Friday, 2 October 2009

Parry & Stanford: A Brief Note by Helen Henschel

I came across this rather interesting note about Parry and Stanford by Helen Henschel. It is a book that has many interesting anecdotes and notes that deserve recording. Helen Henschel (1882-1973) was a singer, pianist and author. Her father was the well known conductor and composer Sir George Henschel who had died in 1934. His daughter was to write his biography. Interestingly both father and daughter used to give song recitals where they accompanied themselves at the piano. The story of Helen’s life was told in her book, When Soft Voices Die: A Musical Biography.

A more ideal Director than Sir Hubert Parry could hardly be imagined: In her fascinating book Without Knowing Mr. Walkley, Miss Edith Olivier [1] describes Parry as a "whirlwind of genius." It was' the whirlwind 'side of him that would blow him suddenly round the corner from his, office at College, to catch you by the ankle as you were running upstairs, while he asked you with mock ferocity where you were going and how dare you, anyway? And the genius, apart from its musical manifestations, lay in the balance he kept between boyish friendliness and the dignity essential to his position as Director. Parry was a big man in every sense of the word; a big man and a great gentleman.
Dr. Villiers Stanford, professor of composition at the College can rightly be called the spiritual father of practically' all our best contemporary English composers. In considering the brilliance of his pupils, one is apt to forget what lovely music he wrote himself. Not only the songs, so inextricably associated with their ideal exponent, Harry Plunket Greene, but no less than six symphonies [2], of which the Irish is the most widely known, some delightful operas, and an oratorio, Eden. My father sang the part of Satan when this oratorio was produced in Birmingham in 1921. To musicians, the names of Parry and Stanford are usually coupled together in the mind, probably because they appeared side by side in a musical firmament which for many years had been devoid of bright stars. This is largely true, also, of their bodily appearance at College.
In a topical revue of the time, they might easily have been depicted as "Parryanstanford"-a sort of Siamese twin, like “Williamanmary" in the revue 1066 And All That. Though it would have been difficult for these two to have kept their equilibrium in the part; because, as against Parry's speed and rush, Stanford moved very slowly with an odd and most charac­teristic walk, of short, shuffling steps, the feet turned out almost at right angles. I never saw him hurry.

Henschel, Helen, When Soft Voices Die: A Musical Biography (John Westhouse (Publishers) Limited 1944) p.110

[1] Olivier, Edith, 1879-1948, an author who specialised in books set in Wiltshire

[2] Of course, Stanford wrote seven symphonies!

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