PATRIC STANDFORD (1939-2014)
Patric Standford was one of the finest and most underrated composers of our time, he was also a tireless worker when younger on behalf of fellow composers and he was a fine and inspirational teacher.
I first came across him when he taught at the Guildhall School of Music in the 1970’s. Our group had orchestration classes with him at one time at 9am on a Tuesday morning. We all liked him, he was thought in modernistic speech ‘cool’.
For myself once Rubbra retired I had private composition lessons with him, Standford himself had also been a pupil of Rubbra’s but also had studied with Malipiero and Lutoslawski some of whose ‘aleatoric’ technique were incorporated in his own works like ‘Notte’ of 1968 first performed in Malta. Indeed he was much better known and more performed on the Continent than in the UK which I think, irritated him a little. It’s thanks to the Budapest Symphony Orchestra under Vásáry that we have the fine recording of his ‘Prayer of St. Francis’ that had won the Zoltán Kodaly memorial Prize in 1997 (Hungaraton BR0156). He also won the Ernst Ansermet Prize in 1983 with his 3rd Symphony.
It was a thrill and a well-earned success after so many years that the enlightened BMS recorded his 1st Symphony coupled with the ‘cello concerto and his ‘Prelude to a Fantasy’ in 2011 (BMS441 - review). This was a mixed year for him, as his wife had died only a short time before, a shock from which I’m not sure he ever recovered.
Just listen to the orchestration of these works, it’s colourful, exotic and brilliant, I have been just in awe of his scores. And that includes the ‘Christmas Carol Symphony’ available on Naxos (8.557099). Also another fabulously ebullient score is ‘The Celestial Fire ‘Ballet Music which is in some ways light music but also quite individualistic and challenging. (ASV WHL2128).
But he biggest work and his most personal is ‘The Christus-Requiem’ which in the original form ran to over two hours. We put on the entire piece under John Alldis at St. Pauls Cathedral in 1973. He later turned it into his 2nd Symphony in an abridged form. Its harmonic language was, as ever with Standford, an eclectic mix of plainchant, Debussian post impressionistic harmonies, aleatoric technique, fine melodies and a superbly original use of the orchestra, As a young composer it influenced me greatly and parts of it still run through my head although I haven’t heard it for over forty years. I always meant to ask him about his religious faith; it always seemed to me that one cannot write such a dramatic and spiritual piece without a strong personal faith.
I kept in contact with him, putting on various choral works in the schools I worked in, and he would send me scores including the Cello concerto, ‘Ancient Verses’ and the astonishing Symphony No 4 for percussion ‘Taikyoku’ completed in 1977 and broadcast a few years later for which he gave an enlightening talk.
The fact that he was rarely heard on the BBC did bother him. In his last e-mail to me back in March when I sent him 75th birthday wishes he said that he didn’t expect to “mentioned on air as he is now permanently overlooked”.
If you only listen to one piece by Standford let it be the 1st Symphony. I remember hearing a private run through in 1972 and being carried away by its sounds. It was a wonderful when we heard it again but a travesty that it took 40 years.
Patric will be much missed and fondly remembered by the hundreds of students not only in London but also at Bretton Hall where he also taught for several years. May it be possible to hear more of his amazingly original output?