About this Recording
8.572104 - PARRY, H.: Choral Masterpieces - Songs of Farewell / I Was Glad / Jerusalem (Manchester Cathedral Choir, Stokes)
English 

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918)
Songs of Farewell

 

Sir Hubert Parry came from a family of some distinction. He was the second son and third surviving child of Thomas Gambier Parry by his first wife. His father’s maternal great-uncle was Lord Gambier, Admiral of the Fleet, whose name he had taken, while Thomas Parry himself inherited a fortune from his own father, a director of the East India Company. Hubert Parry was educated at Eton, where he was able to distinguish himself in music, not so much in the desultory musical atmosphere that then obtained at the College, but through association with George Elvey at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and from Elvey, a musician of conservative tendencies, knighted in 1871, he was at least able to have sound enough technical instruction and compose music for the choir. While at school he took the Oxford Bachelor of Music degree, the requirements of which, it must be said, have changed considerably since Parry’s time. At Oxford he made the most of the musical opportunities on offer, continuing, as at school, to compose music, particularly songs and sacred music, and to enjoy informal musical gatherings, although his university studies were in law and history. During this period he was able to study, in a long vacation, with Henry Hugo Pierson in Stuttgart.

Parry enjoyed an association with the Herbert family, notably with his school-friend George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke. His marriage to Herbert’s sister Maude, an alliance that met with the disapproval of his mother-in-law, Lady Herbert, had various consequences. In the first place Parry was obliged to earn a living and this he attempted with his father’s help by joining Lloyd’s of London. His wife’s variable state of health was to cause continuing worry and difficulties that seemed to impede his musical interests, which remained dominant. Above all, in London he made the acquaintance of the pianist and Wagnerian Edward Dannreuther, who became his friend, teacher and adviser.

In 1877, after a winter spent impatiently in Cannes on account of his wife’s ill-health, Parry wound up his affairs with Lloyd’s. In addition to the income settled on his wife by her family, he had earned payment for the contribution of articles to Grove’s new dictionary of music and musicians. In 1880 Dannreuther played Parry’s Piano Concerto in F sharp major, a choice of key that did not endear him to the orchestra, at the Crystal Palace and success here was followed by a cantata based on Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound for the Gloucester Festival, where it was performed in 1882. At the end of the same year he was invited by Grove to join the new Royal College of Music as Professor of Musical History and shortly afterwards was offered an Honorary Doctorate in Music at Cambridge, where Prometheus Unbound had been performed in 1881 under Stanford. His First Symphony, for which Richter had eventually found no time in his London concert season, was given with some success in Birmingham.

The connection with Stanford and Cambridge led to the suggestion of incidental music for the Cambridge Greek play, The Birds of Aristophanes, and in later years Parry provided incidental music for Oxford performances of The Frogs, The Clouds, and The Acharnians, with music for Cambridge performances of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus in 1900. An even closer connection with Cambridge came with the composition of a Second Symphony.

In 1894 Parry became director of the Royal College of Music and further honours were to follow, with a knighthood in 1898, the chair of music at Oxford in 1900 and a baronetcy in 1903. He wrote his last orchestral work, a Symphonic Fantasia, in 1912. Two years later war brought sorrows and difficulties, with the number of male students at the Royal College of Music seriously depleted, German friends interned and some conflict between a patriotism that was never for a moment in doubt and his loyalty to German music, musicians, philosophers and thinkers, by whom he had always been heavily influenced. He died in October 1918, a month before the armistice.

From his schooldays Parry had always composed a great deal of choral and vocal music, influenced first by his teacher at St George’s, Windsor. His early training had brought, following current English tradition, the composition of works for church use, which he could hear in performance by the choir of St George’s. Although he continued to write an enormous quantity of vocal music, sacred and secular, he also wrote orchestral and other instrumental music, while fulfilling his responsibilities at the Royal College as a teacher and administrator.

