FOR readers of The Yorkshire Post, Patric Standford, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 75, was a long-standing classical music critic of insight and wide-ranging sympathies. He also held several teaching and administrative positions both in Yorkshire and in London. Nationally, and indeed internationally, he was a highly-regarded and prolific composer.
Patric Standford, whose birth name was John Gledhill, was born in Barnsley just a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War. His mother died when he was four, and he was adopted. While attending Ackworth School, a Quaker boarding school, he was introduced to classical music.
Early efforts at composition were interrupted by National Service in the RAF, and it wasn’t until 1961, at the age of 22, that he went to the Guildhall School of Music in London. His main composition teacher was Edmund Rubbra, to whom Standford seems to have become something of a protégé. From him he developed the belief that the symphony remained vital for contemporary composers and eventually produced six symphonies.
When he won the prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1964, he chose to spend time not only in Venice studying with Gianfrancesco Malipiero but also in Warsaw with Witold Lutoslawski. As he began to establish his reputation, works for orchestral forces as well as chamber music received performances; he soon became especially admired for his choral compositions. A String Quartet of 1965 based on a song by John Dowland revealed an enthusiasm for musical borrowings subsequently pursued most extensively, perhaps, in his Christmas Carol Symphony of 1978, a work of which he was especially proud.
Notte (1968) and his First Symphony (The Seasons) of 1972 were among the stages on the way to his large-scale Christus Requiem (1972, revised in 2009), premiered in 1973 in St Paul’s Cathedral, conducted by John Alldis. Notable among his many later works is the Fifth Symphony for soprano and orchestra (1985), commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered in 1986.
Several of these, and other, compositions were awarded international prizes, and he became a regular visitor to France, Hungary and Estonia, where he was in demand as a jury member for choral festivals. By that time, Standford had become a Professor of Composition at the Guildhall, where he taught from 1969 to 1980 and was made a Fellow in 1972.
He returned to Yorkshire in 1980 where he was Head of Music at Bretton Hall. Though retiring from there in 1993, he continued to live in Wakefield, teaching at Huddersfield University, until after his wife, Sarah, died in 2011 and he moved to Suffolk. Recently, he wrote a composition course for the Open College of the Arts.
Standford’s compositions always commanded an unusual range of styles and purposes. He could be a fastidious reviser of his own works, which also include an unfinished opera on the subject of the 15th-century poet, Francois Villon, to his own libretto. Yet he could also be an uncommonly fast worker, as when, in 1976, he “ghost-wrote” a Cello Concerto for Rod McKuen in a mere ten days. His career involved, at various times, writing and arranging music for films, television and West End shows, composing (and conducting) light music, and writing the music for an album for Continuum, an instrumental rock group, released in 1972.
In addition to music criticism, he also played significant roles in several musical organisations, including periods as chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, the British Music Information Centre and, latterly, of the Hinrichsen Foundation, a charitable trust. A fierce champion when he felt he had right on his side – he once helped spearhead an attack on the BBC for its lack of support for the kinds of British new music closest to his own heart – he was also a good friend, a witty and intelligent companion – and a thoroughly likeable man.