Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1914), English composer and teacher, is considered, with Charles Villiers Stanford, to have had a crucial role in the flowering of English art music in the first decades of the 20th century, and helped give it increased significance in the cultural life of the nation.
He first composed when he was eight, completed a BA (Music) degree at Oxford University whilst still at school, was active from a young age in the various musical festivals around the country and became a leading light in the musical activities of the capital. He taught at the Royal Academy of Music from the mid 1890s and would be its director. He was appointed Professor of Music at Oxford in 1900. He wrote books on music that are still in print. He was knighted and made a baronet in 1902
Unlike Stanford and others he showed little interest in folk music – his compositions broke no new ground and reflected European tradition – however, the “Oxford Companion to Music” mentions a “Miltonian character” in his work, where “typical national qualities markedly express themselves”. He wrote too much, was always too busy, for his work to be of a uniformly high standard (and his physical life was as hectic as his musical – he ran and climbed and swam and usually was recovering some recently self-inflicted accidental injury.)
Some works, though, have remained, and hold their place.
- ”Blest Pair of Sirens” a setting of John Milton, has remained in the repertoire of British choirs since its inception in 1887.
- ”I was glad”, a setting of Psalm 122, is traditionally used as a coronation anthem; Parry’s setting has been sung at the coronation of all British sovereigns since Edward VII. [] It is a big sound for a big occasion.
- “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” is a favourite hymn.
- Parry’s setting of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” is his best known work, and one of the rare instances of a piece of “classical” music entering the sphere of common culture; and of a hymn assuming both sacred and secular importance. From its place as the closing work at the annual “Last night of the Proms”, to its use as an impromptu national song at major sporting events, it holds a unique place in the life of the nation. []
See also: Charles Villiers Stanford