Parry, Sir (Charles) Hubert (Hastings)
( b Bournemouth, 27 Feb 1848; d Rustington, Sussex, 7 Oct 1918 ). English composer, scholar and teacher. Combining these three activities with a forceful personality and social position, he exercised a revitalizing influence on English musical life at a time in the 19th century when standards of composition, performance, criticism and education were low.
1. Life and works.
The sixth child from the first marriage of Thomas Gambier Parry, painter and art collector, Parry grew up at Highnam Court near Gloucester. While attending Twyford School, near Winchester, he became acquainted with S.S. Wesley at Winchester Cathedral. At Eton he received instruction from Sir George Elvey at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and obtained the BMus in 1866, before entering Exeter College, Oxford, to read law and modern history. During the summer of 1867 he studied in Stuttgart with Henry Hugo Pierson; this was the only formal musical training he received while at Oxford. After taking the BA in 1870 he worked at Lloyd's of London as an underwriter, a move in accordance with both his father's wishes and those of his future wife's family. In 1872 he married his childhood sweetheart, Maude Herbert, sister of George, 13th Earl of Pembroke; they had two children, Dorothea and Gwendolen, named after characters in George Eliot's novels.
In his first few years at Lloyd's Parry took some lessons with William Sterndale Bennett. Desiring more criticism than Bennett was prepared to give, he applied (through Joachim) to study with Brahms in Vienna. When this project failed to materialize, he began a course of study with Edward Dannreuther, a renowned pioneer, champion of Wagner and piano virtuoso. Under Dannreuther's tuition Parry improved his piano technique, but gradually emphasis shifted from the keyboard repertory to the discussion and study of contemporary music, particularly of instrumental works by Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. This had a profound effect on the development of Parry's musical language, a fact demonstrated in the scale and profusion of chamber works such as the Grosses Duo for two pianos (1875–7), the Piano Trio in E minor (no.1, 1877), the Nonet for wind instruments (1877), the Fantasie Sonata in B minor for violin and piano (1878) and the Piano Quartet (1879), all written for Dannreuther's series of semi-private concerts at his home, 12 Orme Square, Bayswater. Parry also became a fervent Wagnerite, attending Der Ring des Nibelungen at Bayreuth in 1876, assisting when Wagner was Dannreuther's guest in London in 1877 and again visiting Bayreuth, to hear Parsifal three times in 1882. His admiration for Wagner is evident in his concert overture Guillem de Cabestanh (1878), conducted by Manns at the Crystal Palace in 1879, and perhaps more controversially in his setting of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound for the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1880, a year which also witnessed two performances of his Piano Concerto in F major.
Parry gave up his work at Lloyd's in 1877, confident that he could make a living as a musician. Besides Dannreuther's encouragement, further support came from George Grove, who engaged Parry as sub-editor for his new Dictionary of Music and Musicians, an enterprise to which Parry contributed more than 100 articles. Within the province of musical scholarship and theory Parry showed himself to be versatile and original, attributes which, combined with his compositional abilities, persuaded Grove to enlist him in 1883 as Professor of Musical History at the newly founded RCM. That same year the University of Cambridge conferred on him an honorary doctorate, Oxford following suite in 1884 as well as appointing him choragus to the university.
Parry's first period of creative maturity was largely dominated by instrumental composition, and during the 1880s the production of no fewer than four symphonies and a symphonic suite (Suite moderne) suggests that orchestral music held a major attraction for him. In addition to the challenge of large-scale symphonic forms, he also turned his attention to opera, inspired by his vivid impressions of Wagner's music dramas and by the interest shown in indigenous opera by Carl Rosa. Unfortunately, however, Parry lacked experience of the stage and he failed to assimilate the necessary elements of Wagner's musico-dramatic technique, shortcomings which were not enhanced by Una Taylor's deficient libretto. Guenever, his one foray into operatic music, was abandoned after Rosa's refusal to perform it in 1886. To counter his disappointment, Parry enjoyed his first taste of national acclaim with the ode Blest Pair of Sirens, written for and dedicated to Stanford and the Bach Choir. Its success brought mixed blessings: his reputation as a composer rapidly became established, but the demands brought by commissions from provincial festivals signalled a shift from symphonic to choral music, a change of direction much lamented by Bernard Shaw.
