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The pageantry of a nation is encapsulated in the music of Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Baronet, Knight and fervent supporter of the suffragette movement.
This new programme from Westminster Abbey contains some lesser-known early works alongside blazing performances of the favourites, recorded in the very building for which many of them were so skilfully crafted.
A number of juvenilia for the organ survive from his Oxford years, but Parry did not turn his attentions seriously to the organ until 1877, when he composed a Fantasia and Fugue in G major. This, however, proved to be a first draft, for after revising the work thoroughly in 1882 he returned to it again in 1913 when, with a revised fantasia and a quite new fugue, it was published by Novello. The very ambience of the fantasia is overtly Bachian in character. Inspired, one suspects, by the spirit of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV542 (the structural comparisons are even more pertinent in Parry’s earlier 1877 version), Parry creates a Romantic, neo-Gothic essay founded on the rhetoric of the Baroque North German organ style, yet, through the use of a more intense nineteenth-century sense of chromaticism and dissonance, there is also a strong sense of contemporaneity. The fugue’s considerable technical demands were intended to match the dexterity of its dedicatee, Sir Walter Parratt, organist at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Organ Professor at the RCM, and renowned recitalist.
Parry wrote his Evening Service in D major (the ‘Great Service’) in early 1881. Though promised to Charles Villiers Stanford and Trinity College, Cambridge, it was first sung at St Paul’s on 19 February and 2 July 1882 under Stainer. It was finally sung at Trinity College in December 1882 but was never sung again thereafter, perhaps because its ungainly manuscript parts rendered it outmoded in the days of Novello’s more practical octavo vocal scores. It remained unpublished until it was posthumously exhumed and published in a limited private edition by Parry’s amanuensis, Emily Daymond, for St Paul’s Cathedral’s patronal festival in January 1925 with an orchestration by Charles Macpherson. The service was eventually published in an edition by Jeremy Dibble in 1984. Although not as symphonic in concept as Stanford’s Opp 10 and 12 (published in 1879 and 1880 respectively), Parry’s service is nevertheless typically generous in its architecture and grand effect. In part indebted to the large-scale verse anthems of S S Wesley, especially in the sections for solo voices, the work evinces a bold handling of diatonic harmony which would be key to his later choral style.
Blest pair of sirens received its first performance by the Bach Choir under the baton of Stanford at the St James’s Hall on 17 May 1887. Admiration for the work had already begun to stir during the rehearsals, not least from Sir George Grove who, as Parry recalled, ‘jumped up with tears in his eyes and shook me over and over again by the hand and the whole choir took up the cue’. At the performance it was, to use Parry’s words, ‘quite uproariously received’ and the composer was greeted with shouts from the audience. A work to mark the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, it was the Bach Choir’s first commission, and one that could not have been more auspicious for English choral music. Parry’s brilliant neo-Baroque concerto structure, thrilling eight-part counterpoint and yearning melody are a perfect match for the Pindaric structure of Milton’s ode At a Solemn Music and the assonance and scansion of the English language. Moreover, in this work Parry achieved an entirely personal fusion of his enthusiasms for Wagner (evident in the paraphrase of Die Meistersinger at the opening) and Brahms with a distinctly English style characterized by the use of a higher diatonic dissonance prevalent in the language of S S Wesley and Stainer.
The hymn Dear Lord and Father of mankind, now one of the nation’s favourites, began life as the ballad of Meshullemeth (‘Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land’) in Act I of Judith, his Birmingham oratorio of 1888. It was only after Parry’s death that permission was granted by Novello and Parry’s estate to allow George Gilbert Stocks, the head of music at Repton School, to adapt the music to the words of John Greenleaf Whittier for the school’s hymn book, at which time the melody became known as REPTON. The hymn was then taken up with alacrity by Songs of Praise (1931), the English Hymnal in 1933 and the revised version of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1950. It was also published by Novello in 1941 as a hymn-anthem, with Whittier’s words, in an arrangement by H A Chambers (as heard on this recording) in which much of the original music of the aria was restored.
