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An English composer and teacher of relative insignificance in the former capacity, Hubert Parry exercised a strong influence over the music of his time in England, occupying positions both at Oxford and at the newly established Royal College of Music. Some of his compositions have remained popular in England, although much of what he wrote is now generally neglected.
Parry came from a family of some distinction. He was the second son, and third surviving child of Thomas Gambier Parry by his first wife. His fathers maternal great-uncle was Lord Gambier, Admiral of the Fleet, whose name he had taken, while Thomas Parry himself inherited a fortune from his own father, a director in the East India Company. Hubert Parry was educated at Eton, where he was able to distinguish himself in music, not so much in the desultory musical atmosphere that then obtained at the College, but through association with George Elvey at St Georges Chapel, Windsor, and from Elvey he was at least able to have sound enough technical instruction and compose music for the choir. While at school he took the Oxford Bachelor of Music degree. At Oxford he made the most of the musical opportunities offered, continuing, as at school, to compose music, particularly songs and sacred music and to enjoy informal musical gatherings, although his university studies were in law and history. During this period he was able to study, in a long vacation, with Henry Hugo Pierson in Stuttgart.
Parry enjoyed an association with the Herbert family, notably with his school-friend George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke. His marriage to Herberts sister Maude, an alliance that won the disapproval of his mother-in-law, Lady Herbert, had various consequences. In the first place Parry was obliged to earn a living and this he attempted, with his fathers help. His wifes variable state of health was to cause continuing worry and difficulties that seemed to impede his musical interests, which remained dominant. Above all, in London he made acquaintance of the pianist and Wagnerian Edward Dannreuther, who became his friend, teacher and adviser.
In 1877, after a winter spent impatiently in Cannes for his wifes health, Parry gave up his position at the bank. In addition to the income settled on his wife by her family, he had been making a living from his contribution of articles for Groves new dictionary of music and musicians. In 1880 Dannreuther played Parrys Piano Concerto in F sharp major, a choice of key that did not endear him to the orchestra, at the Crystal Palace and success here was followed by a cantata based on Shelleys Prometheus Unbound for the Gloucester Festival, where it was performed in 1882. At the end of the same year he was invited by Grove to join the new Royal College of Music as Professor of Musical History and shortly afterwards was offered an Honorary Doctorate in Music at Cambridge, where Prometheus Unbound had been performed in 1881 under Stanford. His First Symphony, for which Richter had eventually found no time in his London concert season, was given with some success in Birmingham.
Anthems and service-settings by Parry for the Anglican liturgy remain a part of cathedral repertoire, as do a number of well known hymn-tunes.
Choral and Vocal Music
Parry’s setting of Milton’s Blest Pair of Sirens remains a staple item in amateur choral repertoire in England, while part-songs and solo songs also retain an occasional and deserved place in vocal repertoire.
Parry’s five symphonies are seldom heard, but the English Suite and Lady Radnor’s Suite, both for string orchestra, make a useful addition to English string orchestra repertoire.
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