Great Composers: Hubert Parry

Great Composers: Hubert Parry



he was the only composer ever elected to the Royal Yacht Squadron yes there is a Royal Yacht Squadron and yes it is the most British thing I've heard in a very long time I'm the classical nerd and today we're talking about Sir Hubert Perry Hubert Perry was born in February 1848 into a well-to-do English family his father was a painter in fact he had invented a process by which frescoes could be painted and was also an immature pianist and hornist his mother however died less than two weeks after giving birth to him and she died from tuberculosis which meant that she went through childbirth hacking up along and survived at least for a little while afterwards he bridged along with his brother and sister were always at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole in relation to their step siblings despite the family's overall musicality as his brother picked up the cello music was not really seen as a profession it was seen more as a hobby but while at prep school Perry first became entranced with the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach and was first exposed to the Great British choral tradition family trouble loomed and Hubert's budding musical interest were the least of his disapproving father's concerns his brother was thrice kicked out of Oxford for his opium addiction and the subsequent laziness that that entailed and his sister also died of tuberculosis as his mother had he soon decided that he was not going to suffer the same fate as either of his siblings at this point Perry was at Eton College but Eton really didn't have a music program to speak of so he had to take lessons in the nearby town of Windsor at this point in history England was known as the land without music which is not entirely fair they did have music the problem is they didn't have any composers of international renown since the death of Henry Purcell and he died in the late 1600s Perry's training was rigorous in the compositional basics which was really good for him and he decided that he would do what his brother couldn't and get into Oxford and then actually graduate cuz I mean his brother dig it in he just got kicked out because of his opium addiction don't do drugs kids his compositional chops grew and his early exposure to choral music was a really big asset he did end up making it into Oxford but he went along with his father's wishes and didn't actually study music there he studied law instead which his father believed made for a more seemly and suitable career but nothing could take Perry's mind off of music and to even the studied abroad in Stuttgart for a while slowly expanding the modernity of his influences for a long time he was a big fan of Schumann and Brahms but during this period he was first exposed to the works of record vlog nur not being German himself he didn't feel pressured to come down on one side or the other of the great Brahms versus vogner debates he was free to pull from both influences in the way that he wanted to he did Slough lead a double life as far as career was concerned in order to keep his father from going ballistic he had to work at Lloyds of London well he didn't like it the steady and non-musical job he held also helped his romantic prospects as he married in 1872 into a family of the lower nobility eventually as he continued writing music he was able to move squarely into the profession of professional composer big shoes to fill but not quite as big as they may have been in other countries there was competition just not as much of it he got his doctorate at Cambridge in 1883 and began teaching at Oxford in the following year his break came fast as his choral music was noticed by Charles Villiers Stanford one of the most prominent composers and composition professors living and working in England at the time it didn't take long before Perry was the choral composer to go to which he didn't actually like all that much he didn't like just churning out oratorio after oratorio yet it seemed like every commission he got was for some oratorio his lack of enthusiasm for the genre was evident to some contemporary critics and the composer Frederick Delius was amazed that someone so rich could ever think that he could write so convincingly about the book of Job his reputation is still primarily in choral music although his purely instrumental music is no less impressive an output so why did Perry not like the oratorio while in addition to the continual Commission's he got for them something that would wear it down on even the most enthusiastic of oratorio composers the oratorio was also a religiously inspired genre it was invented in the mid 1600s when the Opera houses were closed during the season of Lent but they wanted to put on productions anyway so they invented the oratorio which was an unstaged opera which was based on biblical themes and Perry was never super religious in fact his last Quirrell pieces are intended to secularize the oratorio one of the first attempts to do so he called these six pieces his ethical cantatas and they never really made it into the repertoire although he was a little bit ahead of his time after his death and into the 20th century there were some secular oratorios more and more of them but these were never really a large part of the oratorio genre most oratorios even nowadays are religiously inspired or at the very least spiritual if not drawing