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Blest pair of sirens

1887; first performed by the Bach Choir on 17 May 1887, Stanford conducting
author of text
At a Solemn Music

Parry’s Blest pair of sirens was commissioned to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, and dedicated to the members of the Bach Choir and their conductor Charles Villiers Stanford. It was first performed in London’s St James’s Hall and, according to Parry, was received ‘quite uproariously’. The text is taken from John Milton’s ode At a solemn music, in which the poet describes the rapture experienced on listening to sacred music. The ode will have been familiar to many musicians from Handel’s Samson, where four lines are used (in slightly varied form) for the aria ‘Let the bright Seraphim’. Parry’s setting is constructed in a form reminiscent of a Baroque concerto, with ‘orchestral ritornellos’ framing contrasted vocal sections. The sense of continuity provided by this form was perhaps prompted by Milton’s first sentence, which runs to no fewer than twenty-four lines. The opening of Blest pair of sirens refers—consciously or otherwise—to the first bars of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (the syncopated descending bass-line is the most obvious clue). However, Parry’s elegant partwriting, above all in the eight-part sections, suggests close study of Brahms’s music, notably the Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op 109. Parry, like his younger contemporary Elgar, forged a distinctively English amalgam from the music of the two German masters, his style informed by exposure to Stanford’s oeuvre and other English sacred music. A pivotal figure in the English Musical Renaissance—he devoted much of his energy to teaching, and counted Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bridge and Ireland among his pupils—Parry was probably the most widely admired composer of his day. Stanford once went so far as to maintain he was the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell, a claim largely based, one must suspect, on ‘his’ work, Blest pair of sirens.

from notes by Martin Ennis © 2018


Locus iste
Studio Master: SIGCD567Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Parry: I was glad & other choral works
Studio Master: CDA68089Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track 2 on CDA68089 [10'31]
Track 15 on SIGCD567 [10'22] Download only

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