Stanford’s Irish Symphony op. 83
Dublin born composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) moved to England at an early age. Becoming Professor of Music in Cambridge, and also teaching in the Royal College of Music, he was hugely influential in the so-called “English Renaissance” of the nineteenth century. He was a man of apparent cultural contradictions: politically a staunch Unionist, he also dedicated time to editing collections of Irish traditional music, most notably the 2,148 melodies from Petrie’s manuscripts, published between 1902 and 1905.
His corpus of seven symphonies, in a style was clearly influenced by Brahms, was the most substantial contribution to the genre by any Irish born composer up to that date. The “Irish symphony” which incorporates Irish melodies as thematic material, dates from 1887, and was championed by Richter and Bülow, and performed to acclaim in London, Berlin and later in New York (where Mahler conducted). G. B. Shaw’s view was altogether more equivocal: for him the work was the “record of a fearful conflict between the aboriginal Celt and the Professor.”
In his biography of the Stanford, Jermy Dibble suggested that this work was the model for the Feis Ceoil’s composers’ competition for new symphonies incorporating traditional melodies, which spurred both Michele Esposito and Hamilton Harty to write “Irish” symphonies.