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Sir  (Charles) Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918), by Emil Otto Hoppé, 1915Sir (Charles) Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918), by Emil Otto Hoppé, 1915
Parry, Sir (Charles) Hubert Hastings, baronet (1848–1918), composer and historian of music, was born on 27 February 1848 at 2 Richmond Terrace, Bournemouth, the sixth of six children of of Highnam Court, Gloucestershire, painter and art collector, and his first wife, (Anna Maria) Isabella (1816–1848), the second daughter of and his wife, Katherine.

Early years and education, 1848–1870

Hubert Parry grew up at Highnam Court in the company of his elder brother Charles Clinton (b. 1840) and his sister Lucy (b. 1841). His mother died in Bournemouth from consumption twelve days after his birth. In memory of her and three infant sons, Francis Gambier (b. and d. 1843), Edward Clement Hervey (1844–5), and Henry (b. and d. 1846), his father built a church in the grounds of Highnam. The church, perhaps one of the finest examples of the nineteenth-century Gothic style, was also a monument to Thomas Gambier Parry's enthusiasm for the high-church ecclesiological movement. In 1851 he married Ethelinda Lear (1826–1896), the second daughter of Francis Lear, dean of Salisbury, and Isabella Mary Majendie. By this marriage he had a further six children, who took the surname Gambier Parry.

Hubert Parry's education began in January 1856 at a preparatory school in Malvern, where he stayed until the summer of 1858. From there he moved to a school at Twyford, near Winchester, where, owing to the sympathetic encouragement of its headmaster, George William Kitchin, and the acquaintance of S. S. Wesley at Winchester Cathedral, his interest in music began to develop significantly. During the school holidays he studied the piano and took rudimentary harmony lessons with Edward Brind, organist at Highnam church. Parry went with Brind to the Hereford Three Choirs festival in 1861, an experience which left a deep impression and which marked the beginning of a lifelong association with the festival. In 1861 Parry followed his elder brother to Eton College, where, despite the early signs of heart trouble, he entered with great alacrity into the sporting life of the school, playing in the oppidan wall eleven and the field school eleven. In 1866 he became head keeper of the field and second keeper of the school wall team. More formal musical instruction began in 1863 with Sir George Elvey, organist at St George's Chapel, Windsor, under whom Parry produced a series of anthems and motets, pieces for organ and piano, partsongs, madrigals, and several songs. Some of these pieces were performed at the Eton College Musical Society, which he helped to found in 1863 with his friends Edward Hamilton and Spencer Lyttelton. In December 1866, as the youngest ever successful candidate, he took the Oxford BMus degree examination, submitting a cantata, O Lord, Thou hast Cast Us out, as his exercise. After Eton he matriculated in 1867 as a commoner at Exeter College, Oxford, where, with John Stainer, he participated to the full in the Exeter College Music Society (of which he became president in 1869) and in the playing of chamber music.

While at Oxford, Parry studied law and history but received only sporadic tuition in music. Probably the most significant period of instruction was with Henry Hugo Pierson in Stuttgart during the summer of 1867, in which Parry studied orchestration and composition. Under Pierson he orchestrated the slow movement of his early sonata in F minor for piano duet, the Allegro religioso, which was performed at the Gloucester festival in September 1868 under S. S. Wesley's baton. Although it had become apparent at Oxford that Parry wanted to pursue a career in music, his father was candidly against the idea. An important purpose of the visit to Stuttgart was to learn German, and in 1868 a visit to Liège was organized for Parry to practise French; both sojourns abroad were calculated to smooth the way for a life in the world of commerce. Moreover, Parry had fallen in love with Lady (Elizabeth) Maude Herbert (1851–1933), the second daughter of , whose family were also averse to his serious pursuit of music, particularly after his clandestine engagement to Maude in the spring of 1870. Parry therefore resolved to embark on a career as an underwriter at Lloyd's and to study music in his spare time, a course of action which he hoped would placate his father and convince Maude's family that he could support her. It had the desired effect, and they married at St Paul's, Knightsbridge, London, on 25 June 1872.

Years of struggle, 1870–1880

While working at Lloyd's, Parry took lessons with Sir William Sterndale Bennett, but found them insufficiently critical, so he made enquiries through his friend Walter Broadwood and through Joseph Joachim to study with Brahms in Vienna. This came to nothing, so Parry applied to Edward Dannreuther, a renowned pioneer, champion of Wagner, and piano virtuoso. At first study with Dannreuther was in the form of piano lessons, but later these developed more in analytical and compositional directions and included an introduction to the music of Wagner.

