When I showed this CD to a friend they responded by suggesting
that it would be right up my street. Unfortunately, this comment
was barbed. ‘My street’ in this case meant ‘over-blown’
ceremonial music of the kind that uncritically lauded Empire,
glorified war and insisted that the ‘rich man [was] in
his castle, The poor man at his gate’. Before the reader
runs off with the idea that I am politically slightly to the
right of Sir Oswald Mosley, I wish to make three comments. Firstly,
Parry and Elgar were men of their time so their choice of poems
to set and ideas to compose were different to someone living
in the post-Colonial, ‘liberal’ and cosmopolitan
society of the early part of the 21st century. Secondly,
not all ‘ceremonial’ music is bad. For example,
while I have never been a fan of Elgar’s The Crown
of India, I do love Walton’s coronation marches. By
definition, this style of music tends to celebrate the life
and times of the Royal Family or matters of ‘state’.
However, it need not be ‘tub-thumping’ or ‘jingoistic’.
Often it can be reflective and contain profound thoughts on
mankind’s adventure. One need only consider the ‘Cortege’
by Cecil Coles - ideal for Remembrance Sunday yet full of the
‘horror of war’.
Thirdly, there is a tendency to present Parry as a caricature
of a ‘Tory’ squire who was into all the trappings
of the feudal society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is not the place to analyse the composer’s political
or moral views, however it is fair to say that he was liberal
- possibly even a ‘radical’. His religious views
were typically agnostic in spite of Delius’ suggestion
that if he lived long enough he would have set the entire Bible!
H.R.H. Charles, Prince of Wales has noted in his introduction
to the CD liner-notes that Parry, in spite of his ‘hugely
energetic personality’ revealed a ‘nervous, melancholy,
even depressive temperament which infuses the inspiring and
noble sentiment of much of his music with a darker, complex
The listener to this CD will be surprised. In spite of the cover
photograph of a grand royal procession, much of this music is
introverted and deeply moving. Some of it may have been written
to celebrate national or royal events - but all of it has a
thoughtful disposition. There is nothing here for the ‘jingoist’
expects possibly the Prom favourite Jerusalem. However,
this hymn setting has been accepted by people of all political
persuasions and none as a great national treasure.
A good place to start is the setting of John O’ Gaunt’s
verse England. This song has occasionally been mentioned
in the same breath as the well-known Jerusalem yet they
could not be more different in their musical nature.
The story goes that after the success of the Blake setting,
Gilbert Murray, the classicist and Ernest Walker, the composer,
asked Parry to make a setting of John O’ Gaunt’s
famous monologue from Act II of Shakespeare’s play Richard
II. (This royal throne of Kings, this sceptred island).
There is nothing bombastic about this beautiful unison song.
If anything it is undemonstrative and reflective, with a greater
emphasis being on the final words ‘Grant, Lord, that England
… May be renown’d through all recorded ages / For
Christian service and true Chivalry’. Jeremy Dibble has
noted that England is about more than just flying the
flag - ‘its rousing tune expresses a sense of vision,
self-sacrifice and hope, typical of Parry’s own outlook.’
Jerusalem is given a largely thoughtful performance here.
This song, beloved by the vast majority of the nation, is usually
heard in the opulent Elgar orchestration. The original Parry
song has slightly fewer grand aspirations. The composer suggested
that the first verse ought to be sung by a soprano solo with
the second sung by ‘all available voices’. Formerly
composed as a ‘choral song’ with only a piano accompaniment,
Parry orchestrated it right at the end of his life for a Suffrage
Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918 at the Queen’s
Hall. My only complaint is the excessive length of the final
word (Land) sung by the choir. This is at variance with my score
of the work.
The nation collectively heard the Wedding March from
Parry’s incidental music to the Greek comedy, The Birds
by Aristophanes at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge;
it was played just before the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen.
For Parry enthusiasts this extract had been available on Lyrita
featuring Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
As far as I know, until now there has been no recording of the
entire score. The present performing edition has been prepared
for performance by Philip Brookes.
The Birds was produced by the Cambridge University Amateur
Dramatic Club in November 1893. Jeremy Dibble has suggested
that this music is full of ‘humour and light-heartedness’
and notes that the score is ‘rich in artifice and invention’.
I enjoyed it. I guess that knowledge of the Aristophanes play
may be of some help to listeners but all these numbers stand
well on their own account. I was especially attracted to the
gentle Entr’acte, the cheeky waltz, and the beautiful
Intermezzo. All these display Parry’s skills at
musical design and orchestration at their best.
