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Songs of Farewell

composer
1916/8

 
It has perhaps become a commonplace to think of a composer turning in upon himself towards the end of his life, yet this was certainly the case in the Songs of Farewell which were composed between 1916 and 1918. This is not to say that Parry had withdrawn from public life; far from it. His capacity for hard work remained undiminished even in his late sixties. He was still director of the Royal College of Music, a post which he had held since 1894, and was president of the ‘Music in Wartime’ committee which he had helped found in 1914 to provide opportunities for professional musicians to serve the war effort by giving concerts in hospitals, camps, and the like. Nevertheless, Parry found the war profoundly depressing; it was, in Herbert Howells’ words, ‘a scourge that cast a devastating shadow over Parry’s mind and heart’.

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

Recordings

Parry: Songs of Farewell
Studio Master: SIGCD267Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Parry: Sacred Choral Music
CDA66273Download currently discounted
A Song of Farewell
Studio Master: SIGCD281Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
All in the April Evening
CDH55243Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
The English Anthem, Vol. 3
CDA66618Archive Service
The English Anthem, Vol. 6
CDA66826Archive Service
The English Anthem, Vol. 7
CDA67087
The English Anthem, Vol. 8
CDA67483

Details

No 1: My soul, there is a country
author of text

Track 4 on CDA66273 [3'44]
Track 11 on CDA66826 [4'34] Archive Service
Track 5 on SIGCD267 [3'52] Download only
No 2: I know my soul hath power to know all things
author of text

Track 5 on CDA66273 [2'18]
Track 6 on SIGCD267 [2'04] Download only
No 3: Never weather-beaten sail
author of text

Track 6 on CDA66273 [3'30]
Track 7 on CDA67087 [3'56]
Track 16 on CDH55243 [2'54] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 7 on SIGCD267 [3'22] Download only
No 4: There is an old belief
author of text

Track 7 on CDA66273 [4'02]
Track 11 on CDA66618 [4'35] Archive Service
Track 8 on SIGCD267 [4'52] Download only
No 5: At the round earth's imagined corners
author of text

Track 8 on CDA66273 [7'17]
Track 9 on SIGCD267 [7'27] Download only
No 6: Lord, let me know mine end
author of text
Psalm 39: 5-15

Track 9 on CDA66273 [10'29]
Track 12 on CDA67483 [10'22]
Track 10 on SIGCD267 [10'58] Download only
Track 15 on SIGCD281 [11'42] Download only

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