Patric Standford was born John Patric Standford Gledhill into a working class family in Barnsley, South Yorkshire only months before the onset of the Second World War. He showed an early curiosity for music of all kinds, particularly the rich variety to be heard on BBC programmes. When the unique ‘Third Programme’ was launched in 1946, Standford was fortunate to live in a home in which enthusiasm for those evenings of music, drama and poetry was paramount.
Over the next few years he was taken to live concerts in Sheffield, most often given by the Hallé Orchestra, though he also loved the masterly skill of composers Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Charles Williams, and others from whom he later acquired technical skills in orchestration.
Due to difficult family circumstances, Standford became a boarding student at the Ackworth Quaker school in Yorkshire from the age of 11, where Phillip Harris, the school’s head of science, who had frequently attended lectures by musicologist Egon Wellesz, introduced Standford to the Second Viennese School, Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre and the challenges of Křenek’s Studies in Counterpoint, only later to be balanced with Jeppesen’s Palestrina studies when he entered the Guildhall. With Harris, Standford helped to run the School’s Contemporary Music Society with great enthusiasm.
After Ackworth School, Standford worked for a few years as a legal accountant before being called for National Service during which he enjoyed working in the medical team of 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton; enjoying Coates’ Dambusters March, played every morning as a wake-up call at 6.00am! During this time Standford was also an enthusiastic author of poetry and an unpublished novel entitled One Year’s Turning. He remained a prolific and engaging writer throughout his career, on musical matters in the form of articles and reviews published in magazines, journals and newspapers in addition to broadcasts on radio.
In 1961 Standford entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as a student. He studied with Edmund Rubbra, a gentle but formidable taskmaster, and with film composer Raymond Jones, former student of Benjamin Frankl and an outstanding arranger who later took Standford into his commercial environment as an apprentice. At the Guildhall, Standford played violin and viola in the orchestras and learned conducting with Lawrence Leonard and Norman del Mar.
A few years later, Standford won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and arranged to continue his studies, first in Venice, Italy for a year with Gianfrancesco Malipiero, with whom he was encouraged to ‘simplify everything’, and the following year to Warsaw, after meeting Witold Lutosławski at the Dartington Summer School. Study with Lutosławski further opened up new sound worlds and technical processes.
Making London his home, Standford worked for several years as an orchestral librarian with publishers J & W Chester. He became involved in commercial music writing and arranging for films, television and West End shows, producing arrangements for the London Palladium, composing for Pathé News, the BBCs Light Orchestras and Granada television. During this time he made several recordings as a conductor of light music, created an album Autumn Grass for the experimental group Continuum, and ghost wrote and directed ‘classical’ style pieces for Rod McKuen.
In 1969, Standford was invited to join the teaching staff at Guildhall School of Music and Drama as a professor of composition and orchestration. Feeling privileged to be among talented musicians, both staff and students, Standford was able to compose for leading orchestras and distinguished soloists.
By the 1970s Standford had established himself as a concert composer with his Symphony No. 1: The Seasons, which was awarded the Premio Cittá di Trieste. The work grew out of a piece for strings conceived as a memorial to Sir John Barbirolli.
At this time, Standford’s large-scale Easter oratorio Christus Requiem, was first heard in the awe-inspiring venue of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Christus Requiem was the idea of Allen Percival, then Principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama who instigated the commission along with the Lord Mayor, Court of Aldermen and City of London Corporation.
The aim of Christus Requiem was to bring the communities of London and the Guildhall School together. The dimensions of St Paul’s dictated much about the shape and content of the work which was conducted by John Alldiss, with Harold Dexter at the organ. In its original form, Christus Requiem required full choral and orchestra forces in addition to children from the junior department, students and staff from the drama and dance departments and two brass bands.
Christus Requiem attracted wide critical acclaim, including the Yugoslavian Government Arts Award after a performance in Skopje and in the following year the Oscar Espla Award, Alicante, Spain.
His setting of the Stabat Mater concludes the first dramatic part of Christus Requiem. In 2012, Standford created a revised Christus Requiem to produce a scaled down edition to be more readily available for performance.