In 1888 Parry's national renown was consolidated with Judith, the first of three oratorios. Other choral works followed in rapid succession, notably the Ode on St Cecilia's Day (1889) for Leeds, L'Allegro ed Il Pensieroso (1890) for Norwich, The Lotos-Eaters for Cambridge (1892), Job (1892) for Gloucester and King Saul (1894) for Birmingham. For the Purcell bicentenary in 1895 he worked with Robert Bridges on the ode Invocation to Music, and, two years later, composed a setting of the Magnificat in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Such was Parry's esteem and popularity during the 1890s that he was regarded as the nation's unofficial composer laureate, a position he bore with some reservation. In 1895 he succeeded Grove as director of the RCM and in 1898 he was knighted in recognition of his services to British music. In 1900, after Stainer's resignation, he was appointed Heather Professor of Music at Oxford and in 1902 he was made a baronet. Suffering from worsening heart trouble he was forced to give up the chair at Oxford in 1908, but retained his directorship at the RCM until his death.
A Song of Darkness and Light (1898), his second collaboration with Bridges, marked a period of his output in which he was preoccupied with the expression of his own personal heterodoxy. Between 1898 and 1908 he produced a number of choral works (so-called ethical oratorios) such as Voces clamantium (1903), The Love that Casteth out Fear (1904) and The Soul's Ransom (1906), drawing on texts from the Bible and his own words in which he attempted to elucidate his humanitarian convictions. In 1907 this culminated in The Vision of Life, written for the Cardiff Festival and for which Parry provided the entire text. The sentiments and symbols of The Vision of Life, with its main protagonist, The Dreamer, and the chorus of Dream Voices, deeply appealed to Elgar who, significantly perhaps, went on to explore a similar theme in The Music Makers of 1912. The unfocussed and at times obscure philosophical message of these ethical deliberations left audiences unmoved and, after the performance of Beyond these voices there is peace at Worcester in 1908, caused Parry to reconsider the best means of enunciating his artistic ideals. In his later choral works he wisely returned to the poetry of established authors, setting Dunbar's Ode on the Nativity (1912) and Bridges' naval ode The Chivalry of the Sea (1916), an achievement crowned by the supremely eloquent and poignantly valedictory Songs of Farewell (1914–15), a group of six motets which represent the summit of British a cappella music.
Thanks largely to the initiatives of the Philharmonic Society, Parry also turned his attention to orchestral composition. Between 1909 and 1910 he extensively revised his Fourth Symphony, composing a new scherzo as well as appending an ethical programme (‘Finding the Way’) to the entire work. Similar programmes, of an essentially autobiographical significance, informed his last two orchestral works, the Fifth Symphony (later renamed Symphonic Fantasia ‘1912’), written for the (by then ‘Royal’) Philharmonic Society's centenary celebrations, and his only symphonic poem, From Death to Life (1914).
2. Style and influence.
Parry's musical style is a complex aggregate reflecting his assimilation of indigenous as well as continental traditions. Trained in the organ loft during his schooldays and educated through the degree system of the ancient universities, he had imbibed fully the aesthetics of Anglican church music and the oratorio-centred repertory of the provincial music festivals by the age of 18. His early works, sacred and secular, betray the influences of Sterndale Bennett, Stainer and, most of all, Mendelssohn, whose stylistic paradigms are clearly emulated in his Oxford exercise ‘O Lord, Thou hast cast us out’ (1866). His study with Pierson, however, disabused him of Mendelssohn and the years spent working with Dannreuther during the 1870s were crucial in awakening him to the music of Brahms and Wagner. Both these composers exerted a powerful influence on the development of his technique. The chamber works written between 1876 and 1890 exhibit a thorough understanding of Brahmsian generative procedures, the Piano Quartet in A and the Piano Trio in B minor (no.2) being particularly fine examples. Other influences, notably those of Schumann and Liszt, are also evident in the more experimental Wind Nonet (1877) and Fantasie Sonata in one movement for violin and piano (1878), which show an interest in melodic transformation and cyclic design. An especially intriguing instance of the Liszt–Brahms fusion can be seen in the Piano Concerto in F (1878–80), in its arresting tonal events, inventive structures and, perhaps most remarkably, in the lengthy virtuoso cadenza at the end of the finale.
