Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Finished my first song

‘Founder’s Day. Practised the organ after 10. In the middle of my practice St. Mark’s choir appeared to practise the hymn and chants for this morning; and consequently, to my disgust, turned me out. Wrote music all after 6. Finished my first song, “Fair is my love.” ’ This is the British composer and musical historian Hubert Parry writing in his diary when still an Eton schoolboy aged but 16. Parry, born 170 years ago today, kept a diary throughout his life, but the only published extracts are a selection that appeared in the Eton College magazine, and a few that have been quoted by biographers.

Parry was born on 27 February 1848 in Bournemouth on the south coast of England, but his mother died of consumption 12 days later. He grew up with two siblings (Clinton and Lucy) at the country estate, Highnam Court, Gloucestershire, purchased by his father, Thomas, with inherited money. Thomas subsequently remarried and had six more children. Hubert’s musical ability was first encouraged at preparatory schools, and then, after he had started at Eton, by George Elvey, organist at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. While still at Eton he passed the Oxford Bachelor of Music examination, and was the youngest person ever to have done so. He read law and modern history at Exeter College, Oxford, so as to comply with his father’s wishes of entering a commercial career.

In 1870, Parry took up a position at Lloyds as an underwriter, though continued his musical studies (specifically with the pianist Edward Dannreuther) and composing along side the day job. In 1872, he married Elizabeth Maude Herbert, and they had two daughters. From 1875, he began contributing articles for George Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (the first volume of which was published in 1879). Parry gave up commercial work in 1877, and his first major musical works - including a piano concerto and Scenes from Prometheus Unbound - appeared in 1880. Within a few years, he became well established as a composer (with, for example, his ode Blest Pair of Sirens and choral works and oratorios Judith and Job) and was increasingly seen as a musical scholar, influential in the revival of English music.

Parry was appointed festival conductor for the University of Oxford in 1883, and he joined the staff of the Royal College of Music, London, becoming its director in 1894. During his term as head, the college’s pupils included Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and Frank Bridge. Following the death of Parry’s stepmother in 1896, he succeeded to the family estate at Highnam. He was knighted in 1898 and created a baronet in 1903. From 1900 to 1908, he professor of music at Oxford, after which time he produced some of his best known works, such as Symphonic Fantasia 1912 and the Songs of Farewell. His best known piece is Jerusalem, a setting of William Blake’s poem And did those feet in ancient time, composed in 1916. He died of Spanish flu in 1918, and was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. A little further information is available at Wikipedia, Classical Net, or Naxos, but there doesn’t appear to be any website, official or otherwise, dedicated to Parry and/or his work.

Parry started keeping a diary in his mid-teens, while still at Eton, and appears to have continued the habit throughout his life. A selection of his Eton diaries were published in the 1940s in three different editions of the Eton magazine, Etoniana, all of which can be read online thanks to the Eton College website (issues 103, 104, 105). Although the diaries have never been edited or published in their own right, they have been used extensively by biographers. Jeremy Dibble, professor of musicology at Durham University, includes many extracts from Parry’s diaries in his biography - C. Hubert H. Parry: His Life and Music, as does Michael Allis in Parry’s Creative Process (but currently neither of these can be previewed at Googlebooks). However King Arthur in Music, edited by Richard Barber, includes a chapter on Parry by Dibble, is viewable at Googlebooks and does also quote many diary extracts.

The following extracts - 
dated 1864-1865 - from Parry’s diary have been taken from Etoniana, and the rest - dated 1873-1892 - are extracted from the narrative of Dibble’s biography C. Hubert H. Parry: His Life and Music. The very first quotation (1851), however, is one found at the opening of Dibble’s book and is a poignant quote from the diary of Thomas Parry, Hubert’s father, written on Hubert’s third birthday.