from an actual biblical source because of all the oratorios he wrote Perry's name is ascribed to several popular hymn tunes which were drawn from either these or some of his later compositions in the last half decade of the 19th century Perry took over as the director of the Royal College of Music critics will point to this as a mistake on his part because it took five years off of his compositional career it took so much time just running in the day-to-day administrative duties that he had almost no time to write his own pieces and this was at the height of his powers he only fully retired from his teaching duties in 1908 when the doctors told him that it would be best for his health and specifically they told him that he needed to recuperate in Sicily and who's gonna say no to that in 1918 when one of the worst flu pandemics ripped the world perry was one of the over 500 million worldwide affected as it turns out swine flu was just too much for his 70 year old frame to handle and he died in October of that year he was for all of his wealth profoundly anti conservative and his sympathies lay with the early women's suffrage and feminist movements he held optimistic if not outright utopian views on European peace which were shattered when World War one raged sweeping up many of his most promising students into its fire and fury this was specifically troubling for him because he was such an admirer of the Germanic tradition specifically the Germans symphonic tradition and he modeled his live symphonies on Germanic models but it's not fair to call his symphonic output merely a Germanic ripoff they have the seeds of what would become a full-fledged British symphonic tradition to be found in the composers of the next generation he wrote chamber music but he was never known for it as much as he was for his larger skill works and it doesn't help that a large portion of his chamber output was published well after his death there seems to have been a general lack of interest in Parry chamber music in his lifetime interestingly for all of his choral works and all of his songs there is only one opera in his entire collected work parry was not only considered one of the greatest English composers since Henry Purcell but was also at the inception of two pillars of the musical world the Royal College of Music and the Grove dictionary of music and musicians he contributed over a hundred articles to the first edition of the Grove dictionary cementing his place as a musicologist in addition to his work as a composition professor and a composer though detractors thought that the term English musical Renaissance was a showy term from an insulated group of composers who liked and promoted each other's works a group that included Perry and Stanford and a few others it is true that without them and without Perry Circle you don't have composers like the Gustav Holst's of the world you don't have the refun Williams of the world you don't have the Frank bridges of the world he and his compatriots clearly had a hand in bringing British musical culture back and making the land without music a thing of the past he's at the stage for composers to continue to exemplify Britain through music and his music has a distinct Englishness about it host was glad that Perry wasn't scary to talk to perhaps availed a reference to Stanford and has notoriously terrifying lessons perry also helped fund an experimental radium based treatment for his student Herbert Howells who was suffering from the then incurable thyroid condition known as Graves disease this treatment works and he ended up living a very long life Vaughn williams praised perry for his impartiality as a professor as he had the ability to push aside his own beliefs and convictions when judging the work of another even though his modern reputation rests on just a small number of pieces without him this pivotal moment in British musical history would be very different [Applause] you

8 Comments

  • Vu Tran Dung says:

    Can you do a video of Wilhelm Furtwangler ? He's not just a great composer but also one of-if not- considered the greatest conductor of all time .

  • Sean Ramsdell says:

    Request: Leontyne Price

  • Thom Gandet says:

    This video on Parry is the first of yours I've watched. One of his choral works, "Jerusalem", is one of the two unofficial national anthems of England, which is all I knew of him until now. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

  • Christian Cortes says:

    I know I have asked many times before, but please do Bizet!

  • Rimland says:

    Have there been any suggestions for Anton Bruckner? I find his works to be influential in the Romantic era, but I seldom see him mentioned.

  • Alex Brockwell says:

    I know you ought to have a long list by now, but I've never seen a request for David Maslanka on here before. He wrote some really great music for Wind Ensemble, especially his 4th symphony, and he passed away last august. Keep up the great work!

  • pseudo scumbag says:

    And as as Irishman myself I would love for a video of John Field, a fellow Irishman

  • pseudo scumbag says:

    Your videos brighten up my day and are the highlight of my week, I find out about so many obscure composers through you and Hubert's story is extremely interesting and SUPER upper class british to be honest 😂😂 thanks Thomas, brilliant video as always 👍

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