The period 1870 to 1876 proved to be an important formative time for Parry. Exposed to the concert life of London, the opera, the sub-editorship of George Grove's new Dictionary of Music and Musicians (from 1875), for which he provided numerous articles, and the second cycle of The Ring tetralogy at Bayreuth in 1876, Parry rejected the Mendelssohnian aesthetic of his early works for a more progressive musical language influenced by both Wagner and Brahms. Dannreuther, whose role was one of artistic mentor and counsellor, provided Parry both with an introduction to London's influential musical circles and a vital platform for his new compositions with a series of chamber concerts at Dannreuther's home at 12 Orme Square, Bayswater. Nearly all Parry's chamber works—the Grosses duo in E minor, the three piano trios, the wind nonet, the Fantasie-Sonata for violin and piano, the piano quartet, the string quartet no. 3, and the string quintet—were composed for Orme Square. In 1877, during the Wagner festival in London, Parry met Wagner while he was staying at Orme Square. He was also introduced to Hans Richter, who was soon to establish himself as the capital's premier conductor. Parry's first important orchestral work, the overture Guillem de Cabestanh, was performed at the Crystal Palace in March 1879, followed a year later by two performances of his piano concerto in F♯ major conducted by August Manns and Richter, both with Dannreuther as soloist. This brought Parry's name to prominence, as did the more controversial performance of his first choral commission, Prometheus Unbound, for the Three Choirs festival at Gloucester in September 1880.

The importance of Prometheus Unbound, with its overt Wagnerian rhetoric, has perhaps been overstated as a milestone in the so-called English musical renaissance. Nevertheless the choice of Shelley's text signified much in the context of Parry's developing philosophy and political outlook. Since leaving Oxford, where he had been profoundly influenced by John Ruskin and Charles Darwin and later by the writings of Matthew Arnold, Samuel Butler, George Eliot, and Herbert Spencer, Parry, like his brother before him, steadily found himself rejecting the traditional Christian dogma of his upbringing. By 1873 he was forced to declare his unbelief, which, coupled with his support for Gladstone and the reforming policies of the Liberals, caused a period of alienation from his father.

In 1876 Maude gave birth to their first daughter, Dorothea, named after their favourite character in George Eliot's Middlemarch. The strain of childbirth took its toll on Maude, who was slow to recover. Her health, which continued to be a cause for concern to Parry throughout his life, eventually forced him to spend six months in Cannes from November 1876 until April 1877. Here, isolated from London's musical life, he developed a close working relationship with the violinist Edward Guerini. After arriving back in London, Parry ceased working at Lloyd's in order to pursue music full time. The following year there was a further addition to the family with the birth of their second daughter, Gwendolen (named after the character in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda).

Years of renown, 1880–1902

After the publicity gained by the piano concerto and Prometheus, Parry's reputation in London and the provinces began to increase substantially. His first symphony in G, initially commissioned by Richter, was conducted by the composer at Birmingham in August 1882 and by Manns at the Crystal Palace in 1883. Charles Villiers Stanford, who had performed Prometheus at Cambridge in 1881, commissioned some incidental music for the Amateur Dramatic Club's production of Aristophanes' The Birds and also a second symphony in F (the ‘Cambridge’) for the Cambridge University Musical Society. Both were performed in 1883, as was Parry's second commission for the Gloucester festival, the ode The Glories of our Blood and State. The same year Parry received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University in recognition of his work as a composer and scholar. Perhaps more auspiciously, he took up his post as professor of music history at the newly founded Royal College of Music. In sharp contrast to the satisfaction brought by his professional achievements, 1883 also brought news of the death in Sydney, Australia, of his elder brother, which affected him deeply. Clinton Parry, a brilliant scholar at Oxford, yet sent down in disgrace, had squandered large sums of his father's money in South Africa, had become an alcoholic and a danger to his wife and family, and had been a liability to his father.

