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Ronnie Wilson

MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017
Beati Quorum Via
Three Latin Motets Op. 30 No.3
Charles Villiers Stanford

Charles Villiers Stanford (1854-1924) is an Irish Composer, teacher and conductor (one of the

founding professors at the Royal College of Music). Some of his most prominent students were:

Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams.1 Stanford composed over 200 works, including:

seven symphonies, about forty choral works, nine operas, eleven concertos, and a host of

chamber works, piano pieces, and organ works. Stanford was not very popular among his

contemporaries. Presently, he is well known for his outstanding contribution to sacred music.


The Three motets, Op.38 for unaccompanied choir were published in 1905. Though not a definite

date, a more comprehensive year of composition would be 1892, the year in which Stanford gave

up his post as organist of Trinity College, Cambridge2. The motets were composed for and are

dedicated to his successor, Alan Gray, and the choir of Trinity College. They are amongst the

finest of Stanford’s choral compositions. Beati Quorum via is in six vocal parts, with divided

sopranos and basses. Beati Quorum Via is also known as a staple in Anglican Choral Music


The text is from Psalm 119, verse 1: Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of

the Lord. Psalms 119 is the longest Psalm as well as the longest chapter in the bible. The whole

of this pericope speaks about the “Law of the Lord.” There are optional translations to the first

"Composers - Stanford." Classical Net. Accessed May 1, 2017.
Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017
line of text which state: blameless, wholesome, whose way is straight, whose way is pure, who

goes the way of integrity, and whose path is virtuous. Stanford states, “…poetry to which it is set

is (or should be) the chief consideration, and that the music should co-ordinate or subordinate to

it without ever being super-ordinate.”3 There isn’t any concrete thought or reasoning on why

Stanford chose the first verse of Psalm 119 but from his statements in his treatise we know that

there was provocative thought behind this text, it maybe could have been a favorite or Professor

Gray or along those lines of dedication. The Psalm text is primarily a springboard for the music;

this piece could be thought of as a miniature symphonic movement for a choir, thus the argument

based regarding its musical form.

Musical Form

There are various articles that describe this composition with having striking similarities of

sonata form. Though sonata form is an instrumental musical form, there is a strong use sonata

form principles in and throughout this piece. Jeremy Dibble states that “…In Beati Quorum Via

Stanford makes fertile use of sonata principle…”4 Stanford doesn’t stick strictly to the rules of

sonata form or any form for that matter, but the most evident is to that of a sonata which is a

peculiar juxtaposition, but it works. He speaks about “rule breaking” in his treatise, “…for in

composition per se there is no rule save that of beauty, and no standard save that of taste. It is

only the composer who knows the rules of the game, and the why and wherefore of those rules,

Stanford, Charles Villiers: Musical Composition: A Short Treatise for Students. New York:
Norwood Press, 1911. (129)
Dibble, Jeremy. Charles Villiers Stanford: Man, and Musician. Oxford: Oxford University
press, 2004. (193)
Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017
who can understand when and how to break them.”5 The sections of sonata form are listed


Mm 1- 17 (A section) A-flat
Mm 18 – 21(transition) f minor
Mm 22-26 (B section of exposition) [tonicization of E-flat which is V of A-flat]
Mm 27 – 46 B-flat minor
Mm 47- 51 (retransition)
Mm 52 – mm 60 (A section of Recap.) A-flat
Mm 61 – mm 67 (transition) c minor
Mm 68 – mm 75 (B section of Recap.) A-flat
Mm76 – mm 93 (closing material -CODA) A-flat

Sonata Principle Insight

The piece is in A-flat major with a time signature of ¾. After further thought, I have come to the

realization that this is loosely based around sonata form because of the key structure. The

adjective loosely is used because of the missing conspicuous cadences that are normally found in

sonata form which coincides with the use of the term “sonata principle.” In this composition,

there is clear evidence of an Exposition, Development, Recapitulation and Coda based on tonal



The exposition, which begin in Ab major, introduces the 3-note motif in the upper voices with an

incomplete authentic cadence (IAC) at measure 9 that leads to the repeat of the 3-note motif in

the lower voices.

Stanford, “Musical Composition” (pg.3)
Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017

Measures 1-8 compared with measures 9-16 reveal that with the exception of the C major chord

in measure 14, the melodic content is virtually identical in the A section. The noticeable

deviation from the repeated material is at measure 17. Instead of repeating the IAC of measure 9

at measure 17, the unison C with a F minor chord on the next beat gives the feeling of a cadence.

The importance of the unison C is that it is the mediant of the home key A-flat major and the

dominant of the subsequent F minor chord, here mediant modulation takes place. Note that F

minor is the relative minor of A-flat major. The outline of sonata form indicates that the

exposition should end in either a half cadence (HC) or perfect authentic cadence (PAC) in the

home key. In this case, the cadence centers around F minor. F minor is a common tone of both

A-flat and E-flat major. This cadencing in F minor sets the stage for the transition material at

measure 17, beat 3. The tonicization of the dominant introduces the B section of the exposition in

first inversion. At measure 26, the end of the B section, there is the first appearance of a PAC in

the dominant.

Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017

The development begins on a unison E-flat in the lower voices at measure 27. The expectation is

to continue in E-flat major, particularly because of the short B section (mm. 22 to mm. 26) of the

exposition. Rather, there is alteration of the third of E-flat major that tonally segues to B-flat

minor which is the dominant of E-flat. A half cadence occurs at measure 42 in B-flat minor

which is F major. At measure 47 a retransition appears with the third being altered from A to A-

flat that pushes us to A-flat major which introduces the recapitulation. This type of small

manipulation of the third brings fruition to this section and recalls the home key. Here, there is

use of parallel minor and dominant relationship. So far in the composition, Stanford engages a

pattern of using the common tonality of F minor as transitions back to major keys (A-flat and E-

flat). F major is the dominate of B-flat Minor and F minor is used as transition to back A theme

(recapitulation) in the home key.

Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017

The recapitulation begins on measure 52 in A-flat major. The transition of the recapitulation

begins on measure 61 and moves to C minor for a short time then returns to A-flat major. The B

section of the recapitulation begins at measure 68 and is expanded and has different melodic

material. The evidence that it functions as a B section is that it is in the home key and it ends

with a stable cadence. In comparison with the B section of the exposition, this is more concrete.

The cadence is more prominent and there is a clear indication of its beginning. If the B section

and closing material of the recapitulation were in E-flat and in the exposition, this would lend

itself easily to a more straight forward analysis of this piece as it relates to sonata form.


Here, there is 18 measures of closing material starts at measure 76 in the home key with an

elaboration of I via pedal point. The characteristics to consider include its ample amount of
Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017
repetition and a plagal cadence which also deviates from the typical closing section of sonata

form which would usually end with a PAC.


Sonata form an instrumental form but in a choral setting can be thought of as ternary form ABA

with exposition being the A , the development being the B and the recapitulation being the

subsequent A. Generally, the exposition and recapitulation have the same material. Which leads

us to 3 different sections. The first and third sections have similar themes particularly the A

sections of both the exposition and recapitulation. There is an emphasis the third section

musically in terms of structure because of the closing material, a B section that last for only 7

measure and a cadence in the home key, though not a PAC. Thus, I believe this piece can be

thought of as a “Choral sonata,” Using a paradigm of something that is known to map out

something that isn’t.

Thoughts and other Ideas

There is a stretto entrance on “In lege domini” mm. 36-39 and “Qui ambulant” mm. 76-84 which

employ a bit of text painting. The translation is “In the way of the Lord” Stanford uses the lowest

voice to act as an “instructing or law giving “voice (God). The other voices enter in the same

manner. The “Qui ambulant” the first time in measure 27 is assigned a downbeat motive whereas

the second time (measure 78) it gets and upbeat motive. There is speculation of the form being

rounded binary as the form but Stanford never speaks of it he only mentions sonata form and the

variation of it in his treatise. Measures 43-51 could be considered the “breathing place” in the

composition and its play a unique part in the form. The function is primarily to change the mode

and head towards the home key but moving from major to minor which gives way for the A

material to be reintroduced at measure 51. If this “breathing place” wasn’t there the piece would
Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017
have a ternary structure proportions 26:16:25, which is an almost perfect balance. In his

technique section of this treatise, Stanford speaks about the breathing period in his music, he

states, “A piece of music has to breathe like a human being; the rest are the breathing places…”6

This quasi breathing section after each voice has been introduced and developed activated a

series of grouped by voice rests or “breaths.” This is the moment where the three lower voices

give way for the three upper voices and vice versa. There is also a peculiar undeniable ternary

association throughout this composition. There isn’t any mention of this when researching this

piece but I believe it is unequivocally intentional. Here goes: the piece was composed for the

choir at Trinity College, it is the Third of the Three Motets, its Time Signature is three/four,

Stanford employs a plethora of tertian movements, there is manipulation of the third throughout

the piece to achieve modulations, the majority of the piece is contrasting play between the three

upper voices with the three lower voices, most of the parts within the piece start in a three-voice

texture, and lastly, to increase seal the argument, sonata form/principle is built upon three


6 Stanford, “Musical Composition” (9)

Ronnie Wilson
MUTH 6326
Dr. Anderson
Summer I 2017


Composers - Stanford." Classical Net. Accessed May 1, 2017.


Dibble, Jeremy. Charles Villiers Stanford: Man, and Musician. Oxford: Oxford University press,


Stanford, Charles Villiers: Musical Composition: A Short Treatise for Students. New York:
Norwood Press, 1911.