Saturday, 16 May 2009

Parry's Creative Process: by Michael Allis

Recently Ashgate sent me this excellent book to review. I noted that “since the composer’s death relatively few books or monographs have appeared that explore both the man and his music. Perhaps the most important recent volume is the fine biography by Jeremy Dibble – C. Hubert H. Parry- His Life and Music (1992). This is the main reference point for anyone wishing to explore his achievement. More than ten years ago, Ashgate published Bernard Benoliel’s study Parry before Jerusalem (1997). This is part monograph and part a collection of writings by the composer. There is an interesting study of the Parry family in Anthony Boden’s The Parry’s of Golden Vale: Background to Genius (1998)
A previous generation produced two important texts- J Fuller Maitland’s short The Music of Parry and Stanford: An Essay in Comparative Criticism (1934) and finally Charles L. Graves’ somewhat hagiographical Hubert Parry (1926) in two volumes. Apart from a number of articles in the musical press, a large collection of reviews and the odd hard to obtain thesis or dissertation that is about it.
This present book fills an important gap in the biographical and musicological study of the composer. The basic premise of this scholarly, but readable, book is that Charles Hubert Hastings Parry has been done a major disservice by popular received opinion, or technically speaking, his reception history.
There are four basic ‘myths about Parry, which Allis makes it his task to ‘debunk’:-
1. George Bernard Shaw’s contention that Parry was basically a ‘conservative, out-of-touch, pedant.’
2. The predominant view in many people’s minds that Parry was simply a choral music hack
3. The suggestion that the composer was an upper class amateur who was far keener on huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’
4. The idea that Parry had a great facility in banging out musical compositions at a terrific rate, and in this profusion was largely uncritical of what he wrote.
Two key parts of this book are checklist of the composer’s sketchbooks and a reference guide to his manuscripts and diaries.
The second extremely useful chapter in this book is the 'case study' on the relatively unknown song A Birthday. The author presents the published song and then proceeds to investigate the manuscript sources for the piece. This includes some thirteen sketches and four drafts before the final result is achieved.
If anything in this book proves that Parry was not facile or cavalier as a composer, and that he subjected many of his works to a constant process of change and review, it is this chapter. It demonstrates that his ‘meticulous attention to detail and careful consideration of his text’ produced some fine settings of songs and choral music.

I concluded by suggesting that “the importance and the utility of this present book is to writers of programme notes, reviews, articles and books who will subsequently approach his life and works. It is essential reading for them. Michael Allis’s book will give these individuals two things. Firstly, a useful appraisal of the composer's working methods, so that any discussion of his music will be more informed from a technical and chronological point of view. Secondly, that a number of the myths surrounding him are finally debunked - once and for all”.

Finally, I believe that this book will serve as a useful reference tool for all musicologists, writers and enthusiasts who approach the music of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry for many years to come.

Parry’s Creative Process
by Michael Allis
Music in 19th-Century Britain Series
ISBN 978-1-84014-681-3 - £54:00

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

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