Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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Parry’s association with the organ was a long but by no means uncomplicated affair. As a schoolboy he came into contact with the organ at Highnam, Gloucestershire, in the church built by his Father, Thomas Gambler Parry, in memory of Isabella, Parry’s mother. In the church at Highnam, Parry learnt from the parish organist, Edward Brind. At Eton, as a pupil of Sir George Elvey (Organist at St George’s Chapel, Windsor), his organ playing developed rapidly and the art of organ building and the repertoire of the instruments became a preoccupation. His diaries of 1864-6 reveal an assiduous study of over forty organs in England and Wales that he tried with great enthusiasm: the cathedral organs of Gloucester, Hereford, Salisbury (close to Wilton, the home of his childhood sweetheart, Lady Maude Herbert) and Llandaff were relatively local; Winchester was close to his former preparatory school at Twyford, while Ely was a favourite haunt on account of his father’s internal decoration. Many parish churches were visited in London and the West Country including that of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, another ‘local’ organ:

The most interesting instrument I ever played on. It was built originally for the Temple Church, by Harris and Byfield. It is almost entirely in its original condition. There are no separate pedal pipes, but the Great goes to CCC with 16 foot metal diapasons. The Trumpet also goes throughout. The Cremona on the Swell and the Bassoon on the Choir are most beautiful stops. The most remarkable part of the organ is the Diapasons, which are far the finest I ever heard. The keys are remarkably short, little over 1 ½ or 2 inches; the naturals black and sharps white. There are two or three 5-rank stops on the organ. 29 or 30 stops in all with most tremendous power.

At Oxford too he had the opportunity of playing the organs at Exeter College (his own college), New College (where he took lessons with James Taylor) and Magdalen (where Stainer was Organist). From this early period date a number of juvenilia including a ‘Grand Fugue in 3 Parts’ essentially modelled on Bach, a composer for whom Parry was to retain a lifelong passion.

But is was to be some time before Parry was to return his attentions to the organ. After leaving Oxford in 1870 he was to divide his time between earning a living as an underwriter art Lloyds’ of London and taking private lessons with William Sterndale Bennett, George Macfarren, and above all, Edward Dannreuther. Only after a period of inward artistic maturity did he emerge in the mid 1870s to compose an impressive series of instrumental works for orchestra and various chamber combinations. As an interlude to this extraordinary period of industry and invention the Fantasia and Fugue in G was composed in 1877, during a sojourn at the Beach Hotel, Littlehampton. Yet this works had to wait many years, until 1913, before it was published, and the printed version was to be quite different from the two movements written at Littlehampton. Parry’s initial Fantasia, still extant as a heavily annotated draft, contains many of the seeds of the final version, notably the opening idea and improvisatory flourishes. But there was also a markedly different tonal structure and contrasting episodic music which were entirely discarded during the process of revision. Similarly the Fugue was based on an entirely different subject in common time. It is unclear whether the work was performed by anyone at this juncture, but in 1882, according to Emily Daymond (Parry’s amanuensis) the work was taken out again and revised, at which time the Fantasia was completely recast while the Fugue was retained, though, judging by the extensive alterations, it was also heavily revised. It is this ‘1882’ version that is presented here as a premiere recoding, performed from a manuscript copy recently discovered in the Faculty of Music at Oxford. The Fantasia will be strongly recognisable as the version that Novello published nearly 30 years later: the basic harmonic structure is in place along with each main event of the improvisatory structure. Only the detail of figurations, the occasional phrase length or duration, and some harmonic progressions vary. The very ambience of the Fantasia is overtly Bachian in character. Inspired, one suspects, by the spirit of the G minor Fantasia and Fugue BWV 542 (which is even more structurally paradigmatical in the earlier 1877 version), Parry creates a romantic, neo-Gothic essay founded on the rhetoric of the baroque North German organ style; yet, through the use of a more intense nineteenth-century sense of chromaticism and dissonance, there is also a strong sense of contemporaneity. This can be felt, for example, in the first major harmonic (post-Beethovenian) shift to F minor from the opening G major statement, and in the highly chromatic set of progressions before the recapitulation and restatement of G at the close. The fugue is, like its later counterpart, an extensive composition, with a spacious exposition of the fugue subject. With the exposition over, Parry takes us to B flat major where the intricate counterpoint of the manuals acts as a foil to the augmented entries of the subject in the pedals. The pace of tonal change accelerates rapidly towards a climax, at which point G major is re-established as the commencement of a large-scale cadential section, rounding off Parry’s broad ternary architectural concept. In 1912 Parry exhumed his old work, revised the Fantasia, and wrote a brand new fugue in 6/8 time. The Fugue’s considerable technical demands were intended to match the dexterity of its dedicatee, Sir Walter Parratt, Organist at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Organ Professor at the RCM, and renowned recitalist. The fugue subject is of a particular interest in the way it begins by stating the tonic and the third above (G-B), but then descending to the submediant (E), giving a sense of tonal ambiguity. The consequent material, introducing quaver movement, carries us back to the tonic, before semiquavers take us on, bypassing the submediant key, to the dominant. This modulating property helps to give the later fugal entries and more tonally exploratory sections a greater sense of fluidity and seamlessness. Indeed Parry’s fugue is ultimately an attempt to combine traditional baroque principles of form with a late nineteenth-century concept of continuous development. Such development is conspicuously evident in the intense rhythmical and motivic fragmentation of the episodes, the tension of which is abated by entries of the fugue subject. One especially telling moment is the long dominant pedal over which a stretto unwinds. Conventionally such fugal rhetoric would signal traditional cadential resolution and imminent closure. In one sense that is precisely what Parry want us to experience, yet his resolution is to the submediant (perhaps a subtle tonal reference to the opening of his fugal subject) which in turn leads not to a traditional final statement of the subject in the tonic, but instead to dissolution in the form of a fantasia. The submediant (E minor) continues to exert influence in the final improvisatory flourish, but this ultimately functions as an oblique progression back to G, where, triumphant, the fugue subject is powerfully projected in the pedals, in strikingly dissonant fashion, against the tonic chord of the manuals.