One of the best known works by Parry is his setting of verses from Psalm CXXII in the Coronation Anthem I was glad when they said unto me. Written for the coronation of Edward VII, it has since become a traditional element in subsequent coronations. In 1902 Sir Frederick Bridge was in charge of music for the occasion and asked Parry for a processional anthem to accompany the entrance of the King and Queen into Westminster Abbey. In the event the coronation, planned for June, was postponed at the last minute, when the King fell ill and had to undergo an emergency operation for appendicitis. The ceremony took place in August and Parry’s anthem was duly performed, although a delay in the arrival of the King brought the work to an end too soon, necessitating organ improvisation and a repetition of the final acclamations. The work starts with an introduction, originally entrusted to the large orchestra employed for the occasion, leading to the entry of the six-part choir with the opening words. In the original coronation version fanfares lead to cries of Vivat from the King’s Scholars of Westminster School, here omitted, with a shift of key and mood for the semi-chorus O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, before the march rhythm resumes and the full choir sings Peace be within thy walls and plenteousness within thy palaces.

Parry’s settings of the canticles for Evensong, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, the Great Service, were written in 1881 for Trinity College, Cambridge, at the request of Stanford, who had been of some assistance in promoting Parry’s work, although their relationship was later to deteriorate. The two canticles exemplify Parry’s command of the necessary idiom and his debt to Anglican musical traditions.

Versions of the first four motets included in Songs of Farewell had been largely completed by 1913 and in the years immediately following were revised and refined, augmented by the addition of two further motets. The first five motets had their first public performance in 1916 under Hugh Allen, who also conducted the first public performance of the last of the set, Psalm XXXIX, at New College, Oxford, in 1917. All six motets were sung in 1919 under Allen at a Memorial Concert in Oxford. Inspired in part by contemporary examples of the form, they came at a time when Parry felt his health was failing and in consequence form a final testament, after a career of great distinction. The first motet, My soul, there is a country, is a four-part setting of a poem by Henry Vaughan, skilfully reflecting the changing moods of the verse. It is followed by a four-voice setting of the last two stanzas of Affliction, taken from Sir John Davies’s Nosce Teipsum of 1599, with its antithetical phrases in a homophonic texture. The third motet takes Thomas Campion’s Never weather-beaten sail in a five-part setting that makes relatively sparing use of counterpoint, as in the third and fourth lines of the first stanza, and similarly in the second of the two stanzas. There is an old belief, written for performance in a memorial service at the Royal Mausoleum, Frogmore, in 1907, takes words by the nineteenth-century poet John Gibson Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott’s son-in-law and early biographer, in a six-part setting. The polyphonic texture of increased complexity gives way, at the words ‘That creed I fain would keep’, to a unison reminiscence of the plainchant Creed. The setting of John Donne’s At the round earth’s imagined corners is in seven parts, with two sopranos, two altos, one tenor and two basses. Here Parry translates into music the vivid imagery of the poem, reflected in his harmonies and in the contrasting use of vocal groups, ending with the softly whispered ‘as if Thou’dst sealed my pardon with Thy blood’. The Songs of Farewell end with Psalm XXXIX, Lord, let me known mine end, for double choir, a motet that again makes use of contrasting groups of voices, a demonstration of the composer’s mature mastery of compositional resources and his sensitive reflection of the text set.

The anthem Hear my words, ye people, with texts drawn from the books of Job, Isaiah and the Psalms, was written for performance by a very large choir at the 1894 Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association. The work, designed for two thousand singers with a semi-chorus of a fifth of that number, organ and brass, is now generally heard simply with organ accompaniment and more modest vocal resources, soprano and bass soloists, chorus and semichorus. It culminates in a setting of Sir H.W. Baker’s paraphrase of Psalm CL, a passage that has found a separate existence as a hymn.

Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land is taken from the oratorio Judith, first performed with the greatest success in 1888. Its melody is more widely known as that of the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.

Blake’s Jerusalemis among the most familiar of all Parry’s compositions, a work that needs little further introduction. It was written in 1916 in response to a patriotic request from Robert Bridges and Sir Walford Davies and designed for unison singing, although it later became familiar also in a version for choir and organ.


Keith Anderson


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