Cello Concerto • Prelude to a Fantasy (The Naiades)


Patric Standford was born into a modest working family in the South Yorkshire coalfield, only months before the onset of the Second World War. He showed an early curiosity for music of all kinds, most especially the rich variety of styles displayed by the BBC in its radio programmes; and when the unique Third Programme was launched in September 1946, Standford was fortunate to live in a home in which enthusiasm for those rich evenings of music, drama and poetry was paramount. Over the next few years he was taken to live concerts in Sheffield, most often given by the Halle Orchestra, though his keen ear did not neglect the artistry displayed by many radio-programme signature tunes, nor the masterly skill evident in the light music of Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Charles Williams and others, from whose example he later acquired technical proficiency in orchestration.

Family circumstances eventually became difficult, and at the age of eleven the young Standford was sent as a boarder to a Quaker school in Yorkshire, Ackworth, where he soon came under the benign and fruitful influence of Phillips Harris, a Science graduate from Oxford University who had frequently attended lectures there by the Austrian composer Egon Wellesz, and also ran with him a Contemporary Music Society. Although Harris was the school’s Head of Sciences, it was with his support that Standford discovered the Second Viennese School, and was guided through Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre and the challenges of Křenek’s Studies in Counterpoint—an education only later to be balanced with Jeppesen’s studies of Palestrina when he entered the Guildhall School of Music. After school he worked for a few years as a legal accountant before being called up for National Service, during which time he enjoyed working in the medical team of 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton, there to be reacquainted with Coates’s Dambusters March, played every morning at 6 a.m. as a reveille!

When in due course Standford entered the Guildhall School as a student in 1961, he was already far more familiar with twentieth-century musical techniques than his contemporary composition students, and was thus well grounded to enter the new era of experimental music. At the Guildhall he studied with Edmund Rubbra, a gentle but formidable taskmaster, and with Raymond Jones, a film composer and former student of Benjamin Frankl who was an outstanding arranger and who later introduced Standford into his own commercial environment, on a type of apprenticeship. A regular visitor to the School, though not a student, was Peter Maxwell Davies, who would hold court among his student admirers at a nearby pub.

Temperamentally, however, Standford found he was not really comfortable with musical experiment, though Dartington International Summer School contemporaries Roger Smalley and David Bedford proved bright and stimulating musical foils. In 1964 he was awarded a Mendelssohn Scholarship, and arranged to continue his studies first in Venice with Gian Francesco Malipiero, with whom he was encouraged to ‘simplify everything’, and then with Witold Lutosłaswki, who was another to open up for him new sound worlds and technical processes. On returning home, which was now in London, he became the Orchestral Librarian for publishers J. & W. Chester before being invited to join the staff at the Guildhall School, where he remained, with an increasing workload, until 1980. During that fruitful period he gained several international awards for composition, among which were the Premio Citta di Trieste (for his First Symphony), the Oscar Espla prize in Spain, and the Committee of Solidarity Award of Skopje.

By 1980 Patric and his wife Sarah had three children, and he had been for three years Chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain and had also become Chairman of the British Music Information Centre. The following year he left London for the North of England, to take up a post as Head of Music at Bretton Hall College, attached to Leeds University. In 1983 the city of Geneva presented him with the Ernest Ansermet Prize, and two years later the BBC commissioned his Fifth Symphony for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1993 he retired from full-time University teaching and devoted himself to a (theoretically) more relaxed schedule of teaching, composing and musical journalism. In 1997 his Choral Symphony The Prayer of Saint Francis received the principal honour in the City of Budapest International Composers’ Award ‘to the memory of Zoltan Kodaly,’ and was first performed and recorded there by the Hungarian Radio and Television Orchestra and Choir under Tamas Vasary. To mark his seventieth birthday, the BBC Singers, conducted by Paul Brough, recorded all his unaccompanied choral works. Standford’s output, most of which is now in the catalogue of the Peters Edition group, covered a wide range from large-scale orchestral and choral music to a cappella, chamber and instrumental pieces.

John Talbot

A Personal Note

First symphonies are not always literally the first. There may be several attempts to take charge of this formidable challenge, through which a composer may, perhaps, find a reason to stop imitating others and hopefully discover a personal identity. Early endeavours are sometimes converted into less pretentious pieces or discarded, as my two premature trials were, leaving only a store of subliminal wisdom.

The second of these early attempts was composed under the guidance of Edmund Rubbra, with whom I was studying at the Guildhall School of Music in London. It was given a performance in the Great Hall there, generously prepared and conducted by Allen Percival, who was later to become the School’s principal. The rehearsals were conducted not without considerable and invaluable practical criticism—painful at the time, but which has remained with me to this day. Like my first attempt, this one didn’t really work. I then galloped through a further ten hectic years of professional composing, arranging and conducting before returning to the challenge, this time completing what I felt was a real four-movement symphony deserving to be called a ‘first’.

