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Stainer's Crucifixion

 
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lancecornea



Joined: 02 Apr 2006
Posts: 526
Location: Melbourne, Australia

PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 8:39 am    Post subject: Stainer's Crucifixion Reply with quote

I'd be interested to know some opinions of Forum members as to the musical worth or otherwise of The Crucifixion by John Stainer.
With Easter just around the corner, I find myself taking part in 3 performances of the work. The general consensus is that the libretto by the Rev. Sparrow-Simpson is appalling doggerel, and that Stainer's setting is a monument to the inane. I wonder whether opinion is changing as we enter the 21st century, and that perhaps now, we are putting our Victorian prejudices behind us. There are two fairly recent readings of the work available on CD, one done in 1997 by The BBC Singers, and one by Clare College, Cambridge, from 2004. Does this show there is a revival going on? These are both very fine performances, and the organ accompaniments are especially exciting. Is there anyone here who is prepared to come out in defence of John Stainer?
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diapason8



Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 365
Location: West Somerset, UK

PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 12:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I happened to be looking through the Jan 1998`issue of the RSCM magazine, 'Church Music Quarterly'. Harry Bramma wrote an interesting article about Stainer's Crucifixion which is worth reading.

I think that the work must be considered in relation to it's time. It was a Victorian composition, written for the average parish choir of the time. Sparrow-Simpson's libretto is at times, by today's standards, in places, very dated and remininscent of the operatic style of the time. But 'appalling doggerel'? I must disagree with this assessment by Kenneth Long which has often been applied to the Crucifixion. True, 'O twas love' is very music hall, but, even so, it works. If we look at a direct translation of the texts of some of Bach's cantatas we find that some of them are hardly in the highest tradition of great literature!

The music is again typically Victorian, with some very fine hymns, and the anthem 'God so loved the world'. Let's not forget that Stainer was writing for parish choirs of average ability and we must admit that the work has stood the test of time. It's still regularly performed by today's parish choirs. I've played and sung all or parts of it on many occasions, and it still has a message for us and for the listeners.

So, in my view, sing The Crucifixion, enjoy it and don't worry too much about the criticisms - many of which are based solely on musical snobbery.

There's my two-pennorth,

Nigel
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lancecornea



Joined: 02 Apr 2006
Posts: 526
Location: Melbourne, Australia

PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well put, Nigel. I have read Kenneth Long's book on The Music of the English Church, and I must say he has a strong anti-Stainer bias IMHO, particularly when it comes to The Crucifixion.
If the performance strictly sticks to Stainer's dynamics and tempi, the music doesn't have to degenerate into Victorian sentimentality. The problem is that not many choirs do it as Stainer wrote it.
The music was written for "average" parish choirs, but that doesn't mean "average" performance.
I have since also re-listened to Maunder's Olivet to Calvary by Guildford Cathedral Choir under Barry Rose, and for what it's worth, I enjoyed it very much too!
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diapason8



Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 365
Location: West Somerset, UK

PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 4:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree. I've just looked out my old LP of The Crucifixion sung by Guildford Cathedral. Barry Rose incidentally now lives in Somerset and deputizes at his local parish churh, playing a timy one-manual. It's a good recording and the tempi and dynamics make the most of the score, following what Stainer intended.

I've not sung all of 'Olivet' for years, but some of the hymn tunes are good, and we use them occasionally.

I remember a few years back, the RSCM did a series of 'come and sing' versions of Crucifixion, conducted by professional choral conductors. We certainly enjoyed singing it - in my case in Weston-super-Mare Parish Church.

I don't think that Stainer ever claimed to be in the top rank of composers, and there are stories that he is said to have regretted publishing much of his output. But I hope that he would have been pleased to know that Crucifixion is still performed regularly, and is, for the most part, still much loved.

Regards,

Nigel
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Jason Evans



Joined: 27 Feb 2006
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2006 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yikes! Sooner or later The Crucifixion was bound to come up in this Forum. Okay, I admit: it's a guilty pleasure, though I have never cared for the orchestral arrangement. Priory have recently released a CD of Stainer's music that we should all own.

He must have set the M&N many times (?) but I've only heard the relatively well known Bb. Anyone heard any others?

I really enjoy some of his hymn tunes and here's the result of some sleuthing: one of the best is in the Christian Science Hymnal . It's #160.
diapason8 wrote:

So, in my view, sing The Crucifixion, enjoy it and don't worry too much about the criticisms - many of which are based solely on musical snobbery.

Thanks and well said, Nigel.

Edited for spelling.
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