27 February 1851
‘The next morning I went by Railroad to Bournemouth, which I reached at about half past five. This is my little Hubert’s Birthday - this day three years ago he was born in this place. This is a sweet place. There is a wild nature about the surrounding heathy plains studded here and there with dark groves of pinasters, which is quite different to anything I know in England. The high cliffs commanding an immensely wide seaview and not bare and barren. As the evening grew dusky I wandered out upon the open heath above the house where I last looked upon the beloved form of my incomparable Isabel. It was a beautiful evening, warm as June and bright with stars. Long and deep were the prayers I made on that wide open heath for my three children and myself. I called all to my recollection since that too happy day, just at this period of the year in 1839, (12 years ago) when I first made the acquaintance with my loved and now lost wife. How miserably ungrateful man’s blindness and infirmities make him! - me in particular.’

10 July 1864
‘In chapel in the afternoon, we had Mendelssohn’s “My God, my God,” which is peculiar, and very mournful. I couldn’t hear much because Mitchell quite spoilt it by playing loud, and I was quite close to the organ. I went to St. George’s afterwards. They had Luther’s hymn and Nares in F. I never heard Luther’s hymn so done before, it was quite tremendous, and if they hadn’t rather drowned the voices, it would have been magnificent.’

25 July 1864
‘I wrote out a part of a new air of mine which (I can’t conceive why) everybody here seems to have taken a fancy to.’

22 September 1864
‘I travelled up to London in pleasant company and had a smoke by the way, and got to Windsor without accident at about 5.30. I proceeded to order my piano and some music paper, etc., and now here I am sitting in my old room again; at the beginning of another half, having seen old friends, and old faces.’

27 October 1864
‘I played in the match First Six v. house in which we, the house, got well smacked in the most disgraceful way by the most abominable cheating mostly. All the six but Sturges, Thompson and Hamilton got in a most preposterous rage, and swore and shinned and Ady ma. sulked and played the football well, but the fool better, and made an ass of himself altogether.’

7 November 1864
‘After 4 I tried to get an hour for composing, but first a piano began opposite, and then a fellow came to clean my windows, and so I was also cleaned out of ideas for music, and all hopes of writing any to-day.’

8 November 1864
‘While I was sitting at dinner George suddenly told me that “Mr. Parry” was waiting to see me in my room. I went up and to my surprise and delight found Clin. [his brother] there, quietly smoking. We went to Balston who sent us to my tutor and I got leave till 7.30. We took a walk round the Playing Fields (after going to Brown’s and having an oyster patty apiece). . . . We then went to the Organ Room, and I showed Clin the organ. We then adjourned to the “Christopher” of ancient reputation, and indulged in cigars and brandy and water. We then got over the wall, alias paling, at the back of the aforesaid building and proceeded to kick about. We then went “up ” Windsor and got sme ox-tail soup, and then at the Castle settled down to whiskey punch. He and I afterwards parted near Windsor Bridge. . . I came down to Eton and finished my verses before 8.45.’

6 December 1864
‘Founder’s Day. Practised the organ after 10. In the middle of my practice St. Mark’s choir appeared to practise the hymn and chants for this morning; and consequently, to my disgust, turned me out. Wrote music all after 6. Finished my first song, “Fair is my love.” ’

11 February 1865
‘We had a most extraordinary exhibition in the music line in Chapel this afternoon I ever heard) in my life. First in the Psalms old Mitchell began wandering about on the keys, as if he had lost his place, and played1 thei chant wrong all the way through. Then when the Magnificat began it seemed as if he was gone quite mad. He began to play seemingly just whatever came into his head. The choir began to sing snatches of the Magnificat at intervals, trying to make out what he was doing; this went on in the most hopeful manner for full three minutes, till one of the choirmen (Adams) went and stopped him, and made him play a chant. The whole chapel was convulsed, it was useless to try and prevent it.’