A sign of Parry's increasing success was marked by the completion in 1881 of ‘Knight's Croft’, a seaside home at Rustington, near Littlehampton, designed by the architect Norman Shaw. Maude spent much time in Rustington, and for Parry it proved to be a refuge from the vicissitudes of life in London as well as an important base for his chief recreation, sailing. Pressures were indeed mounting in the form of teaching and lecturing at the Royal College of Music, at Oxford (where he was choragus and from which he received an honorary doctorate in 1884), and at Cambridge and Birmingham, which inevitably restricted the possibilities for composition. In 1884 Parry began work on his opera Guenever, but the following year his worsening heart trouble (probably a combination of angina and rheumatic fever) led him to take an extended holiday on a cruise around the coast of South America in the company of Sedley Taylor. For Parry these periods of convalescence rarely had their desired effect. Always motivated by a sense of duty and mission, he could not be prevented from resuming work at the earliest opportunity. In 1886, a year which marked his removal to 17 Kensington Square, he completed Guenever, but it was refused by Carl Rosa and, despite Stanford's efforts, failed to be taken up on the continent. This experience inevitably dented Parry's confidence, leaving him embittered and disillusioned by a genre which he never attempted again.

And yet within a few months Parry's fortunes were transformed with the triumph of his setting of Milton's Blest Pair of Sirens, commissioned by Stanford for the Bach Choir's celebration of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887. Almost immediately there was an insatiable demand for new works: the oratorio Judith was composed for Birmingham in 1888, the Ode on St Cecilia's Day for Leeds in 1889, and two symphonies, no. 3 in C (the ‘English’) for the Philharmonic Society, and no. 4 in E minor for Richter, were both given in 1889. In acceding to the public demand for choral music, and particularly for oratorio, Parry found himself in something of a dilemma. He was loath to turn down commissions from choral festivals, and yet he disliked the conventional Old Testament oratorio form which he knew would be expected. Indeed, for the Birmingham commission of 1888 he considered a variety of subjects ranging from the Albigensians to the story of Columbus, but had to capitulate to the Birmingham committee, who wanted a work with sufficient choral participation. Judith was an immediate success with the public, who clamoured for more. Job, a shorter work whose text indicates a shift away from a historical subject towards philosophical allegory, was written for Worcester in 1892 and King Saul for Birmingham in 1894. Bernard Shaw, who admired the creative vigour of Prometheus and of the cantata L'allegro ed il penseroso, written for Norwich in 1890, severely criticized Parry's oratorios on the grounds that he believed the genre did little to draw out the composer's natural gifts for ‘absolute music’. These gifts for instrumental music did momentarily surface in 1897 with two fine orchestral works, the Symphonic Variations and the Elegy for Brahms, but the demand for choral music remained intense.

With the Invocation to Music, written to mark the bicentenary of Purcell's death in 1895, Parry entered into the first of several collaborations with the poet Robert Bridges. The relationship was never easy, but it did not prevent them from working together on A Song of Darkness and Light for Gloucester (1898), on a Memorial Ode for Eton College (1908), and, during the war, on a naval ode, The Chivalry of the Sea (1916), one of the composer's finest choral essays. He was also expected, as the country's unofficial composer laureate, to respond to official occasions of national significance. In celebration of the queen's diamond jubilee in 1897 he produced a setting of the Magnificat for the Hereford festival, and in commemoration of the achievements of the British forces in South Africa he wrote a splendid Thanksgiving Te Deum (1900). The anthem ‘I was glad’, composed for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, is one of the most impressive and enduring pieces of ceremonial music ever written.

In January 1895 Parry succeeded Grove as director of the Royal College of Music. Although Frederick Bridge, Walter Parratt, Stanford, and Franklin Taylor had also been strong candidates, the college council unanimously recommended Parry. The appointment was testimony to his extraordinary charisma. An eminently likeable man, he was generous, open, and able to engender inspiration, vision, sympathy, and self-belief, particularly among the young. Behind the face presented to the world lay a nervous and depressive temperament, but his public profile was one of immense warmth, happiness, and geniality, and his conscientiousness, selflessness, and sense of duty were unshakeable. Even Bernard Shaw feared meeting him, lest he should come under his spell. In recognition of his contribution to the nation's musical life he was knighted in 1898, in 1902 was created a baronet, and in 1905 invested with the CVO.