Completed in February 1972, the First Symphony took about a year to write, and grew out of a piece for strings conceived as a memorial to Sir John Barbirolli, the hero of Sheffield concerts I had attended regularly as a boy since the age of seven. I recall also Barbirolli’s rehearsals, in which it was his habit to wander away from the rostrum while the orchestra continued playing, into the body of the hall from where he could gauge the broader effect. On one occasion he sat beside me and asked: ‘Well young man, does it sound alright?’ I forget both what music the Halle was playing and much of our conversation—I was perhaps only ten years old, and he had just received his knighthood—but remember feeling extremely proud when he called back to the orchestra: ‘This young man approves!’

The first movement of the Symphony came to me quickly, an ebullient and powerful portrayal of springtime, bursting with energy. It seemed an appropriate way of preceding the summer warmth of the second movement, which is for strings only and represents a strongly optimistic and dynamic memory of Barbirolli, who had left our British musical landscape in 1970.

Summer then explodes into autumn almost without a break. Creating the third movement involved trying to capture pictures in sound of the English autumnal mist, weak sunlight shimmering on beads of rain covering vast spider webs, the sighing of falling leaves, and evening lamplight reflected from damp pavements—the latter an image derived from J.B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement.

The fourth and final movement, a ‘Winter Epilogue’, is a series of five variants built over a chorale theme originally intended for inclusion in my large-scale oratorio Christus Requiem—which I began writing as the symphony was entering its final stages—but which found its home in this finale. The movement, which depicts a winter that vigorously fights against the cold with bursts of energy, comes forcefully to rest on the E flat harmony with which the work began.

At last I felt I had made something that might be worthy of the title First Symphony—at least that was my personal judgement—and its achievement opened up the road ahead as an incentive to try and do even better henceforth. I dedicated the work to my wife, who was so much a part of it.

My wife and I spent the summer of 1974 as guests of the Brahms-Gesellschaft in Baden-Baden, occupying the studio apartment of the house in Maximilianstrasse where Brahms spent his summer months between 1864 and 1873. Clara Schumann had lived close by. For me, the experience of living where Brahms had lived, and walking roads that were not so much changed from his time, was inspiring; and it was there that I completed the draft version of my Cello Concerto, written in homage to Brahms.

The Cello Concerto is built around the fifth movement of Brahms’s German Requiem: the soprano solo ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ (‘You now are sorrowful…’)—a movement inserted somewhat later into the main body of the work, and most probably prompted by the death of the composer’s mother early in 1865. My third movement merges quotations from that movement of the German Requiem into its own texture—thereby linking it back to the opening of the first movement, with its powerfully repeated low B flats above which the cello weaves first a determined expanding melodic line, and then later a gentler, broadly ascending phrase which is a transformed anticipation of Brahms’s soprano solo.

The central movement of the three is a scherzo, largely in animated pianissimo: a flight of midsummer madness which I imagine Mendelssohn might achieve more effectively were he still here, and which represents a favourite challenge of mine—to keep the pulse steady and the momentum airborne as long as possible!

The Cello Concerto is dedicated to Raphael Wallfisch, who gave the work its first BBC broadcast performance in March 1979 and now returns to a slightly revised score, over thirty years later, with unblemished commitment.

Taking up a challenge similar to that of the scherzo in the Cello Concerto, the Prelude to a Fantasy was originally a movement of my Second Symphony (1980), and was inspired by tales of the mythological Naiades: water nymphs, inhabitants of rivers, lakes, streams, mountain springs and fountains, the guardians of all sources of fresh water. (So believed the Greeks—and why not?) This image gave me reason to create a piece that kept its pulse going, avoiding any temptation to reduce speed or relax into leisurely reflection. For Naiades were immortal beings, minor deities, ever dancing and restless like children: they attended assemblies on Mount Olympus, and were the divine protectors of a city’s water supply; but they also guarded young girls and watched over their safe passage into adulthood, as Apollo and the river-gods did for boys and youths. Although I have not always attributed such sources in my titles, the vivid world of mythological imagery has long held for me a fascination which I find continually stimulates my musical ideas.

The three orchestral pieces here are representative of a highly productive creative period in my life. It was also one in which I can barely remember having had enough time to compose, for we had three children and I maintained a full programme of teaching at the Guildhall School (I had been invited to join the staff in 1967) in addition to travelling regularly during the 1970s as a member of international juries in choral competitions in Hungary, France and Estonia—with commitments even further afield in Venezuela and New Zealand. It is therefore far less of a surprise to me than to others that I have now spent much of the last decade revising pieces which I consider worth keeping from this frenzied period.

Patric Standford, 2012

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