Cyclic treatment remained an important component of Parry's orchestral music, but in these larger works his more mature lyrical style, infused with a diatonicism gleaned from his English heritage and allied with the Romantic sonority of larger orchestral forces, begins to take centre stage. The rhapsodic First Symphony (1880–82) and the melodically fertile Second (1882–3) have a confidence and energy which are consolidated in the shorter, more overtly Classical Third Symphony, the first version of the Fourth Symphony (both performed in 1889) and in the motivically discursive Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy (1893). Parry once again shows a predilection for original structural thinking, be it in the illusion of four symphonic movements in his Symphonic Variations (1897) or the deft manipulation of sonata principles in the Elegy for Brahms (1897), a work unperformed during his lifetime but which Stanford exhumed and conducted at the RCM memorial concert for Parry in November 1918. This inclination for formal intricacy continued in the considerably revised and expanded Fourth Symphony (1909–10), and, above all, in the cyclic involution and structural compression of the Symphonic Fantasia ‘1912’, arguably his masterpiece.
The influence of Wagner is conspicuous in both the Concertstück for orchestra (1877) and the overture Guillem de Cabestanh (1878), but it was altogether more prominent in his first major choral commission, Scenes from Prometheus Unbound (1880), a work hailed by some as the beginning of the so-called English Musical Renaissance. The opening prelude and scenes in Part 2 for Jupiter and The Spirit of the Hour, in revealing a clear debt to Tristan und Isolde and the Ring, had a powerful sense of contemporaneity which struck a note of modernism in the ears of English audiences. In fact, while Prometheus displays a certain étincelle électrique (as described by Prosper Sainton: ‘Charles Harford Lloyd’, MT, xl, 1899, p.373), it bears all the symptoms of immaturity and inchoateness, and its most ‘modern’ traits are precisely those which Parry later chose to jettison. In Blest Pair of Sirens his earlier Wagnerian enthusiasms are more completely digested (as in the paraphrase of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the introduction) within a muscular language of greater diatonic dissonance, a stylistic attribute linking him with his English predecessors such as Stainer, S.S. Wesley, Ouseley and Walmisley. This diatonic tendency remained a pronounced feature of Parry's music and was used to great effect, be it lyrically in L'Allegro, the Invocation to Music and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, grandiosely in the Te Deum (1873), the coronation anthem I was glad and the Ode to Music, or polyphonically in De profundis (a tour de force for 12-part chorus), the Ode on the Nativity and the Songs of Farewell.
Parry also showed a flair for miniature forms. His 12 volumes of English Lyrics were undoubtedly an important vernacular precedent to the outpouring of songs by the next generation, particularly those setting Shakespeare. In contrast to the Elizabethan lyrics of the earlier volumes, he evidently felt an increasing empathy with contemporary poetry, which he used more frequently in later songs (the ninth set is devoted entirely to the poems of Mary Coleridge). The quality of these settings is variable but a number, among them Through the Ivory Gate (set iii), A Welsh Lullaby (set v) and From a City Window (set x), are especially fine. Other small-scale compositions – the 12 Short Pieces (1894) for violin and piano, the Shulbrede Tunes for piano, the late chorale preludes and fantasias for organ and some of the partsongs – show a high level of imagination and craftsmanship, but none perhaps more so than the elastic phraseology of the choral song Jerusalem, an immutable favourite with the English public.
