The six Songs of Farewell give us a glimpse of this private man, who sensed that his own life was drawing to a close; of his seventieth birthday he wrote, ‘I have reached the last milestone’. One feels that the religious impulse can never have been stronger than at this time, and yet these are not conventionally devotional works, although he called them motets. The sentiments and the mode of expression are, in several of the poems, personal rather than spiritual, and only ‘Lord, let me know mine end’ has a traditionally sacred text. Taken together, the Songs of Farewell are Parry’s masterpiece for the choral medium. In them he approached levels of musical expression and sensitivity to textual meaning and inflexion which have rarely been exceeded in English music. All the first performances were directed by Parry’s friend Hugh P Allen, who had succeeded him at the Royal College of Music and who did much to foster interest in his music in the early post-war years.
In terms of scoring and treatment the six pieces fall into three groups. ‘My soul, there is a country’ and ‘I know my soul hath power’ are written for four voices in a predominantly chordal style. ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ and ‘There is an old belief’, for five and six voices respectively, introduce a certain amount of contrapuntal interest. Finally, in ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’ for seven voices, and ‘Lord, let me know mine end’, for eight, Parry takes full advantage of the flexibility of treatment available with these scorings in his use of contrasting registers, a variety of contrapuntal techniques, and rich choral sonorities.
from notes by John Heighway © 1988
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