The anthem Hear my words, ye people was written for the Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association in 1894. Drawing on texts from Job, Isaiah and the Psalms, Parry concluded the anthem with Sir Henry Baker’s words ‘O praise ye the Lord, praise him in the height’, a paraphrase of Psalm 150, which first appeared as a hymn in the second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1875, though with a tune by Henry Gauntlett. Parry’s well-known tune, LAUDATE DOMINUM, became associated with the hymn when it was published sometime later, in 1915. Continuing in the tradition of those large-scale verse-anthem models of S S Wesley and Stainer, the choral fabric of Hear my words is interspersed with two extensive ‘verses’, the first for solo bass (‘Clouds and darkness are round about him’), the second, more penitent in mood, for solo soprano (‘He delivered the poor in his affliction’), here sung by trebles alone. The choral portion was also conceived for two contrasting bodies of singers, the larger one of 2,000 singers in which the music is deliberately less complex, and a semi-chorus of 400 voices where the choral writing is more demanding. Much of the accompaniment to the anthem is provided by the organ, which has a major role to play in the symphonic introduction and the support for the soloists, but at the first performance on 10 May 1894 the organist, Charles Frederick South, was joined by the band of the Royal Marines from Portsmouth whose presence can be felt not only in the grandiloquent conclusion, but also in moments of awe-inspiring splendour (notably the bracing ritornello ‘The Lord’s seat is in heaven’). Parry’s original scoring for brass, organ and timpani has, since then, remained largely forgotten, so in this recording we have the opportunity to experience something of its original conception (in an arrangement by Grayston Ives, after the edition by Jeremy Dibble from Parry’s autograph score in the Royal College of Music).
I was glad (from Psalm 122), arguably the greatest ceremonial anthem ever written, was commissioned for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902. Very much with the choreography and pageantry of the monarch’s arrival at Westminster Abbey in mind, it was experimentally conceived to incorporate the opening processional march of the king and queen and their substantial entourages up the nave, the vivats (shouted traditionally by the scholars of Westminster School) at their appearance beyond the screen into the ‘theatre’, an interlude of prayer (‘O pray for the peace of Jerusalem’) and a final, dramatic climax in which the march is restored with even greater grandeur. Dissatisfied with the opening, Parry revised the introductory bars radically for the Coronation of George V in June 1911 so that it was much more arresting in its effect. Since then the anthem has been used in all subsequent coronations and for many royal weddings and state occasions.
Along with the revised version of the anthem I was glad, Parry was commissioned to provide a liturgical setting of the Te Deum for the end of the coronation service for King George V. Although, with its sonorous and varied choral scoring, this work undoubtedly conveys that sense of pageantry, ceremony and grandeur, there is great tenderness and solemnity too, and, as in I was glad, Parry’s masterly handling of tonality and choral colour serves to heighten the sense of sublimity and awe. And to this highly moving and inventive canvas, he integrated, with deft artifice, the familiar thematic references of the ancient tunes of ST ANN (‘O God our help in ages past’) and the OLD HUNDREDTH (‘All people that on earth do dwell’), as well as a quotation of the plainsong intonation to the Creed.
In response to a request from his old friend Robert Bridges, Parry composed his setting of Blake’s opening lines from Milton (‘And did those feet in ancient time’—the original title of Jerusalem) for the Fight for Right movement, an organization founded by Sir Francis Younghusband as a means of encouraging the nation to remain steadfast in the face of German propaganda during World War One and to recognize the values that everyone, soldiers and civilians, was fighting for. It was composed on 10 March 1916 and Walford Davies, a former pupil, recalled that ‘we looked at [the manuscript] together in his room at the Royal College of Music, and I recall vividly his unwonted happiness over it … He ceased to speak, and put his finger on the note D in the second stanza where the words “O clouds unfold” break his rhythm. I do not think any word passed about it, yet he made it perfectly clear that this was the one note and one moment of the song which he treasured’. The choral song was published by Curwen in time for its first performance on 28 March, after which it became almost instantaneously popular. Although Parry was unhappy with the association of Jerusalem with propaganda—he withdrew from Fight for Right in 1917—he was delighted when the song was taken up by Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage movement in 1917.
Jeremy Dibble © 2015