11 November 1873
‘He [Edward Dannreuther] is a decided Radical in music, and goes in for the most advanced style and the most liberal interpretation of the old style. He teaches the pianoforte in a thoroughly radical way and dispenses with all the old dogmas of playing with the intention of obtaining the finest effect by any means. He goes to work thoroughly and has set me to work at Tausig’s hideous mechanical exercises, and one sonata to work at at a time. If the former don’t drive me mad or kill me, I should think he will do me a wonderful lot of good.’

December 1873
‘She [Lady Herbert] makes enough fuss about religion and goes to church enough to do for a dozen people . . . For my part I think a man more likely to have a really high moral standard and to be less tainted with the meaner vices of the age if he doesn’t go to church or make a fuss about his religion. However, the said High Church enthusiasts are saturated with religious sentimentalism and the theory that nothing is worth doing though even so heroic or unselfish an action if it is not done “through Jesus Christ” (whatever that may mean) that they are impregnable to the most commonplace arguments.

December 1873
‘A few days before I left London I sent Possie [his father] a statement (as short as I could make it) of my opinions, and history of them; explaining how I had come by them and reminding him that it was not of wilfulness or carelessness as he himself might know if he would. My reason for doing so was that he had often hinted to me his intention of leaving Highnam to me because Clin [his brother] had ‘thrown overboard his religion etc.’ So I told him that I had done the same, as gently as I could, in order that he might not do Clin an injustice through a false impression of me.’

13 January 1876
I wrote to her Ladyship the same day. And never was her singular character more clearly displayed. Instead of being pleased at Maudie’s being safe, she was miserable on receiving the news. Mary said she turned quite pale and then burst into tears. She wrote to me and said she was horribly mortified at not having been present. Not because she loves Maudie or to sympathize with her, but because she loves the excitement of it, and delights in retailing the horrors with unlimited exaggeration to everyone she meets . . . Mary said that when my letter arrived she read it out (ostensibly) to them at breakfast. . . She was furious with me and with Dr Black for not sending for her immediately, though Maudie had told her long ago that it would kill her to have her in the room during her confinement . . . The many other exasperating things which she did would fill volumes if they were set down. And through them all alike runs a vein of blind egotism. I never saw so clearly before how every action she does, even her great charities and her profuse generosity, is prompted by the lowest vanity and egotism. She seems to me utterly without heart or sympathy, or truthfulness and honesty. A creature whom only the customs of society, which she worships as her real God, keeps from any conceivable enormity.’

6 September 1881
‘She is the most extreme anti-Wagnerite I have yet come across. Every touch of him she feels with equal aversion; she is contemptuous both of his poetry, charm and music. We played the Brahms variations on the Schumann theme in E flat and when we got to the last one she said ‘I can’t bear this; it’s like Wagner’. ‘There, that ninth, it’s Lohengrin. I have got to detest the very sound of a ninth from him.’ After she said ‘It is impossible for anyone to like Brahms and Wagner.’ I demurred. She answered ‘Well Amateurs of course are different, but no professed musician can possibly accept the two. No man can serve two masters. They are so utterly opposed in harmonic principles, it’s not possible.’

8 June 1886
‘Hueffer’s libretto is unsurpassably bad. Structures all obviously borrowed from Tannhauser, Tristan or Flying Dutchman and invariably spoilt. The development of the plot depends on grimaces and unintelligible actions and drags fearfully and comes to no climaxes anywhere. There is no action in the first and 2nd acts, the latter of which simply comes to a stop when the curtain comes down . . . By the end of the performance, half the stalls were empty. There is some fine and effective scoring and some fine music here and there, but the general impression to me was hollow and rather meretricious . . . It seemed a complete failure, but as the book is Hueffer’s, the press will doubtless push it through and make the public think they ought to like it.’

13 August 1892
‘I went all over it again and revived the memories of that delightful time when Maude and I were there alone, many years ago. A time I like to look back to almost more than any in my life. It was so peaceful and happily contented. It’s funny though how I had forgotten the house and the lie of some of the rooms. But the garden - every inch of it - was perfectly familiar.’

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