Anglican Notables – Sir Hubert Parry (Musicians, Authors, & Poets) – 7 October
[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel. Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect. However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
(1848 – 1918)
Musician: Composer; Teacher; Director of the Royal College of Music.
Parry is most widely known today for two works: his anthem, “I Was Glad” (written for the 9 August 1902 coronation of Edward VII and revised for the 23 June 1911 coronation of George V) and his hymn (or “choral song”) “Jerusalem.” Both works can be considered Anglican because the first is a setting of Psalm 122 and the second sets William Blake’s poem that can be read as a prayer that the Gospel flourish in “England’s green and pleasant land.” But it is probably safe to say that the popularity of both works is due more to their associations with English national identity than to the specifically theological content of the texts.
Not that Parry’s two most famous works cannot be appreciated and edifying in purely liturgical contexts. Parry was not interested in religion itself. But he was among those late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Britons of arts and letters who, though not orthodox in their theology, respected the religion of the tribe, as it were, and supported it through their creative efforts. Moreover, this respect, in Parry’s case, meant giving the texts their due by bringing to them all of his considerable skill as a composer. For Parry, this meant a paradoxical insouciance about Christianity—he did not even bother to attend his daughter’s christening—while being deeply formed by the Church of England’s texts, traditions, architecture, music, ritual, and, one dares to suggest, theology. Which meant that, as Jeremy Dibble has noted, Parry “had imbibed fully the aesthetics of Anglican church music.”
I join those who are reticent about claiming Parry, Vaughan Williams, Howells, and others as Christians malgré eux. Respect for an individual’s conscience—which has become one of the famous points made by St. John Henry Newman—demands taking professions of no faith at face value (while, of course, leaving all judgments securely in God’s infinite mercy). But Parry the apparent-non-believer accomplished a kind of evangelical reform in Anglican music. There had already been, in the nineteenth century, a musical revival in the Church of England, as Bernarr Rainbow has documented. But a significant amount of what this revival produced was poor in quality, both in the music itself (often sentimental) and in the setting of texts. Parry was among those who channeled this revival into a Renaissance, if by “Renaissance” one means the flowering of art that is of excellent quality. And because he influenced so many prominent British composers of his and succeeding generations—nearly all of whom contributed to Anglican church music—Parry is partly responsible for the much higher quality of Anglican choral repertoire from the late nineteenth century to today than could too easily have been the case.
Related to this contribution is a fact often lost on us today. Parry came from a family that had wealth and status in British society. Young men of Parry’s station could excel in music as a pastime, but making music a career was simply not done. Defying considerable resistance—both from his family and friends and from some musicians—Parry not only established a career in music, he somehow raised the prestige of musical careers in the Great Britain of his era. (The why of all of this is, again, befuddling to most of us. But those interested in researching the matter will find a considerable literature on the topic, both as it related to English culture and to American culture.)
Attached below is a list of Parry’s church music. Not listed is Parry’s hymn tune “Repton,” which is best known as the setting of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”
Collect for Church Musicians and Artists:
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.
Parry’s Church music
- Anthem “Blessed is He”, c. 1864, p. 1865
- Te Deum and Benedictus in D ma, c. 1866–68, p. 1868
- Morning, Evening and Communion Service (fragment), c. 1868, p, 1869
- Anthem for chorus & orchestra, “Hear my words, ye people”, c. 1894, p. 1894
- Magnificat in F major for soprano, chorus & orchestra, c. 1897, p. 1897
- Te Deum in F major for soprano, bass, chorus & orchestra (Latin words), c. 1900, p. 1900; (English words) p. 1903
- Hymn, “God of all created things”, p. 1902
- Anthem “I was glad” and processional music for Edward VII’s coronation, c. 1902, p. 1903
- Motet “Voces clamantium H” for soprano, bass, chorus & orchestra, c. 1903, p. 1903
- Hymn “Crossing the bar” (Tennyson), p. 1903
- Hymn-tune “Through the night of doubt and sorrow”, p. 1904
- Motet “Beyond these voices there is peace” for soprano, bass, chorus & orchestra, c. 1908, p. 1908
- Hymn-tune “O Sylvan Prophet” (Dryden), p. 1910
- Te Deum in D major for chorus & orch, c. 1911, p. 1911
- Psalm 46, “God is our hope” for bass, double chorus
 The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church, 1839-1872 (New York: Oxford University Press/Boydell, 1970).