Charles Hubert Hastings Parry/Biography
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was an English composer, probably best known for his setting of William Blake's poem, Jerusalem. Born in Bournemouth, Hampshire, and brought up at Highnam Court, Gloucestershire, he was the second son of Thomas Gambier Parry, of Highnam Court, Gloucester - an amateur artist. His grandfather was a director of the East India Company, and his grandmother was a member of a well-known naval family, which included Lord Gambier, the Admiral of the British fleet. Charles Hubert was educated at Malvern, Twyford, near Winchester, and then at Eton (from 1861), and then at Exeter College, Oxford. While still at Eton he wrote music and two anthems that were published in 1865. Parry wrote solo songs all his life, starting with several composed while he was 18 years old and still attending Eton. Later he wrote an Evening Service in D, and dedicated it to Sir John Stainer. He took the degree of Mus.B. at Oxford at the early age of eighteen, and later earned a B.A. in 1870.
He then left Oxford for London where in the following year he joined a young Eton friend working at Lloyds. Working this job for four years, in duty to his father's desire to not make music his career but his avocation, Charles Hubert was ultimately set free when the business suddenly failed. This failure allowed him to abandon the business for a career in Music, which he commensed by taking a Doctor of Music at Cambridge in 1883. Following this he and took a position at Oxford, suceeding Dr. Corfe in the position of Choragus, simultaneously being admitted to Oxford as a Doctor of Music ad eundem in 1884.
He studied successively with H. H. Pierson (at Stuttgart), Sterndale Bennett and Macfarren; but the most important part of his artistic development was with the pianist Edward Dannreuther in London. Among the larger works of this early period is an overture, Guillem de Cabestanh (Crystal Palace, 1879), a pianoforte concerto in F sharp minor, played by Dannreuther at the Crystal Palace and Richter concerts in 1880, and his first choral work: The Scenes from Prometheus Unbound, produced at the Gloucester Festival, 1880. These works, like the Symphony in G, given at the Birmingham Festival of 1882, seemed strange even to educated listeners, who were confused by the intricacy of Parry's treatment. It was not until his setting of James Shirley's 1640 ode, The Glories of our Blood and State, premiered at Gloucester in 1883, and the Partita for violin and pianoforte (published about the same time) that Parry's importance finally was realized by the musical public.
His first major works begin to appear in 1880: a piano concerto and a choral setting of scenes from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. The first performance of the Prometheus has often been held to mark the start of a "renaissance" in English classical music. Parry achieved a greater contemporary success, however, with the ode Blest pair of Sirens (1887) which established him as the leading English choral composer of his day. Blest Pair of Sirens utilized lyrics from John Milton's Ode "At a Solemn Music", and was first performed at the inaugural concert in the newly-built "Albert Hall". The work is dedicated to C. V. Stanford and the Bach Choir. Among the most successful of a long series of similar works were the Ode on Saint Cecilia's Day (1889), the oratorios, Judith (1888) and Job (1892), the psalm-setting De Profundis (1891) and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1905). His solo works composed in 12 sets of "English Lyrics" (published in 1885, 1886, 1895, 1896, 1902, 1903, 1907 and 1909, and posthumanously in 1918 and 1920). His early orchestral works include four symphonies, the Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy (1893), and the Elegy for Brahms (1897). After Parry joined the staff of the Royal College of Music in 1884 he was appointed its Director in 1894, a post he held until his death. In 1900 he succeeded John Stainer as professor of music at Oxford University. His later music included 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. He finally was forced to resign his Oxford appointment on doctor's advice in 1908, and the last decade of his life produced some of his finest 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).
Influenced as a composer principally by Bach and Brahms, Parry evolved a powerful diatonic style which itself greatly influenced future English composers such as Elgar and Vaughan Williams. His own full development as a composer was almost certainly hampered by the immense amount of work he took on, but his energy and charisma, not to mention his abilities as a teacher and administrator, helped establish art music at the centre of English cultural life. He collaborated with the poet Robert Bridges, and was responsible for many books on music, including The Evolution of the Art of Music (1896), the third volume of the Oxford History of Music (1907) and a study of Bach (1909).
His six "Songs of Farewell" are the last works in his repertoire, and seem to be a reflection of his resignation to his terminal illness. The poignant words of Thomas Campion's poem "Never weather-beaten sail" which entreats us:
- Than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my troubled breast:
- O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
which seems a fitting epithet to one of England's greatest choral composers.