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Parry took the title of his song from the third line of W E Henley’s poem ‘Fresh from his fastnesses’, then-recently published as part of Rhymes and Rhythms in 1898. Henley, described by his close friend Robert Louis Stevenson (who acknowledged Henley as the inspiration behind Long John Silver in Treasure Island) as ‘boisterous and piratic’, was a strong and vigorous personality. Through his editorships of the Magazine of Art (later the New Observer) and the New Review he influenced many of his contemporaries with his particular brand of moral activism and did much to promote the literary work of Henry James, H G Wells, Hardy, Kipling, Yeats and, of course, Stevenson. During the 1890s and 1900s, his poetry was widely appreciated and enjoyed a vogue among composers, among them Butterworth, Delius, Gurney, Hart, O’Neill, Quilter and Francis George Scott. The North Wind is a muscular, flamboyant song, depicting the hunt as a metaphor of life’s energy and vitality in its swirling string figurations and lively dotted rhythms. A more lyrical central section, in the flattened mediant (B flat), focuses on the sea, ‘Time’s right-hand man’, as a metaphor of indefatigable nature. This material emerges triumphantly in the postlude, but not before Parry’s tonal reprise restores us to the turbulent rhythms of the first part, building inexorably to Henley’s activist declaration that ‘Life is worth living’ from first breath to last.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1999
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