Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1st Baronet (27 February 1848 – 7 October 1918) was an English composer, teacher and historian of music.
Parry's first major works appeared in 1880. As a composer he is best known for the choral song "Jerusalem", the coronation anthem "I was glad", the choral and orchestral ode Blest Pair of Sirens, and the hymn tune "Repton", which sets the words "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind". His orchestral works include five symphonies and a set of Symphonic Variations.
After early attempts to work in insurance, at his father's behest, Parry was taken up by George Grove, first as a contributor to Grove's massive Dictionary of Music and Musicians in the 1870s and 80s, and then in 1883 as professor of composition and musical history at the Royal College of Music, of which Grove was the first head. In 1895 Parry succeeded Grove as head of the College, remaining in the post for the rest of his life. He was concurrently professor of music at the University of Oxford from 1900 to 1908. He wrote several books about music and music history, the best-known of which is probably his 1909 study of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Both in his lifetime and afterwards, Parry's reputation and critical standing have varied. His academic duties were considerable, and prevented him from devoting all his energies to composition, but some contemporaries such as Charles Villiers Stanford rated him as the finest English composer since Henry Purcell; others, such as Frederick Delius, did not. Parry's influence on later composers, by contrast, is widely recognised. Edward Elgar learned much of his craft from Parry's articles in Grove's Dictionary, and among those who studied under Parry at the Royal College were Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge and John Ireland.
Parry was born in Bournemouth, the youngest of six children of Thomas Gambier Parry (1816–1888) and his first wife, Isabella née Fynes-Clinton (1816–1848), of Highnam Court, Gloucestershire. The music critic J A Fuller Maitland wrote of Parry's background:
The surroundings of a "county family" in the depth of the English country are so often sneered at by "superior" people that it may be worth while to point out that the intellectual squalor and general indifference to matters of art, so much insisted on by popular novelists, is not always true to nature. The composer's father, Thomas Gambier Parry, owner of Highnam Court, was not merely an eminent collector of works of early Italian art at a date when very few people had the taste to choose what was best, but was himself a painter and designer of no small skill, and the inventor of a process of "Spirit fresco" which he used in his private chapel at Highnam as well as in Ely Cathedral. In the other arts, as in literature, the home atmosphere was most congenial to the soul's growth.
Three of the Parrys' children died in infancy, and Isabella Parry died twelve days after the birth of Hubert. She was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter's, Bournemouth, where he was baptised two days later. He grew up at Highnam with his surviving siblings, (Charles) Clinton and Lucy. Thomas Parry remarried in 1851, and had a further six children.
From January 1856 to the middle of 1858 Parry attended a preparatory school in Malvern, from where he moved to a Twyford Preparatory School in Hampshire. At Twyford his interest in music was encouraged by the headmaster, and by two organists, S S Wesley at Winchester Cathedral, and Edward Brind, at Highnam church. From Wesley he gained an enduring love of Bach's music, which according to The Times "ultimately found expression in his most important literary work, Johann Sebastian Bach, the Story of the Development of a Great Composer (1909)". Brind gave Parry piano and basic harmony lessons, and took him to the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford in 1861. Among the choral works performed at that festival were Mendelssohn's Elijah, Mozart's Requiem, and Handel's Samson and Messiah. Orchestral works included Beethoven's Pastoral and Mendelssohn's Italian symphonies. The experience left a great impression on Parry, and he later established an association with the festival that lasted until his death.
After leaving Twyford in 1861 Parry was sent to Eton, where he distinguished himself at sport as well as music, despite early signs of the heart trouble that was to dog him for the rest of his life. Eton was not at that time noted for its music, but his interest was encouraged. He took lessons with George Elvey, the organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and composed many prentice works.
While still at Eton Parry successfully sat the Oxford Bachelor of Music examination, the youngest person who had ever done so. His examination exercise, a cantata, O Lord, Thou hast cast us out, "astonished" the Oxford Professor of Music, Sir Frederick Ouseley, and was triumphantly performed and published in 1867. In 1867 Parry left and went up to Exeter College, Oxford. He did not study music, being intended by his father for a commercial career, and instead read law and modern history. His musical concerns took second place during his time at Oxford, though during one summer vacation he went to Stuttgart and studied with Henry Hugo Pierson.