Standford’s Cello Concerto was written as a homage to Brahms, composed whilst ‘composer in residence’ at the Brahms-Gesellschaft, in Baden-Baden. Standford describes, ‘the experience of living where Brahms had lived, and walking roads that were not so much changed from his time, was inspiring’, and it was there that Standford completed the draft version of this work. The Cello Concerto is dedicated to Raphael Wallfisch, who gave its first BBC broadcast performance in March 1979 and who returned to a slightly revised score over thirty years later to record the work with the Royal National Scottish Orchestra and David Lloyd-Jones in 2011.
Through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Standford’s deep commitment to the promotion, encouragement and care of composers was demonstrated in his work as Chairman of the Composers Guild of Great Britain (1977–1980) - an organisation founded after the Second World War to represent the interests of composers of classical music which later merged into the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors - and the British Music Information Centre (1980–1992) - later merging to become Sound and Music - which held scores and recordings of the work of British composers. Standford was also on the Council of the Musicians Benevolent Fund (1983-1996) which provides support not only for elderly and infirm musicians, but also talented young artists in need of financial support and later, a member of the board of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (1983-1996). While holding these posts, Standford organised British music representation at various international events, including the Nordic Music Committee (NOMUS) in Helsinki and the Latin-American Festival in Venezuela in collaboration with the BBC.
From the late 1970s, after the choral work of Christus Requiem, and later commissions like Ancient Verses for chorus and percussion recorded in the Soviet Union by the Ellerhein Chamber Choir of Tallin, Estonia, conducted by Tonu Kalyuste, Standford became much in demand as a jury member for international choral and contemporary music festivals, and as a lecturer and conductor in France, Finland, Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Venezuela. As a visiting lecturer and juror in New Zealand, Standford received an invitation to become professor of music at the University of Auckland, and it was only after much deliberation that he decided to turn down the offer and remain in England in consideration of his family commitments.
The Sonata for Violin was written for the 1974 Carl Flesch International Competition at the request of violinist Yfrah Neaman. The first London performance was given by Mincho Minchev, which inspired the composition of the Violin Concerto, of which Yfrah Neaman gave the first broadcast performance. Standford’s Piano Concerto, written to celebrate the seventieth birthday of the Finnish composer, Olavi Pesonen received many performances by pianists Rhonda Gillespie and Keith Swallow. However, Standford later reworked his Piano Concert into the Concertino for harpsichord and small orchestra. Standford’s Six Preludes for Piano from this time are available from Edition Peters. The String Quartet No. 1 was dedicated to the memory both of Malipiero and Standford’s brother-in-law, both of whom died in the same year. It won the Clements Memorial Prize.
A Christmas Carol Symphony began as an improvised entertainment for his children which he eventually built into a symphonic framework with a rondo style finale that attempted to incorporate a wide range of familiar Christmas songs and carols. A firm seasonal favourite, Classical Music wrote, ‘An ingenious piece, as clever as Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the addition of all the well-known Christmas tunes.’ And the Yorkshire Post wrote, ‘Here is the hand of a true symphonic craftsman off duty, with colour, wit and imagination in his veins . . . a masterly blending of a galaxy of carols.’
Standford received the Gold Medal of Eötvös University, Budapest, an MA in Music Composition at Goldsmith’s College, London University and established his own publishing firm.
By 1980 he and his wife had three children. This was the year Standford was offered the post as Director of Music at Bretton Hall College, Leeds University, with it’s campus based in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Standford became the college’s first change of music director for 35 years in a department which required radical reinvention. Standford had been appointed to undertake this change. He embraced the pressure of academic responsibilities and increasing administrative duties with characteristic energy, creativity, enthusiasm and utter commitment. Over a decade later, Standford retired from this post having brought the department to a higher academic level, introducing new honours degrees and adventurous courses in popular music and electro-acoustics. He later briefly joined the composition faculty at Huddersfield University.