Away from the public gaze, Parry's domestic life was less happy. Arthur Ponsonby, his son-in-law, recalled that Maude
never cared for his music, never shared his life, was no companion, and with her funny arrested development and self-centred smallness of vision was no help or comfort to him at all. His devotion to her was pathetic and yet it always seemed as if he were unaware that he could never win her. She hampered him, irritated him, bullied him [and] was a drain on him. (Ponsonby, diary, October 1918)
The resultant inner loneliness, Ponsonby maintained, ‘gave him the note of melancholy which came out in his music’. The affection he craved from his wife came instead from his elder daughter, Dorothea. She married Ponsonby in 1898, and their home after 1902 at Shulbrede Priory on the north Sussex border became a favourite haunt. Gwen, his younger daughter, married Harry Plunket Greene, the famous baritone, in 1899. With the death of his stepmother in 1896 Parry also inherited Highnam Court. After a bitter dispute with his half-brother Ernest Gambier Parry over the management of the estate, which was in severe financial trouble, Parry took up residence at Highnam. Ernest moved out, and a lifelong rift between the two brothers ensued.

Later works, 1903–1914

A Song of Darkness and Light, written for the Norwich festival in 1898, marked the beginning of a series of choral works in which Parry hoped to express something of his own heterodoxy. Works such as War and Peace (1903), Voces clamantium (1903), The Love that Casteth out Fear (1904), The Soul's Ransom (1906), A Vision of Life (1907), and Beyond these Voices there is Peace (1908) express his profound commitment to humanitarianism. These ethical oratorios, with texts partly written by the composer and partly compiled from the Bible, had their advocates, among them Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walford Davies, and Howells, but the unfocused philosophical message of the works left audiences unmoved. Only his setting of Browning's Pied Piper of Hamelin (1905) stands out, as the most successful large-scale choral work of this period.

At this time Parry began to suffer a series of breakdowns in his health. He took several holidays abroad, but he was too stubborn to desist from his work at the Royal College for long. A more serious breakdown occurred in 1908, when he felt compelled to give up his position as professor of music at Oxford, a post he had held since 1900. His severance with the university was a powerful blow, for his closeness to academic life found voice not only in scholarship and lectures, but also in incidental music written for the Oxford University Dramatic Club's productions of Aristophanes' The Frogs (1892) and The Clouds (1905).

Resignation from Oxford combined with the failure of his ethical choral works induced Parry to reassess his creative objectives. He fulfilled a desire to write a book on his idol, J. S. Bach (1909), added to his Darwinist historical perspective in The Art of Music (1893; rev. 1896), and published a compilation of his Oxford lectures in Style in Musical Art (1911). Presented with new opportunities from the Philharmonic Society, he extensively revised his fourth symphony (1909–10), and produced his fifth symphony in B minor in four linked movements (later renamed Symphonic Fantasia ‘1912’), perhaps his masterpiece, for the Philharmonic's centenary celebrations in 1912. This Indian summer of compositional activity was also underlined by his last choral work for the Three Choirs festival, Ode on the Nativity (Hereford, 1912) which, with its intricate structural and motivic organization, reflected the concentrated thinking of the fifth symphony.

Decline and death, 1914–1918

Parry's last orchestral work, From Death to Life (1914), a symphonic poem with a strong ethical programme, was composed during the first months of the First World War. Its mixture of lament and optimism articulated many of his conflicting emotions and beliefs. Even with the deterioration of the international situation Parry, a pro-Teuton, genuinely believed that Germany would not go to war, a view that was clear from the incidental music he wrote for The Acharnians in February 1914, in which he sought, by means of popular tunes from the street and music-hall, national anthems, and other patriotic songs, to parody those in government and elsewhere who were whipping up panic and hysteria. Therefore, when hostilities did break out, the shock was devastating. During the war he watched a life's work of progress and education being wiped away as the male population—particularly the new fertile generation of composing talent—of the Royal College dwindled. Sailing, his chief form of pleasure, was forbidden, so instead he devoted his time to the Music in Wartime movement, providing funds for concerts in schools, hospitals, and camps as well as for ailing choral societies. To meet the War Office's demand for rifle butts, many of the trees on his beloved Highnam estate were felled. Another casualty of the war was his relationship with Stanford, which, after a serious altercation at the end of 1916, became strained to the point of estrangement.

