‘East to West’ by Charles Villiers Stanford (1893)

By far the most complex recreation I’ve attempted, this is a section of a setting by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) of Swinburne’s ‘East to West’. The lyrics were commissioned by Stanford for the ‘Chicago World’s Fair’ or the ‘Chicago Columbian Exposition’ of 1893, but the piece was actually premiered at the Royal Albert Hall on 10 May of that year.[1] It appears that the music never made it to Chicago after its premier, only managing a further performance a bit nearer to home, in Cambridge, a month later.

As I say, this is just the first choral section (of a piano and four-part version, published by Augener & Co.), but hopefully it gives an idea of a piece that was very warmly received at its premier, with Stanford – a Cambridge and Royal College of Music professor and one of the greatest composers of the era – called to the platform by the audience for applause.[2]

It starts with a stately introduction, which the vocalists eventually join, before truly taking off at bar 41, and then turning wonderfully and swiftly melodic after bar 55. After a series of vocal exchanges reminiscent of ringing bells, this increasingly complex piece ends on a rather lovely piano section, though as this was supposed to blend into the next part of the ode, the video then ends rather abruptly.

Where the vocal parts share the words, I have only typed them out once. Where they break, I have given words to each line. It must be said that Swinburne’s lyrics are not exactly inspired, but then they were written to order for an event which perhaps, in turn, he didn’t find that inspiring. It is, however, yet another fine example of Swinburne’s work with the most important composers of the period.

London: Augener & Co, 1893.

[1] The Musical Times, ‘New Poem by Mr. Swinburne’, 1 February, 1893, p. 82.

[2] The Morning Post, ‘Royal Albert Hall’, 11 May 1893.

Categories: music

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