Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sir Hubert Parry: An appreciation by Ralph Vaughan Williams

I was looking through some old copies of The Music Student in the library the other day, and came across this charming appreciation of Sir Charles Hubert Hasting Parry by his erstwhile pupil Ralph Vaughan Williams. The piece needs no commentary.
I have made a few slight edits to typography etc. 

It is a great privilege to have the opportunity of paying my tribute in these pages to the memory of Sir Hubert Parry.
It was because he was a great man that Parry was a great teacher and a great composer. Many years ago it was my good fortune to be for a short time his pupil. I still often go out of my way to pass his house in Kensington Square in order to experience again the thrill with which I used to approach his door on my lesson day.
Walt Whitman says : "Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me sun­light expands my blood." Parry was one of these. You could not hear the sound of his voice or feel the touch of his hand without knowing that "virtue had gone out of him." It would not have mattered what we went to learn from him-it might have been mathe­matics or chemistry-his magic touch would have made it glow with life. Half-a-dozen of his enthusiastic, eloquent words were worth a hundred learned expositions.

Parry taught music as a part of life. Was it necessary for life that every part should form an organic whole? So it must be in music: there must be no mere filling up, every part must have its relation to the whole, so that the whole may live. Can we trace in life a process of evolution from the germ to the com­plete organism? So must we read the story of music. Is a nation given over to frivolity and insincere vulgarity? We shall surely see it
reflected in the music of that nation. There was no distinction for him between a moral and an artistic problem. To him it was morally wrong to use musical colour for its own sake, or to cover up weak material with harmonic device. This is what Parry taught, and this is what he practised; later composers have followed after strange gods: they have gathered new sounds from Germany, bizarre rhythms from Russia, and subtle harmonies from France. Into these paths Parry has not followed, not because he could not, but because he would not; he remained staunchly himself, and amidst all the outpouring of modern English music the work of Parry remains supreme.
The secret of Parry's greatness as a teacher was his broad-minded sympathy; his was not that so called broadmindedness which comes of want of conviction; his musical antipathies were very strong, and sometimes, in the opinion of those who disagreed with them, unreason­able; but in appraising a composer's work he was able to set these on one side and see beyond them. And it was in this spirit that he exam­ined the work of his pupils. A student's com­positions are seldom of any intrinsic merit, and a teacher is apt to judge them on their face-value. But Parry looked further than this; he saw what lay behind the faulty utter­ance and made it his object to clear the obstacles that prevented fullness of musical speech. His watchword was "characteristic" -that was the thing which mattered.
When other duties forced Parry to give up his pupils, the younger generations of English musicians suffered an irreparable loss. True, his influence is more widely felt now than it was then; hundreds of students have passed through the College of Music, hundreds have read his books, have heard his lectures, have sung his music-none of these but must to some extent have realised what Parry was and what he stood for; but they are the most fortunate who knew Parry in the earlier days, when The Glories of our blood and State and Blest Pair of Syrens were new, the years which saw De Pro­fundis and Job: those who came under his influence in those times it is who can realise most fully all that Parry did for English music.
Ralph Vaughan Williams The Music Student November 1918 Volume XI No.3 p.79


photahsiamirabel said...

I really appreciated this article, thank you. It landed in the RSS feed of my Vaughan Williams page on the very day I used Jerusalem on an amateur video I made for a friend. Now if that isn't strange coincidence at work, what is? My friend was doing a community arts project and the photos and video are here if you are interested. Parry also wrote Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (Repton) which has to be my all time favourite hymn! Again, many thanks.
Lisa :)

photahsiamirabel said...

Just so you know if interested I have just published my Vaughan Williams dissertation "On Wenlock Edge - 100 Years On" More details here...


:) Lisa