Monday, 9 May 2011

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry on English Song

A short piece written as a part of Parry’s Summary of the History and Development of Mediaeval and Modern European Music. It was written before the explosion of English art –song which was in many ways led by Parry himself – with Stanford and Vaughan Williams. The names of Hatton and Clay have been long forgotten.

‘In this country song-writing reached, in the past generation, a pitch of degradation which is probably without inartistic parallel in all musical history. Mercantile considerations and the shallowness of average drawing-room taste produced a luxuriant crop of specimens of imbecility in which the sickly sentiment was not less conspicuous than the total ignorance of the most elementary principles of grammar and artistic construction, and of the relation of musical accent to poetical declamation. In those days the songs of Hatton (1809-1886), and of Sterndale Bennett, and the early songs of Sullivan and those of F. Clay (1840-1889), were honourably conspicuous for real artistic quality and genuine song impulse. Fortunately the lowest point appears to have been reached, and though there are a good many representatives of the old school still active, the present day is represented by mature masters of their craft who can write real genuine songs ; such as Mackenzie, Stanford, Cowen, and Maude Valerie White, besides a few young composers, such as MacCunn and Somervell, who produce songs as genuine and as beautiful as are to be found anywhere in Europe. The impulse is certainly going in the right direction, and if the public can be persuaded not to insist so exclusively upon songs being either vulgar or trivial and vapid, the future of English song will undoubtedly be such as the nation may be proud of.’

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry: Summary of the History and Development of Mediaeval and Modern European Music (London, 1893, 1904)

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