After leaving Oxford, Parry was an underwriter at Lloyd's of London from 1870 to 1877  He found the work uncongenial and wholly contrary to his talents and inclinations, but felt obliged to persevere with it, to satisfy not only his father, but his prospective parents-in-law. In 1872 he married Elizabeth Maude Herbert (1851–1933), second daughter of the politician Sidney Herbert and his wife Elizabeth. His in-laws agreed with his father in preferring a conventional career for him, although Parry proved as unsuccessful in insurance as he was successful in music. He and his wife had two daughters, Dorothea and Gwendolen, named after George Eliot characters.[n 1]
Parry continued his musical studies alongside his work in insurance. In London he took lessons from William Sterndale Bennett, but finding them insufficiently demanding[n 2] he sought lessons from Johannes Brahms. Brahms was not available, and Parry was recommended to the pianist Edward Dannreuther, "wisest and most sympathetic of teachers". Dannreuther started by giving Parry piano lessons, but soon extended their studies to analysis and composition. At this stage in his musical development, Parry moved away from the classical conventions inspired by Mendelssohn. Dannreuther introduced him to the music of Wagner, which influenced his compositions of these years.
At the same time as his compositions were coming to public notice, Parry was taken up as a musical scholar by George Grove, first as his assistant editor for his new Dictionary of Music and Musicians, to which post Parry was appointed in 1875 and contributed 123 articles. Among those who benefited from these writings was the young Edward Elgar; he did not attend a music college and, as he said in later life, had been most helped by Parry's articles. In 1883, Grove, as the first director of the new Royal College of Music, appointed him as the college's professor of composition and musical history.
Parry's first major works appeared in 1880: a piano concerto, which Dannreuther premiered, and a choral setting of scenes from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. The first performance of the latter has been held to mark the start of a "renaissance" in English music, but was regarded by many critics as too avant garde. Parry scored a greater contemporary success with the ode Blest Pair of Sirens (1887), commissioned by and dedicated to Charles Villiers Stanford, one of the first British musicians to recognise Parry's talent. Stanford described Parry as the greatest English composer since Purcell. Blest Pair of Sirens, a setting of Milton's "At a Solemn Musick", suggested as a text by Grove, established Parry as the leading English choral composer of his day; this had the drawback of bringing him a series of commissions for conventional oratorios, a genre with which he was not in sympathy.
Now well established as a composer and scholar, Parry received many commissions. Among them were choral works such as the Ode on Saint Cecilia's Day (1889), the oratorios Judith (1888) and Job (1892), the psalm-setting De Profundis (1891) and a lighter work, The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1905), described later as "a bubbling well of humour." The biblical oratorios were well received by the public, but Parry's lack of sympathy with the form was mocked by Bernard Shaw, then writing musical criticism in London. He denounced Job as "the most utter failure ever achieved by a thoroughly respectworthy musician. There is not one bar in it that comes within fifty thousand miles of the tamest line in the poem." Parry, along with Stanford and Alexander Mackenzie, was regarded by some as joint leader of the "English Musical Renaissance";[n 3] Shaw considered them a mutual admiration society, purveying "sham classics"; reviewing Eden by Stanford in 1891 he wrote
But who am I that I should be believed, to the disparagement of eminent musicians? If you doubt that Eden is a masterpiece, ask Dr Parry and Dr Mackenzie, and they will applaud it to the skies. Surely Dr Mackenzie's opinion is conclusive; for is he not the composer of Veni Creator, guaranteed as excellent music by Professor Stanford and Dr Parry? You want to know who Parry is? Why, the composer of Blest Pair of Sirens, as to the merits of which you only have to consult Dr Mackenzie and Professor Stanford.
