Friday, 28 December 2012

Hubert Parry: Mr Punch’s Sketchy Interview from 1903


I recently came across this ‘interview’ in an old copy of the venerable Punch magazine. The humour may not be what we expect some 110 years later, however there are some witty lines and a good balance between ‘fact’ and ‘fantasy.’  A broad understanding of musical allusion is required from the reader.  Parry, aged 55, was at this time the Director of the Royal College of Music. The ‘interview’ is correct in stating that he gained a Bachelor of Music whilst still at Eton – and became the youngest person to have achieved this. Between 1870 and 1877 he did indeed work as an underwriter at Lloyds of London, however the ‘tromba marina’ may be a fabrication! Much of the wit in this piece is predicated on the fact that Hubert Parry was an incorrigible adventurer – on the roads and at sea. The capitalisation is in the original text!

'AVAST there!' cried the genial Director of the Royal College of Music, playfully saluting us with a belaying pin and several marlinspikes, as we entered his sumptuous sanctum in Prince Consort Road. Sir HUBERT, it should be explained, was originally intended for the Navy, and to this day spends all his available leisure on the briny deep. But having inadvertently become a Bachelor of Music while still at Eton, it was impossible for him to be altogether wedded to the ocean wave. Proceeding from Eton to Exeter College, Oxford, he took kindly to cricket, and foreshadowed his distinction in other fields of activity by his free and easy scoring. After Oxford the naval instinct once more asserted itself, and for a short time he occupied a desk at Lloyd's, where he edited a collection of sailors' ‘chanties,’ and practised assiduously on the tromba marina.
Encouraged by the reception of these efforts, young PARRY studied composition under HERRESHOFF, KIEL, DANNREUTHER, [1] and, having submitted a masterly exercise in demonstration of the hitherto unsuspected truth that two consecutive fifths are equal to a submerged tenth, was granted his certificate as Master Mariner, and was shortly afterwards appointed musical critic to the Pilot. His deep interest in the Mercantile Marine was further evinced in the fact that perhaps his most resounding success was achieved in a cantata richly scored for a Pair of Sirens. His notorious prowess as a swimmer is fitly commemorated in his incidental music to The Frogs, while his favourite song is ‘L'esperto nocchiero.’ [2]

The readiness with which Sir HUBERT vouchsafed information on these points encouraged us to ask a few further questions. ‘Have you time,’ we asked, ‘to play any instrument nowadays?’ ‘Nary a blooming one,’ was the prompt response. Then with a swift return to the decorous diction of The Evolution of Music, [3] he added, ‘Unfortunately premature baldness rendered it absolutely impossible for me to attain distinction as a pianistic virtuoso.’ [4]
‘Is it true, Sir HUBERT,’ we timidly queried, ‘that in one of your lectures you alluded to the old Masters as 'those old buffers’?’ ‘Great César Cui,’ exploded the Director, ‘did I really now? Well, it shan't occur again. But I sometimes forget that I am a Choragus [5], and lapse into the breezy vernacular. You see it is harder to play the part when you don't look it.’ We may add that it is the great sorrow of Sir HUBERT’s life that no stranger ever took him for a musician.
Adroitly changing the subject we then inquired: - ‘Which do you think the greater composer, RICHARD STRAUSS or SOUSA?’ [6] ‘O, come now,’ said Sir HUBERT PARRY, ‘you might as well ask me the difference between a March King and a March Hare or a May Queen,’ he added, as a familiar strain of STERNDALE BENNETT'S [7] floated up the corridor. ‘Personally I am more akin to SOUSA, as we are both J.P.'s.’  ‘Your duties then must be very arduous?’ ‘They are indeed. The crew of the Royal College numbers upwards of 400, and, as they all sing or play, the noise is sometimes tremendous. However, I have a bomb-proof turret into which I retire at times. And then I have a splendid set of officers -an eloquent PARRATT, an ARBOS who is never up a tree, a WOOD who never shivers his timbers, a BRIDGE who plays his game two handed -wonderful fellows all of them.’ [8]
 ‘And what are your recreations?’ ‘Well, an occasional novel - being a skipper comes in handy there - and attending my parish council in Gloucestershire. And that reminds me that I have only eight minutes to catch my train at Paddington. You’ll excuse me if I leave you.’
To light a powerful cigar, to seize his coat, hat, and a huge bundle of MS score, take a flying leap into a passing hansom, was for Sir HUBERT the work of fewer seconds than it takes us to describe his meteoric movements. From his courteous registrar, who accompanied us to the vestibule, we learned that the Director is causing his friends no little anxiety by his avowed intention of purchasing a submarine yacht, having so often previously attempted to commit Parrycide on sea and land. [8]

Punch February 25 1903 (with minor edits)

NOTES
[1] Comically alluding to "Captain Nat," - Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (1848-1938) who was an American naval architect. Between 1892 and 1920 he designed a series of winning America's Cup defenders. Friedrich Kiel (1821-1885) was a composer and teacher, however there is no evidence that Parry studied with him. It is a play on nautical words... Edward George Dannreuther (1844-1905) did give the composer piano lessons which later developed into studies of analysis and composition.
[2] The music alluded to here is the famous Blessed Pair of Sirens (1887) which is a setting of John Milton’s fine poem, At a solemn Musick. The work was recently heard at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding. In 1892 Parry provided incidental music to Aristophanes’ play The Frogs. Finally the song alluded to as ‘L'esperto nocchiero’ is from Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Astarto (1715): the opening lines are 'The expert ship’s pilot- why does he return to the shore hardly set-sail?’
[3] The Evolution of the Art of Music (1896) is a book written by Hubert Parry: the intention of it ‘was to trace the origins of music in 'the music of savages, folk music, and medieval music' and to show 'the continuous process of the development of the Musical Art in actuality'’
[4] Presumably, in those days pianists (and violinists) were stereotyped as having long flowing locks a là Liszt.
[5] ‘Choragus’ - a person who rules or guides or inspires others.
[6] Nothing need be said about the relative merits of Richard Strauss or John Philip Sousa – it would like be trying to equate the keyboard works of Billy Mayerl with Johann Sebastian Bach – steak or ice-cream – both equally delicious in their own way.
[7] The reference here is to William Sterndale Bennett’s (1816-1875) once-popular cantata The May Queen. Having studied the score I do feel that this may be worth the occasional revival.
[8] Doyens of the Edwardian era included the composer and organist Walter Parratt (1841-1924) who succeeded Parry as the Heather Professor of Music at Oxford and was a teacher of the organ at the Royal College of Music between 1883 and 1923. 
Enrique Fernandez Arbo (1863-1939) was a Spanish violinist and conductor. He taught the violin at the RCM between 1894 and 1916. Charles Wood (1866–1926) was a Professor of Composition from 1896–1923. His pupils included Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. The ‘Bridge’ referred to here is Sir John Frederick Bridge (1844 –1924) who was an English organist, composer, teacher and writer. He taught a number of later well-known composers including Edward Bairstow and Arthur Benjamin. His book A Westminster Pilgrim (1918) is a joy to read. .
[8] Charles Hubert Parry was well-known for his propensity to crash cars, to gain speeding fines and to capsize his yacht. The following anecdote gives a flavour of his seamanship and hence the reference to Parrycide – “One day he was enjoying a very Elysium of happiness sailing all alone in a canoe in a very stiff breeze. He was capsized and had to swim about two miles to terra firma. But he would not lose the boat, and towed it ashore with the rope of the boat between his teeth, an operation which took nearly an hour and a half!”

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