Page 5 - Stainer Crucifixion
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Stainer remained organist at St Paul’s until mid-1888, during which time he instigated new standards of musical excellence at London’s metropolitan cathedral. Richard R. Terry recalled in October 1923 in the Musical Mirror and Fanfare that Gounod believed the morning service in St Paul’s to be ‘the finest in Europe’. During this time, Stainer published many anthems and service music, much of it technically within reach of not only cathedral choirs but those of competent parish churches. It was this practical dimension of Stainer’s personality (indeed of his Liberal democratic philosophy as a whole), combined with his sense of educational idealism manifested in his appointment as H. M. Inspector of Music for Schools and Training Colleges in 1882, which informed many of his vocal compositions. The Crucifixion was one such work that emerged from this wave of pragmatic idealism in the mid-1880s. Supported by Novello, who undoubtedly saw the commercial potential of such a venture, Stainer clearly saw that there was an opportunity for parish churches to enjoy a similar experience of a work of moderate length, of a Passion ‘character’, sung in a liturgical context without the expense or technical difficulty of performing Bach’s Passions. For this he instituted the help of William John Sparrow Simpson, the son of the Succentor of St Paul’s, William Sparrow Simpson between 1876 and 1885. At the time of the composition of The Crucifixion, W. J. Sparrow Simpson was a young man of 27 and a deacon at Christ Church, Albany Street, Marylebone, but he already possessed some literary credentials in having won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English verse as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge (a competition judged by Robert Browning). After graduating with a first-class degree in 1882, the year after he produced a libretto for Stainer’s oratorio St Mary Magdalen which was performed at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1883 to considerable acclaim. After a curacy at Christ Church, Albany Street, he was vicar at St Mark’s, Regent’s Park from 1888 until 1904 when he moved to Ilford as chaplain for the Ilford Hospital Foundation. He remained in his Ilford appointment for the rest of his long life (he died in 1952) and this allowed him enough time to publish many books on theology and church history. As a prominent advocate of Anglo-Catholicism, he produced The History of the Anglo-Catholic Revival 1845-1932, a theological stance which is also evident in the words of The Crucifixion.
Written for Marylebone Parish Church, where his former pupil William Hodge was organist, The Crucifixion was first sung at a series of special Lenten Thursday services there on 24 February 1887 where a choir of boys and men was directed by Stainer himself with the organ accompaniment provided by Hodge. It was repeated at three further services on 10 and 24 March and 8 April. Soon afterwards, it received its first performance in the United States at St Luke’s Church, Baltimore, on Palm Sunday, 3 April 1887. Aided by positive press coverage (some of which is pasted into the front and back of the autograph manuscript) the work was taken up by parish choirs throughout Britain, the Empire and the United States with alacrity and soon became a fixture of Holy Week. In one sense the work had the appeal of short oratorio in its succession of recitatives, solo numbers and choruses, yet, as Stainer was careful to state, it was a ‘Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer’, where an exploration of the humanity and vulnerability of Christ took preference over the ‘drama’ of violence and scourging (a fact further accentuated by the ‘theological’ titles of each movement and hymn). In emphasising this contemplative dimension, born of

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