The piece that gave my friend the greatest cause for concern
about political correctness was the short ode entitled The
Glories of Blood and State. He must have imagined Parry
indulging in some idealist ‘Brooke-ian’ ‘pro
patria mori’ sentiment. Nothing could be further from
the truth. This is an early work dating from 1883, written some
three years after the composer broke the mould of dissipation
in English music with his Wagnerian cantata Prometheus Unbound.
This ground-breaking work probably does not represent the ‘renaissance’
of British music - just the realisation that it was equal to
the German hegemony. The present work is a setting of a poem
by the English author James Shirley (1596-1666). Charles Lamb
summed up this writer’s career with ‘[he] claims
a place among the worthies of this period, not so much for any
transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last of a
great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had
a set of moral feelings and notions in common.’ The funeral
dirge from his play ‘The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses’
was regarded as a meditation on the fact that death is a leveller
- kings and peasants are subject to the same laws of nature
- ‘There is no armour against fate.’ The exposition
of the music is excellent. There is a Brahmsian feel to this
music that reflects Parry’s love of the Deutsches Requiem:
Wagner’s ghost has (almost) been laid to rest. Perhaps
anyone still worried about Parry and his ‘tub-thumping’
should meditate on the last line of the poem - ‘Only the
actions of the just/Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust’.
Sir Henry Wood wrote in his fascinating My Life of Music
(1938) that ‘one work we produced I thought was going
to live - Parry’s Magnificat - but it has now dropped
out of the concert repertoire. I have never been able to understand
why’. It is a sentiment with which I strongly concur:
I believe that the Magnificat is a masterpiece. It was
composed for the 1897 Three Choirs Festival and was duly performed
there on 15 September. It has one primary exemplar: Bach’s
Magnificat of 1732-35; however, the listener will feel
that much of the strength of this music is similar to the massive
contrapuntal constructions of Blest Pair of Sirens which
was completed ten years earlier. They may also consider that
there are hints of Brahms. The work is conceived in five sections:
the first and last being composed for soprano, chorus and orchestra,
the second and fourth for soloists alone with the middle section
being composed for chorus.
The listener will find this setting extremely satisfying for
Parry has managed to balance his forces in a near-perfect manner.
The ‘aggressive’ parts of the text are balanced
with exquisite introspective moments. Lyrical music is counterpoised
with ‘contrapuntal fertility and rich choral textures’.
Some of the soprano soloist’s music is reminiscent of
Brahms’ German Requiem and certain passages have
more of an operatic, rather than a liturgical, mood to them.
It is interesting that Parry drew the text from the Vulgate
Latin Bible rather than use an English translation such as the
Book of Common Prayer. It would be instructive to know why.
After the first performance, Parry dedicated the work to Queen
In 1911, Hubert Parry was commissioned to compose a liturgical
Te Deum for the Coronation of King George V. This was
in addition to the well-known anthem I was Glad. This
work displays the ‘pageantry, ceremony and grandeur’
of an important national occasion. This mood was reinforced
by the use of the same six trumpets that were required for the
anthem. Yet throughout, a more serious note is struck: tenderness
and solemnity are never far away. Parry seems to be well-aware
of the more profound and numinous qualities of the Coronation
Service. He weaves the well-known tunes St Anne and Old
100th into the texture. This is now a
‘concert’ piece: I do not believe that it could
be used in the context of a religious ceremony - no matter how
‘high.’ It is worthy and I find it both exhilarating
The CD is an ideal production. From the highly imaginative and
packed programme eloquently communicated through superb performances.
The sound quality is excellent. The liner-notes are exemplary,
however that is only to be expected from the champion of Parry
and Stanford, Professor Jeremy Dibble of Durham University.
When I look at the catalogue of Parry’s music and encounter
works like the great Fourth Symphony, the delightful evocation
of childhood in the Shulbrede Tunes and the celebration
of the composer’s yacht in the ‘Wanderer’
Fantasia and Fugue for organ, I see a composer, who, far from
revelling in any false ‘my country right or wrong’
attitude was a thoughtful man: The Prince of Wales notes that
he took ‘a wide interest in politics, the Arts, science
and the most current philosophical discussion of his time…’
Parry was a complex character: this complexity is revealed in
Finally, my friend was wrong. This is not a CD of ‘jingoistic’
music: there is no sense of ‘tub-thumping’ or what
current-day political correctness would find abhorrent. It stand
as a moving tribute to one of Britain great composers. It is
good that we are now beginning to appreciate that fact again.