Sir Charles Stanford was a Dublin Protestant with powerful loyalties to the Crown and the British state. He would go on to become a powerful cheerleader for imperial themes. His creative career coincided with the height of British military and political power. He was also working at the time of many other influential British composers: Elgar, Holst, Parry, Sullivan and Vaughan Williams. For these reasons, he tapped into the Zeitgeist of the imperial heyday.
He wrote a number of stirring maritime works which often had an overtly patriotic theme. He wrote The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet
in 1886 when he put the stirring words of a Tennyson poem of a 1591 battle between Sir Richard Grenville and a vastly larger Spanish fleet to music. This was the period when various 'Great men' were lauded for their achievements and also summed up Britain's place in the world at that time - splendid isolation. The Revenge was hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned and yet fought on anyway.
His 1904 Songs of the Sea was based on a Sir Henry Newbolt poem celebrating the 'legend' of Drake's Drum. This was the story that Drake would return to defend England when his Drum sounded, very similar to the Arthurian legend. Once again, this nautical theme was redolent of the times. Edwardian England saw the Royal Navy become nervous about the growing power of Germany and of its navy in particular. Songs which recounted Britain's naval tradition were very much in vogue during this period. His 1910 Songs of the Fleet confirms this nervous confidence. It was originally written for the Jubilee Congress of Naval Architects but as King Edward VII died that year, the Congress was postponed. This composition appears to be highly patriotic in tone and yet you can detect a solemn and introspective mood throughout the piece. With international tensions rising and the role of the Royal Navy critical but uncertain, Songs of the Fleet nicely encompasses Britain's attitude to its maritime heritage and destiny.