During this time Standford’s Symphony No. 3: Towards Paradise was written and given its first performance and broadcast in Geneva by the Suisse Romande Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Richard Hickox. This work received the City of Geneva ‘Ernest Ansermet’ Prize. Later, Symphony No. 3 was reworked and is now published by Edition Peters as Symphony No. 3: The Prayer of St. Francis, a masque in five scenes for chorus and orchestra.
Taikyoku became Standford’s 4th Symphony for 2 pianos and percussion. Taikyoku literally means a large scale work or ‘great education’ and is a series of moves in karate over which Standford applied the theories of gagaku or ‘refined music’, scale structures, rhythmic cycles of 8, 4 and 2 and types of phrasing. This work received the Evelyn Glennie Percussion Award.
Symphony No 5 was a commission from the BBC. In this work Standford was interested in exploring a personal musical language of tonalities and quotation, that reflected the conflict as he saw it between the past, the modern and the postmodern; reflected in the influence postmodernism at that time was having on architecture and the visual arts. Symphony No. 5 is also an expression of Standford’s own personal feelings about the ubiquitous availability of music, anticipating in the mid-1980s the instantaneity of accessing music wherever you are. In Standford’s own words the effect this might have is ‘as if the composer cannot escape the nightmare haunting of past music’, particularly in the third movement built on a replica of the first movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony, but ‘frequently obscured by modern clouds’. Symphony No. 5 is Standford’s illustration of the anguished nightmare of ‘too much of other composers’ music everywhere’.
Standford received First Prize in the First International Composers’ Award of Budapest for his Symphony No. 3: The Prayer of Saint Francis based on the religious hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi where all creations are glorified in their pure simplicity and humility. Standford was awarded the first prize of the Belgian International ClarinetFest 1999, for his Fantasy Quintet for clarinet and string quartet.
Also in the 1990s, Standford completed an exciting, practical composition manual aimed at A-level and undergraduate students, entitled Projects: a course in musical composition published by Stainer and Bell which can be purchased [here].
Standford made a series of 5 informative and engaging 15 minute broadcasts entitled Composers’ Worlds in which he explored the creative process of the composer through illustrated excerpts. He was both author and reader for broadcasts on BBC Radio Leeds.
The 2000s saw commissions for The Emperor’s Orchestra: a musical story for children for narrator and orchestra for which Standford was invited to write a diary blog for Music & Vision Daily online music magazine; This Day a beautiful carol for Christmas commissioned for the Jubilee of the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir; the Tenebrae Responsories an a cappella sequence of the 18 votive motets for Passiontide, continuing Standford’s particular interest in the commemoration of Easter; Six Preludes for Guitar for Neil Darwent; A Sonata for violin and piano completed in honour of a long neglected promise made back in 1958 to a friend from Ackworth School, Anne Park.
Standford wrote articles, blogs and reviews throughout his career including: articles for Musical Times, the Provocative Thoughts series for online Music & Vision Daily, Open College of the Arts blog, CD Reviews for a range of music publications, articles and concert reviews for the Yorkshire Post More.
Standford was asked to devise and deliver a major, accredited music course for the Open College of the Arts, an online, ‘distance learning’ course using the Sibelius music software and corresponding by phone and email. This music course became well established and successful attracting students from the UK and Europe.
Standford’s 70th birthday year was marked by the British Music Society inviting him to deliver a Lecture taking an honoured place among many distinguished former lecturers. The event is reported in the BMS Newsletter 124 (December 2009). In addition, the BBC Singers recorded a group of Standford’s unaccompanied choral works, including: Stabat Mater, Tenebrae Responsories, A Mass for Hildegard of Bingen, Two Songs, Three Motets ‘in memoriam Benjamin Britten’ and his Ave Maris Stella, conducted by David Hill and Paul Brough, broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Standford was working up until his death in 2014. He was commissioned to write Recorder Quintet for John Turner and the Manchester Chamber Ensemble, which was recorded and performed posthumously at the Rawsthorne Festival, Royal Northern College of Music. Also Standford’s Anthem based on Psalm 8 entitled Lord, How Majestic is your Name! commissioned by the William Alwyn Festival, finalised posthumously by Elis Pehkonen and performed at Blythburgh’s Cathedral of the Marshes in Suffolk.