Since Parry’s professional career as educator and administrator kept him away from day-to-day involvement in church music, it is natural that the best known of his choral works should have been written in response to commissions for special occasions. However, his D major setting of the canticles does not fall into this category. Written about 1882 and first performed in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Magnificat
and Nunc dimittis
were only published as recently as 1982. This is big music in every sense, and was obviously written with a larger choir in mind than could be mustered by many choral institutions in the 1880s. Parry makes effective use of solo voices contrasting with the full chorus, while the texture ranges from an imitative counterpoint which throws each voice into relief in turn, to the richest of choral tuttis. As well as the obvious repetition of material, for instance the return of the opening music of the Magnificat
in both Glorias, more subtle underlying relationships of theme and motive help to unify the settings. Prominent in these relationships are the intervals of the minor sixth and the octave. These large melodic intervals and the spacious grandeur of the Magnificat
in particular make this setting quite uncharacteristic of the vapid and sentimental style of much Victorian church music.
from notes by John Heighway © 1988