Stanford was born in Dublin, the only son of John Stanford, examinet in the court of chancery (Dublin) and clerk of the Crown, Co. Meath. Both parents were accomplished amateur musicians; the father sang bass, and the mother was a pianist. Their son trained under RM Levey (violin), Miss Meeke, Mrs Joseph Robinson, Miss Flynn and Michael Quarry (piano); and Sir Robert Stewart taught him composition and organ. His precocious ability was recorded in an article in the Musical Times for December 1898.
He came to London as a pupil of Arthur O'Leary and Ernst Pauer in 1862, and in 1870 won a scholarship to Queens' College, Cambridge, moving to Trinity College in 1873, and succeeded JL Hopkins as college organist, a post he held till 1892. His appointment as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society gave him great opportunities, and the fame which the society soon obtained was in the main due to Stanford's energies.
At that time women were not allowed in the chorus, but during his tenure many interesting performances and revivals took place. In the years 1874 to 1877 he was given leave of absence for part of each year to complete his studies in Germany, where he learnt from Reinecke and Kiel. He took his degree in 1874 and M.A. in 1878, and was given the honorary degree of Mus. D., at Oxford in 1883, and at Cambridge in 1888.
He first became known as a composer with his incidental music to Tennyson's Queen Mary (Lyceum, 1876); and in 1881 his first opera, The Veiled Prophet, was given at Hanover (revived at Covent Garden, 1893); this was succeeded by Savonarola (Hamburg, April, and Covent Garden, July 1884), and The Canterbury Pilgrims (Drury Lane, 1884). A long interval separates these from his later operas: Shamus O'Brien, a delightful piece of Irish dramatic writing (Opera Comique, 1896) and Much Ado About Nothing (Covent Garden, 1901).
For the main provincial festivals, works by Stanford were commissioned as follows:
His instrumental works include six symphonies, many chamber compositions, including two string quartets; songs, part-songs, madrigalss, and incidental music to the Eumenides and Oedipus Rex (as performed at Cambridge), as well as to Tennyson's Becket. His church music holds an honoured place among modern Anglican compositions; and his editions of Irish and other traditional songs are well known. In 1908 he published an interesting volume of Studies and Memories, a collection of contributions to reviews, etc., in past years.
This entry is updated from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.