PATRIC STANDFORD (1939 - 2014)
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.