Another important facet of Parry's creative energies was his contribution to musical scholarship. At Oxford he was deeply impressed by Ruskin's morality of art, to which he held a lifelong allegiance. In maintaining an interest in philosophy, the arts, social sciences and politics after leaving university, he was also drawn into the tide of evolutionist thought, particularly through the ‘social Darwinism’ of Herbert Spencer. This profoundly influenced his approach to the study of musical history, in which he believed that the principles of man's evolutionary past, as seen biologically, intellectually and socially, were, according to the natural laws of the universe, reflected in the growth and change in music. This stance in itself transformed the role of the music critic and historian into one analogous with the scientist. Parry remained a fervent exponent of musical evolutionism, espousing tenets of ethnocentrism (in which German music was venerated above that of other European nations), the importance of tradition and training, and the balance between expression and design. Such standpoints recur with conviction in his many articles, lectures and books, notably The Art of Music (1893, significantly renamed The Evolution of the Art of Music in later editions) and Style in Musical Art (1911), a compilation of his Oxford lectures. Moreover, at the end of his life Parry continued to pursue an essentially Darwinist philosophy outside music in his unpublished Instinct and Character, a somewhat overamplified but nevertheless valuable summation of his moral aesthetic.
Parry's personality, as with many Victorians, embraced many apparent contradictions. One side of it reveals the idealist, the radical and even, perhaps, the political rebel (as a supporter of Gladstonian liberalism). And yet, as an establishment figure, he was also an ardent advocate of tradition, nervous of artistic extremes and therefore seemingly conservative and restrained. He was drawn towards hedonism (as is clear from The Lotos-Eaters) but this is consciously balanced by a puritanical zeal. As if to compound these apparent paradoxes, he was deeply religious but nevertheless developed a pathological loathing for organized religion. His musical style and sensibility, capable of passionate yearning and affecting melancholy, is also imbued with a natural reserve, a tempered respect for technique and a propensity for moderation. These attributes, combined with a profound sense of the composer's obligation to society, was his legacy to a younger generation of composers and admirers, among them Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells, Bliss and, most notably, Finzi.
Finzi, Gerald (Raphael)
(b London, 14 July 1901; d Oxford, 27 Sept 1956). English composer. The son of a shipbroker, he was educated privately, and studied music with Ernest Farrar (1915–16) then, when Farrar joined the army, with Edward Bairstow at York (1917–22). Finzi’s shock when Farrar was killed in France, following his own father’s death when he was eight, and that of his three elder brothers, confirmed his introspective bent, his recourse to literature, and the sense of urgency in his dedication to music. In 1922, drawn to the countryside of Elgar, Gurney and Vaughan Williams, he moved to Painswick in Gloucestershire, working (as in a deeper sense he always did) in isolation. On advice from Boult he took a course in counterpoint from R.O. Morris in 1925, then settled in London, moving for the first time in a circle of young musicians which included Arthur Bliss, Howard Ferguson, Robin Milford and Edmund Rubbra, meeting Holst and Vaughan Williams, and avidly going to concerts, exhibitions and the theatre. From 1930 to 1933 he taught at the RAM. Some of his freshest, most individual music was written at this time, as well as some weaker pieces: he later withdrew the Severn Rhapsody (Carnegie Award), a Violin Concerto conducted (1928) by Vaughan Williams and some songs. (His habit of revising compositions years later makes dating them problematic).
In 1933 Finzi married Joyce Black (1907–91), herself an artist, whose liberating warmth and practical efficiency eased his way; in 1935 they retired to Aldbourne in Wiltshire. Acutely aware of life’s transience, Finzi had always a need to consolidate, collect and cultivate. In 1937 the Finzis found a 16-acre site on the Hampshire hills at Ashmansworth, and built a house designed to work in. Living frugally by worldly standards, there he composed, assembled a library and an orchard of rare apple trees, took such adjudicating, examining and committee work as came his way, and gave hospitality to friends drawn by his zest and sense of endeavour. His first published Hardy sets of songs attracted quiet admiration. More positive recognition was due when Dies natalis was to be performed at the 1939 Three Choirs Festival; war caused the festival to be cancelled, and the first performance took place modestly at the Wigmore Hall on 26 January 1940.