Contemporary critics generally regarded Parry's orchestral music as of secondary importance in his output, but in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries many of Parry's orchestral pieces have been revived. These include five symphonies, a set of Symphonic Variations in E minor, the Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy (1893) and the Elegy for Brahms (1897). In 1883 Parry wrote music to accompany the Cambridge Greek Play The Birds by Aristophanes, a production which starred the mediaevalist and ghost-story writer, M. R. James. Parry received an honorary degree from Cambridge University in the same year. Subsequently, he wrote music for Oxford productions of Aristophanes: The Frogs (1892), The Clouds (1905) and The Acharnians (1914). He had also provided elaborate incidental music for a West End production by Beerbohm Tree, Hypatia (1893). Among Parry's considerable output of music for the theatre, there was only one attempt at opera: Guenever, which was turned down by the Carl Rosa Opera Company.
When Grove retired as director of the Royal College of Music, Parry succeeded him from January 1895, and held the post until his death. In 1900 he succeeded John Stainer as professor of music at Oxford. In an obituary tribute in 1918 Robin Legge, music critic of The Daily Telegraph, lamented these academic calls on Parry's time, believing that they got in the way of his principal calling – composition. Ralph Vaughan Williams, who studied at the RCM under Parry, rated him highly as both composer and teacher. Of Parry in the latter capacity he wrote:
The secret of Parry's greatness as a teacher was his broad-minded sympathy; his was not that so called broadmindedness which comes of want of conviction; his musical antipathies were very strong, and sometimes, in the opinion of those who disagreed with them, unreasonable; but in appraising a composer's work he was able to set these on one side and see beyond them. And it was in this spirit that he examined the work of his pupils. A student's compositions are seldom of any intrinsic merit, and a teacher is apt to judge them on their face-value. But Parry looked further than this; he saw what lay behind the faulty utterance and made it his object to clear the obstacles that prevented fullness of musical speech. His watchword was "characteristic" – that was the thing which mattered.
Despite the demands of his academic posts Parry's personal beliefs, which were Darwinian and humanist, led him to compose a series of six "ethical cantatas", experimental works in which he hoped to supersede the traditional oratorio and cantata forms. They were generally unsuccessful with the public, though Elgar admired The Vision of Life (1907), and The Soul's Ransom (1906) has had several modern performances.
Parry resigned his Oxford appointment on medical advice in 1908 and, in the last decade of his life, produced some of his best-known works, including the Symphonic Fantasia '1912' (also called Symphony No. 5), the Ode on the Nativity (1912), Jerusalem (1916) and the Songs of Farewell (1916–1918). The piece by which he is best known, the setting of William Blake's poem "Jerusalem" mentioned above, was immediately taken up by the suffragette movement, with which both Parry and his wife were strongly in sympathy.
Parry held German music and its traditions to be the pinnacle of music, and was a friend of German culture in general. He was, accordingly, certain that Britain and Germany would never go to war against each other, and was in despair when World War I broke out. In the words of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: "During the war he watched a life's work of progress and education being wiped away as the male population, particularly the new fertile generation of composing talent—of the Royal College, dwindled."
In the autumn of 1918 Parry contracted Spanish flu during the global pandemic and died at Knightscroft, Rustington, West Sussex, aged 70. At the urging of Stanford, he was buried in St Paul's Cathedral. The site of his birthplace, in Richmond Hill, Bournemouth, next door to the Square, is marked with a blue plaque; there is a memorial tablet, with an inscription by the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, in Gloucester Cathedral, unveiled during the Three Choirs Festival of 1922. Parry's baronetcy became extinct at his death. Highnam passed to his half-brother, Major Ernest Gambier-Parry.
Parry's biographer Jeremy Dibble writes:
Parry's musical style is a complex aggregate reflecting his assimilation of indigenous as well as continental traditions. Trained in the organ loft during his schooldays and educated through the degree system of the ancient universities, he had imbibed fully the aesthetics of Anglican church music and the oratorio-centred repertory of the provincial music festivals by the age of 18.
