Monday, September 15, 2008

Horatio W. Parker

Horatio William Parker (born September 15, 1863) was a church musician, composer, conductor, and college professor well known in his own time. But like many others I've written about, his fame has not lasted into the present. He spent three years of his musical education in Munich, studying with Josef Rheinberger. He became organist at Trinity Church, Boston in 1893, around the time be was working on a new musical edition of the 1892 Episcopal hymnal (there were eventually to be five different versions with the same hymns, but often different tunes). He later served on the committee that produced the Hymnal of 1916.

He composed chamber and symphonic works , as well as service music, anthems, oratorios and operas. The Easter anthem Light's glittering morn is still sung in many churches. Parker's Mona was the winner of a competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera, for which he received $10,000 and the work received four performances. The oratorio Hora Novissima was widely performed in the US and even occasionally in Europe (where they tended to look down on American classical music).

In his later years, until his death in 1919, he was dean of the music department at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, while still holding an organist position in New York City. His most famous Yale pupils were Charles Ives and Roger Sessions, who rejected Parker's conservatism in their own compositions.

This hymn (with its Parker tune and seventeenth-century text) is not really one that anyone would choose to put into a modern-day hymnal. Maybe next year we will hear one of his more serviceable tunes (he wrote more than a dozen), but this (one of his earliest) is a sentimental favorite of mine.

O ’twas a joyful sound to hear
Our tribes devoutly say,
Up, Israel! to the temple haste,
And keep your festal day.
At Salem’s courts we must appear,
With our assembled powers,
In calm and beauteous order ranged,
Like her united towers.

O ever pray for Salem’s peace;
For they shall prosperous be,
Thou holy city of our God,
Who bear true love to thee.
May peace within thy sacred walls
A constant guest be found;
With plenty and prosperity
Thy palaces be crowned.

For my dear kindred’s sake, and friends
No less than kindred dear,
I’ll pray: May peace in Salem’s towers
A constant guest appear.
But most of all I’ll seek thy good,
And ever wish thee well,
For Zion and the temple’s sake,
Where God vouchsafes to dwell.

Nahum Tate & Nicholas Brady, 1698
Horatio Parker, 1886

Very much of its time, and that time has passed, but I think a few people out there will be singing along. I still remember my friend Jeff breaking into laughter as we sang this, having misread part of the first verse as "beauteous or deranged." But anyway.

The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 122, from A New Version of the Psalms of David in Metre, published in 1698 by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. Their psalms were sung in many different churches for more than two centuries. There's another verse of this one (originally the second) which is even more obscure:

'Tis thither, by divine command
The tribes of God repair,
Before the ark to celebrate
God's name in praise and prayer.
Tribunals stand erected there;
Where equity takes place;
There stand the courts and palaces
Of royal David's race.

The hymn, put into verse, comes out even longer than the psalm.

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