Charles Villiers Stanford: Mass 'Via Victrix'
In 1919 Stanford chose to compose a setting of the mass to commemorate the allied victory, hoping perhaps that the work might be attractive to choral societies. In terms of his music connected with the war, the Mass ‘Via Victrix 1914-1918’ Op. 173 would be his greatest and most substantial effort, and it would prove to be a canvas to equal similar large-scale choral tours de force such as his Requiem Op. 63 (1897), Te Deum Op. 66 (1898) and Stabat Mater Op. 96 (1907), all ambitiously conceived for chorus, four soloists, orchestra and organ. Bearing the adapted Latin dedication ( ‘Transiverunt per ignem et aqua et eduxisti in refrigerium’ [“(They) went through fire and water and thou has brought (them) into a wealthy place”?] taken from Psalm 66 verse 12 (from Tyndale’s translation), the work was dedicated to those who made the greatest sacrifice in defence of their country. The mass was therefore intended as a work of thanksgiving, of celebration for the final victory, but equally one which looked into the heart of the nation, to commiserate with those who grieved, to pray for those whose sense of loss was unconsolable, and to urge for a spirit of renewal in the face of the hardships and sorrows the nation had had to endure. In this sense Stanford’s work stood at the vanguard of other cathartic expressions of war grief such as John Foulds’ A World Requiem (1921), Delius’s Requiem (1914, but not performed until 1922) and Arthur Bliss’s Morning Heroes (1930).
When news was made known of the unveiling of the Cenotaph and the interment of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey in October 1920, the Right Hon. Mr Justice Charles John Darling (1st Baron Darling) published a poem ‘At the Abbey Gate’ in The Times on 26 October (under the initials C.J.D.) as part of a larger article ‘To the Unknown Dead’ announcing the special nature of the ceremony on 11 November. Through a desire to commemorate this major national occasion, Stanford decided to set Darling’s poem as a march for chorus, solo baritone and orchestra. At the Abbey Gate Op. 177 was completed in November 1920 in the days following the great national ceremony. Jeremy Dibble
Considering that the vocal score of Stanford’s Via Victrix had been published in 1920, it is a real mystery why this work had been totally ignored and forgotten until Jeremy Dibble excavated and edited the orchestral parts for a first outing at the end of October 2018 by the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales.
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD Mass Via Victrix, At the Abbey Gate - BBC National Ch & O Wales/Adrian Partington rec. 2018 LYRITA SRCD382 It’s been good to see some enterprising Stanford releases this year, most of them first recordings too. This one, however, takes the palm. It’s a live recording of the first complete performance of Stanford’s ambitious setting of the Mass, 99 years after Stanford wrote it. Composed in the immediate aftermath of World War I, the Mass remembers the dead, consoles the bereaved and, above all, gives thanks for victory, albeit not in a triumphalist way. A fine quartet of young soloists joins highly committed BBC Wales forces under the assured direction of Adrian Partington. This recording brings to the light a British choral work of major importance which should not have been allowed to suffer a century of neglect. MusicWeb-International Recording Of The Year