Many colleagues and critics have concluded that Parry's music is that of a conventional and not strongly creative Englishman. Delius said of him, "How a man rolling in wealth, the lord of many acres & living off the fat of the land can write anything about Job beats me entirely" and in 1948 Bax, who was unaware of Parry's radical politics, wrote, "Parry, Stanford, Mackenzie – they were all three solid reputable citizens … model husbands and fathers without a doubt, respected members of the most irreproachably Conservative clubs, and in Yeats's phrase had 'no strange friend'. Of this I am sure." The view of Parry taken by Bax and Bernard Shaw was contradicted by his daughter Dorothea in 1956:
This fantastic legend about my father ... that he was conventional, a conservative squire, a sportsman, a churchman, and with no "strange friend" ... My father was the most naturally unconventional man I have known. He was a Radical, with a very strong bias against Conservatism ... He was a free-thinker and did not go to my christening. He never shot, not because he was against blood-sports, but felt out of touch and ill at ease in the company of those who enjoyed shooting parties. His friends, apart from his schoolfriends, were mostly in the artistic and literary world ... He was an ascetic and spent nothing on himself. The puritanical vein in him is considered by some to spoil his music, as tending to lack of colour. Far from its being an advantage to be the son of a Gloucestershire squire, my father's early life was a fight against prejudice. His father thought music unsuitable as a profession, and the critics of music in the mid-nineteenth century showed no mercy to anyone they considered privileged. My father was sensitive, and suffered from bouts of deep depression. The extraordinary misinterpretation of him that exists should not persist.
In an analysis of Parry's compositional process, Michael Allis draws attention to a widely held but inaccurate belief that Parry was a facile composer who dashed off new works without effort. He quotes the mid-20th century critics H C Colles and Eric Blom as equating Parry's supposed facility with superficiality. Allis also quotes Parry's diary, which regularly recorded his difficulties in composition: "struggled along with the Symphony", "thoroughly terrible and wearing grind over the revisions", "stuck fast" and so on. Parry himself is partly responsible for another belief about his music, that he was neither interested in nor good at orchestration. In a lecture at the RCM he was censorious of Berlioz who, in Parry's view, disguised commonplace musical ideas by glittering orchestration: "When divested of its amazingly variegated colour the ideas themselves do not convince us or exert much fascination." Bax and others took this to mean that Parry (and Stanford and Mackenzie) "regarded sensuous beauty of orchestral sound as not quite nice". In 2001, the American writers Nicholas Slonimsky and Laura Kuhn took the view: "In his orchestral music, Parry played a significant role in the fostering of the British symphonic tradition. While his orchestral works owe much to the German Romanticists, particularly Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, he nevertheless developed a personal style notable for its fine craftsmanship and mastery of diatonic writing. His 5 [symphonies] reveal a growing assurance in handling large forms. He also wrote some effective incidental music and fine chamber pieces."
The early influence of Wagner on Parry's music can be heard in the Concertstück for orchestra (1877), the overture Guillem de Cabestanh (1878), and especially in Scenes from Prometheus Unbound (1880). Dibble notes a more thoroughly absorbed Wagnerian influence in Blest Pair of Sirens, and points to the influence of Brahms on such works as the Piano Quartet in A flat (1879) and the Piano Trio in B minor (1884).
Books on music
Parry wrote about music throughout his adult life. As well as his 123 articles in Grove's Dictionary, his publications include Studies of Great Composers (1886); The Art of Music (1893) enlarged as The Evolution of the Art of Music (1896); The Music of the Seventeenth Century, (Volume III of the Oxford History of Music (1902); Johann Sebastian Bach: the Story of the Development of a Great Personality (1909), rated by The Times as his most important book; and Style in Musical Art, collected Oxford lectures (1911).
Notes and references
- The elder daughter, Dorothea (1876–1963), married the politician Arthur Ponsonby in 1898, and had a son and a daughter. The younger daughter, Gwendolen Maud (1878–1959) married the baritone Harry Plunket Greene (1865–1936) and had two sons and a daughter.