Most of Parry's last works, organ preludes, piano pieces, and songs, were small-scale. The overwhelmingly popular ‘Jerusalem’, a setting of William Blake's poem which has earned Parry's music the national distinction of concluding each year the last night of the Proms, was written originally for Francis Younghusband's Fight for Right society in 1916 and was taken up by Millicent Fawcett and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1917, an organization to which Parry and his wife (a keen suffragist) gave their support. Most substantial was his naval ode, The Chivalry of the Sea (1916), a dark, brooding choral elegy, and a cycle of six unaccompanied motets, the Songs of Farewell, which, as well as being some of the finest romantic a cappella music, are perhaps the most eloquent and personal disclosures of his unorthodox credo. His last literary work, Instinct and Character, a kind of philosophical apologia, was rejected by Macmillan and remains unpublished.

Though heart trouble had dogged Parry all his life, his death was caused by blood poisoning and influenza. He died at Rustington on 7 October 1918, a month before the armistice. At the suggestion of Stanford he was buried, nine days later, in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral. A memorial tablet, with an inscription by Bridges, was unveiled in Gloucester Cathedral during the Three Choirs festival in 1922.

Parry's importance can be measured in several branches of the music profession. As a scholar he was an original thinker on a wide variety of historical, theoretical, and aesthetic issues which are promulgated in his books, articles, and lectures. Parry believed that music and life were inseparable and this he communicated almost evangelistically to his students. As an academic and administrator he did much to promote the status and welfare of the musician, though, much to his frustration, he was unable to establish the condition of residence as part of the Oxford BMus degree (as Stanford had done at Cambridge in 1893), which he felt had held back the acceptance of music as a major academic discipline. Yet it must be as a composer that Parry should be remembered. Although his creative life was to some extent hindered by administration, teaching, and examining, his finest choral and instrumental works were enormously influential. His broad, muscular diatonic language, as revealed in works such as Blest Pair of Sirens, ‘I was glad’, the Songs of Farewell, ‘Jerusalem’, and the five symphonies set a powerful precedent for later British composers. Parry's distinctive style provided a tangible link between Wesley and Stainer of the mid-nineteenth century and those that followed him, such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Finzi.

Jeremy Dibble


J. Dibble, C. Hubert H. Parry: his life and music (1992) · C. L. Graves, Hubert Parry, 2 vols. (1926) · C. H. H. Parry, College addresses (1920) · A. Ponsonby, ‘Brief glimpses’ · A. Ponsonby, MS diary, Shulbrede Priory, Lynchmere, Sussex · R. O. Morris, Hubert Parry, music and letters, 1 (1920), 94–103 · J. A. Fuller-Maitland, The music of Parry and Stanford (1934) · A. E. F. Dickinson, ‘The neglected Parry’, MT, 90 (1949), 108–11 · W. M. A. Hadow, ‘Sir Hubert Parry’, Proceedings of the Musical Association, 45 (1918–19), 135–47 · H. Howells, ‘Hubert Parry’, RCM Magazine, 65/3 (1969), 19–23 · J. C. Dibble, ‘The music of Hubert Parry: a critical and analytical study’, PhD diss., U. Southampton, 1986 · G. Greene, Two witnesses (1930) · b. cert. · Burke, Peerage


Bodl. Oxf. · Royal College of Music, London, papers · Shulbrede Priory, Lynchmere, Sussex |  BL, Philharmonic MSS · BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MS 55239 · BL, letters to Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, Add. MS 48621 · BL, letters to F. G. Edwards, Eg MS 3090 · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Dannreuther · Elgar Birthplace Museum, Broadheath, letters to Edward Elgar · FM Cam., letters to W. Barclay Squire · King's Cam., Dent MSS · McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, letters to William Hannam · RA, letters to Helen Richmond · U. Reading L., letters from Robert Bridges






photographs, 1861–1917, Shulbrede Priory, Sussex · H. von Herkomer, portrait, 1889 · H. von Herkomer, sketch, 1891, repro. in Daily Graphic (17 June 1891) · photograph, c.1895, Royal College of Music, London · H. S. Rathbone, portrait, 1897 · W. Rothenstein, chalk drawing, 1897, NPG · W. Rothenstein, pencil drawing, 1897 · C. Mellili, miniature statue, 1906, Shulbrede Priory, Sussex · C. E. M. Pollock, bronze bust, c.1910, Royal College of Music, London · E. O. Hoppé, photograph, 1915, NPG, Royal College of Music, London [see illus.] · W. & D. Downey, woodburytype photograph, NPG; repro. in W. Downey and D. Downey, The cabinet portrait gallery, vol. 4 (1893)

Wealth at death  

£31,127 16s. 6d.: probate, 19 June 1919, CGPLA Eng. & Wales