For all his carefully created environment, Finzi was politically alert, and, though he was an agnostic, his parents were Jewish (his father’s forebears moved to England from Italy in the mid-18th century). By instinct and reason he was a pacifist, with a distrust of dogmas and creeds (an attitude that drew him to Hardy, as did his preoccupation with time, its changes, chances and continuities). His reluctant admission of the necessity for the 1939–45 war deepened his conviction that the creative artist is the prime representative of a civilization. In December 1940 he founded the Newbury String Players, a mainly amateur group which performed in local churches, schools and village halls, and kept the group going when he worked in London at the Ministry of War Transport from 1941 to 1945, and afterwards (when he died, his son Christopher took them over). Finzi was not a fluent pianist, and never a singer. This orchestra became his instrument; through it he gave many a hearing to young performers and composers, and fiercely involved himself in reviving 18th-century English works, his scholarly and practical research resulting in published editions. He also collected and catalogued Parry’s scattered autograph manuscripts. He worked selflessly, too, for Ivor Gurney (they never met), being a force behind the Music & Letters Gurney issue in 1938 and the publication of his songs and poems.
The first performance of Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality at the 1950 Three Choirs Festival brought discussion about whether Wordsworth’s ode was suitable for musical setting, a controversy bound to pursue a composer who had also chosen texts from Traherne and Milton. Finzi’s principle was that no words were too fine or too familiar to be inherently unsettable by a composer who wished to identify himself with their substance. He developed and formulated his ideas in the Crees lectures, a knowledgeable, stimulating and on occasion provocative survey of the history and aesthetics of English song.
In 1951 Finzi learnt that he was suffering from Hodgkin’s Disease, and had at most ten years to live. He kept the knowledge within his family, and, between treatments, simply continued to work. During the 1956 Gloucester Festival he took Vaughan Williams up to nearby Chosen Hill church, where as a young man he had heard the New Year rung in (those bells peal through the exquisite In terra pax). The sexton’s children had chickenpox, which Finzi caught; weakened by his disease, he suffered brain inflammation and died. In 1965 his library of music from about 1740 to 1780, considered the finest of its period assembled privately in England at that time, went to St Andrews University, Fife. His library of English literature, his sustenance and inspiration, is housed in the Finzi Book Room at Reading University Library. The Finzi Trust, formed in 1969, promotes recordings, concerts, festivals and publications of the music of Finzi and other English composers.
Finzi unerringly found the live centre of his vocal texts, fusing vital declamation with a lyrical impulse in supple, poised lines. He was little concerned with word-painting, and his songs are virtually syllabic (in contrast with Britten’s and Tippett’s). Hardy’s tricky, sometimes intractable verse released his creativity, and his settings range from the loving Her Temple through the Wolfian bite of I look into my glass, and the distanced serenity of At a Lunar Eclipse to the dramatic Channel Firing. Few of his songs are plainly strophic; many are cast in an arioso style which can be colloquial or intense. Some, apparently improvisational, reveal a firm underlying structure. Finzi’s sense of tonality and form was idiosyncratic. The accompaniments, not obviously pianistic, work excellently with the voice; often they are formed from the kind of close imitative texture much used in his shorter orchestral pieces. Some of his movements, meticulous in detail, are less sure in overall grasp, and his limited idiom and the regularity of his harmonic pace can become monotonous. These drawbacks are balanced in the Clarinet Concerto by the fertility and gaiety of the thematic invention, and in the Cello Concerto by a deeper passion – the turbulence of its first movement suggests a line of development cut short by his death.
Melodically and harmonically Finzi owed something to Elgar and Vaughan Williams; as well as occasional flashes of Bliss and Walton, Finzi’s love and knowledge of Parry can be discerned. To none of these composers was he in debt for the finesse of his response to the English language and imagery, or for his vision of a world unsullied by sophistication or nostalgia. The adult’s sense of loss at his exclusion from this Eden inspires some of Finzi’s strongest sustained passages, from the melancholy grandeur that informs Intimations to the brooding power of Lo, the full, final sacrifice. Personal, too, is what he drew from Bach: in the Grand Fantasia the duality sets up a challenging tension, and in the aria movements from Farewell to Arms and Dies natalis the rare marriage of disciplined contrapuntal accompaniment and winged voice is logical and ecstatic. Dies natalis, a song cycle shaped like a Bach cantata to verse and poetic prose by Traherne, is a minor masterpiece of English music.