- Parry wrote, "He was kind and sympathetic, but he was too sensitive ever to criticize".
- The term originated in an article by the critic Joseph Bennett in 1882. In his review in The Daily Telegraph of Parry's First Symphony he wrote that the work gave "capital proof that English music has arrived at a renaissance period." J A Fuller Maitland, chief music critic to The Times, became the most assiduous proponent of the theory, in his 1902 book English Music in the XIXth Century.
- Fuller Maitland, J A. "Hubert Parry", The Musical Quarterly, Volume 4, No 3, July 1919, pp. 299–307
- Dibble, Jeremy, "Parry, Sir (Charles) Hubert Hastings, baronet (1848–1918)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 18 April 2013 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Dibble, p. 16
- "Death of Sir Hubert Parry", The Times, 8 October 1918, p. 6
- "Hereford Music Festival", The Times, 10 September 1861, p. 10
- Dibble, Jeremy. "Parry, Sir (Charles) Hubert (Hastings)" Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press (subscription required), accessed 18 April 2013
- Hadow, Sir William, "Sir Hubert Parry", Proceedings of the Musical Association, 45th Session (1918–1919), pp. 135–147, accessed 18 April 2013 (subscription required)
- "Dorothea Parry", W. H. Auden – Family Ghosts, Stanford University, accessed 18 April 2013
- "Gwendolen Maud Parry", W. H. Auden – Family Ghosts, Stanford University, accessed 18 April 2013
- Dibble, pp. 77–78
- Allis, pp. 20–23
- Reed, p. 11
- The World, 3 May 1893
- Eatock, p. 88
- Burton, Nigel. "Sullivan Reassessed: See How the Fates", The Musical Times, Vol. 141, No. 1873 (Winter, 2000), pp. 15–22 (subscription required)
- Eatock, p. 90
- Shaw, p. 429
- See Hadow, and The Times obituary
- "Parry, Charles Hubert Hastings (PRY883CH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Dibble, pp. 292, 403, 467 and 305
- Legge, Robin H. "Charles Hubert Hastings Parry", The Musical Times, 1 November 1918, pp. 489–491
- Vaughan Williams, p. 296
- "Highnam Court, Gloucester, England". www.parksandgardens.org. Parks and Gardens UK. Retrieved 27 Apr 2013.
- Carley, p. 24
- Bax, p. 28, quoted in Allis, p. 17
- Ponsonby, Dorothea."Hubert Parry", The Musical Times, Vol. 97, No. 1359, May 1956, p. 263 (subscription required)
- Allis, p. 19
- Allis, p. 20
- Allis, p. 111
- Bax, p. 28, quoted in Allis, p. 111
- Slonimsky and Kuhn, p. 2752
- Allis, Michael (2002). Parry's Creative Process. Aldershot, Hants ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN 1840146818.
- Bax, Arnold (1943). Farewell, My Youth. London: Longmans, Green and Co. OCLC 462380567.
- Boden, Anthony (1998). The Parrys of the Golden Vale. London: Thames Publishing. ISBN 0905210727.
- Carley, Lionel. Delius, a Life in Letters, Volume II, 1909–1934. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674195701.
- Dibble, Jeremy (1992). C. Hubert H. Parry: His Life and Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0193153300.
- Eatock, Colin (2010). "The Crystal Palace Concerts: Canon Formation and the English Musical Renaissance". 19th-Century Music 34 (1): 87–105. doi:10.1525/ncm.2010.34.1.087. ISSN 0148-2076.
- Reed, W H (1946). Elgar. London: Dent. OCLC 8858707.
- Shaw, Bernard; Dan H Laurence (ed) (1989). Shaw's Music – The Complete Music Criticism of Bernard Shaw, Volume 2. London: The Bodley Head. ISBN 0370312716.
- Slonimsky, Nicholas; Laura Kuhn (eds) (2001). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, vol. 4. New York: Schirmer Reference. ISBN 0028655281.
- Vaughan Williams, Ralph; David Manning (ed) (2007). Vaughan Williams on Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199720401.
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