PARROTTICISMS: The Autobiography of Ian Parrott
British Music Society – Monograph No.5
ISBN 1 870534 24 X
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Throughout his long and busy life, Ian Parrott
never was an Ivory Tower composer as this short autobiography
makes it clear. His many concerns extended far beyond his lifelong
musical focus, though these evidently have pride of place. As
in any autobiography, the author comments on personal and professional
events as well as on his likes and dislikes (musical and other).
He reminisces on his early and student years,
first at the Royal College of Music where he was introduced to
the music of Wagner and Bartók (the latter was to prove
a lasting influence), and where he was living a double life, "writing
one sort of music (free from consecutives and other scandalous
progressions) for [my] teacher and another freely created sort
for [myself] at night". Later in Oxford he befriended Humphrey
Searle, among many others. One of Parrott’s early public performances
was his first Scherzo in C completed in 1933 and
premiered by the Isis Orchestra in 1936. It was in Oxford, too,
that Parrott set up a Warlock concert.
He tells us of his likes (Elgar, Warlock and
Bartók) and dislikes (Dyson’s Nebuchadnezzar),
and of his wartime experience in Egypt. There he managed to compose
a burlesque opera The Sergeant-Major’s Daughter,
first performed in Heliopolis in 1943. The Egyptian experience
was to have some further musical consequences with the composition
of the symphonic prelude El Alamein (1944, an independent
piece which later became his First Symphony’s third movement)
and the symphonic impression Luxor. After his return
to civilian life, music literally poured from his pen up to this
day, in almost every genre.
After a three-year stay in Birmingham, Parrott
and his family moved to Wales on his appointment as Gregynog Professor
of Music in the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. A number
of Welsh composers studied with him and these included the late
William Mathias. He took an active part in Welsh musical life
and became a household name in the principality. He composed an
opera The Black Ram on a libretto by Sir H Idris
Bell, of which there exists a Welsh version by Sir Thomas Parry-Williams.
He still lives near Aberystwyth.
This short autobiography also includes a number
of appendices dealing with personal and professional topics, and
a complete list of compositions, many of which are still unpublished
and too rarely heard, if at all. As a "true blue" Liègeois,
I was delighted to read that his orchestral work De l’Estuaire
à la Source, completed in 1939, was entered for
a composition competition held in Liège and later used
for his D.Mus. composition.
This is the sort of publication that helps shed
light on the thoughts and events that continuously impact on one’s
human and creative behaviour (from this point of view, it does
not matter whether one is a creative artist or not) and on the
whereabouts of some compositions. On a more personal note, I once
wrote to Ian Parrott after hearing a taped performance of his
powerful Second Symphony, which I find most impressive and at
times quite dramatic. I had been impressed by some fearful trombone
glissandi which I found quite menacing. Ian kindly told me that
these trombone glissandi represented an aeroplane on his journey
round the world. (So much for the perceptive music critic!)
Some time ago I reviewed a disc (TABERNACLE TABIP1
in British Music Society News 77 in March 1998 - REVIEW BELOW)
that is still available at the time of writing. My concluding
words then unfortunately still prove quite valid now. Though some
of Parrott’s music has been recently available on disc, many important
works such as his symphonies and concertos as well as his string
quartets are still left unrecorded. His music definitely deserves
to be much better known, and I hope that this short book might
draw some favourable attention to his superbly crafted music and
might prompt new recordings of his still underrated output.
IAN PARROTT Songs, Piano & Chamber Music.
Alison Wells, sop; John Turner, recorder; Keith Swallow, piano.
This release was produced on a subscription basis
as an eightieth birthday tribute to Ian Parrott. It usefully offers
works from various periods of Ian Parrott’s long composing life.
Earlier works include some fine songs such as Absence (1943)
written for soprano, recorder and piano, a couple of songs written
in 1940 and 1945 and several piano works of which Theme and
Six Variants of 1945 is by far the most impressive. Works
of Parrott’s mid-period include songs written in 1972 (Flamingoes)
and in 1977 (Two Thoughtful Songs) as well as a delightful
piece for recorder and piano (Arabesque and Dance of 1972).
This tribute ends with pieces written quite recently
and including the entertaining The Wrexham Pipers meet the
Machynlleth Marchers of 1996 for recorder and piano, and a
very fine short song-cycle Songs of Renewal (1995) again
for soprano, recorder and piano. All these works amply testify
of Ian Parrott’s wide-ranging outlook though they obviously come
from the same pen and mind. Ian Parrott also proves himself not
averse to some sort of mild musical humour evident from some of
these pieces, not the least in his own Happiness (1995
- reciter and recorder) composed as a tribute to David Cox on
his own eightieth birthday.
This fine release also include tributes to Ian
Parrott by some of his friends: Anthony Gilbert’s amusing Mid-Wales
Lightwhistle Automatic, Geoffrey Bush’s delightful Cradle
Song for soprano, recorder and piano, and David Cox’s The
Magic Island, a vocalise for soprano, recorder and piano inspired
by Parrott’s song In Phaeacia (1945) heard earlier in this
This is a fine tribute to a very distinguished
composer whose music is all too rarely heard and that definitely
deserves to be better known.