Stanford centenary festival at Salisbury

SALISBURY Cathedral has a week-long festival in May to mark the centenary of one of the major figures of late 19th and early 20th century English music, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. The festival, from Monday 6th to Sunday 12th May, will include concerts and music by Stanford within the cathedral services.

Nowadays, Stanford is largely remembered for his songs and church music, but his influence extends beyond his own compositions to the work of students he taught at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University, including people who would become household names – Sir Arthur Bliss, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Stanford Festival starts on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May, with Evensong sung by Truro Cathedral Choir, including the Stanford in A Canticles and the anthem For lo, I raise up, a dramatic piece composed in 1914 in response to the outbreak of the First World War, but not published until 1945, more than 20 years after Stanford’s death.

The following day (Tuesday 7th), Evensong features the Stanford in C Canticles and Valiant for Truth, written by one of his most famous students, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and sung by Salisbury Cathedral Choir.

On Thursday 9th (Ascension Day), the Eucharist motet celebrates Christ ascending to Heaven in Cœlos Ascendit Hodie, the second of Stanford’s three well-known motets written when he was organist at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Evensong on Friday 10th, sung by the Cathedral Lay Vicars, features works written by another of Stanford’s students, the celebrated church composer Charles Wood, including his anthem Great Lord of Lords.

Two further Evensongs on Saturday 11th, and Sunday 12th, and the Sunday morning services will feature the work of Stanford and his pupils sung by a combination of the Cathedral Choir and the Choir of St Matthew’s Church, Westminster.

The festival also includes two concerts built around the composer’s own works and those of his pupils, on Wednesday 8th and Saturday 11th.

The Wednesday concert at 7.30pm will be an organ recital by John Challenger, the Cathedral’s assistant director of music, and will include Stanford’s Fantasia and Toccata in D minor, inspired by JS Bach. The big screen offers the audience a backstage view into the organ loft, allowing them to observe John as he puts the Cathedral’s magnificent Father Willis organ through its paces while they listen.

Saturday’s choral concert at 7.30, features the combined choirs of Salisbury Cathedral and St Matthew’s Church, Westminster, singing at the Spire Crossing and West End respectively. The wide-ranging programme will include three of Stanford’s Bible songs (A Song of Trust, I will lift mine eyes, A Song of Peace and A Song of Wisdom), and his Three Latin Motets (Justorum animæ, trans. The souls of the righteous; Cœlos ascendit hodie, trans. Christ is ascended on high today; and Beati quorum via, trans. Blessed are those that are undefiled), Vaughan Williams’ Lord, Thou hast been our refuge, Holst’s Nunc Dimittis, Stanford’s Latin Magnificat and Herbert Howells’ Collegium Regale, Te Deum.

Tickets for both concerts are now available at

Photograph by Julian Elliott