Friday, February 27, 2009

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry

Today is the birthday of English composer Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (C.H.H., as his music was generally attributed, and apparently Hubert to his friends). Born in 1848, his interest in music was cultivated was first cultivated during his years at Oxford. However, he studied outside the college curriculum, with composer George Elvey, organist at St. George's Chapel. His first compositions were for Elvey's choir.

From Oxford, where he officially studied law and modern history, he became an insurance underwriter for Lloyds of London. He continued to study music on the side, and finally in 1880 his first major compositions appeared, a piano concerto and choral scenes from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. He contributed articles to the original Grove Dictionary of Music, and in 1884 became in instructor at the Royal College of Music. Later, he returned to Oxford as a professor of music, succeeding John Stainer.

Parry composed in many forms, including symphonies and concertos, but much of his music was vocal (art songs) and choral (oratorios, anthems, oratorios, and hymns). His most well-known work is probably the song Jerusalem, originally written to the words of a poem by William Blake for a womens' suffrage event and later sometimes used as a hymn, particularly in England. The familiar tune has also been used for other words, such as the modern hymn text by Carl P. Daw, O day of peace, that dimly shines.

Among Parry's other hymn tunes, this one is a favorite of mine, used here with a paraphrase of Psalm 149.

Sing praise unto God; proclaim a new song,
Amid all the saints God's praises prolong;
A song to your Maker and Ruler now raise,
All children of Zion, rejoice and give praise!

With timbrel and harp and joyful acclaim,
With gladness and mirth, we praise your great Name,
For here in your people great pleasure you seek,
With robes of salvation you cover the meek.

In glory exult, ye saints of the Lord;
With songs in the night, high praises accord;
Go forth in God's service, be strong in God's might,
To conquer oppression and stand for the right.

For this is God's Word: The saints shall not fail,
But over the earth their power shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory! Sing praises for aye!

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
C.H.H. Parry, 1894

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