During the 1890s Augustus Jaeger, the publishing manager at Novello, urged Parry to publish some organ works, anticipation that there would be a considerable demand for them. In 1898 Parry was appointed President of the Royal College of Organists, a post he held until 1901, but no music for the organ was forthcoming from this association, nor was any new work written for the organ which Parry presented to the RCM as a gift in 1901 for the New Concert Hall (excepting the specific organ part in the Ode to Music specially composed for the opening celebration). Jaeger continued to badger Parry for original organ pieces and arrangements of his other music in the early 1900s, but is seems likely that the overworked RCM Director (and Heather Professor at Oxford) was too preoccupied with administrative duties and festival commissions to give such an idea due attention. It was only in 1910, a year after Jaeger’s death, that the composer was finally persuaded, this time by his boyhood friend, the Organist and Precentor of Eton, Charles Harford Lloyd, to compose a set of Chorale Preludes.

During the late nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century the chorale prelude had enjoyed a major resurgence of interest as a genre. This had, to a large extent, been generated by the appearance of the first English edition of Bach’s organ works (edited by J. Frederick Bridge and James Higgs). Bach's chorale preludes, which had been much later in establishing themselves in the repertoire than the larger preludes and fugues, had steadily begun to appear in recital programmes, notably those of prominent recitalists such as Parratt, C. H. Lloyd, J. F. Bridge, Henry Ley, T. Tertius Noble, Ivor Atkins, A. Herbert Brewer, George Robertson Sinclair, Basil Harwood, Walter Alcock, H. Walford Davies, William Harris, Harold Darke, and the brilliant Douglas Fox. In addition, the modern chorale prelude had found voice in contemporary continental masters, in particular Brahms (his posthumously published Eleven Chorale Preludes of 1896, published in 1902). Karg Elert and Reger. English organists and composers - namely Harwood, Charles Wood, Stanford and Parry - were quick to develop a repertoire of their own, inspired essentially by the sound of the English romantic organ and by their own tradition of Anglican hymnody promoted by recent publications of the revised edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (1904) and the English Hymnal (1906).

All these factors were undoubtedly important in the gestation of Parry’s Chorale Preludes Set I (published 1912), the Three Chorale Fantasias (1915) and Chorale Preludes Set II (1916). Given his own unbridled enthusiasm for Bach’s music, as evidenced in his book Johann Sebastian Bach (published by Putnam’s of New York in 1909), it was perhaps inevitable that Parry would choose Bachian paradigms for his own organ works, but he was almost certainly spurred on by his love of English hymnody (galvanised in the early 1900s by his membership of the editorial committee for the revised Hymns Ancient & Modern) and the part it could play in generating a distinctive style of English organ music. For both sets of Chorale Preludes and Chorale Fantasias Parry used hymn tunes taken exclusively from Hymns Ancient & Modern, and in doing so he hoped to explore the cycle and character of the Anglican liturgy throughout the church year.

Composed in 1911, the Chorale Preludes Set I were submitted for criticism to Lloyd, Parratt and Stanford, largely because Parry felt he had been away fro the organ too long to feel absolutely confident of their effect. Douglas Fox (at the same time an RCM student) played though all of them at the College in December before they were submitted in final form to Novello, replete with mottoes from each hymn text. Some were also looked at by the young Harold Darke. At first the notion of mottoes gave Parry some misgivings as is clear from a letter to Lloyd of 30 June 1912:

I have been thinking a lot about indicating the association of some of the Chorale Preludes with their hymns and don’t get comfortable about it. The first lines are liable to lead careless people on  the wrong tack. So I propose, as an alternative to give each tune a sort of motto from the hymn, which will indicate the hymn to those who are not careless, and give the suggestion of a clue to those that are.

The opening prelude of the set, Dundee (A & M No.83), was inspired by the first line of John Morrison’s hymn (found in Lord Selbourne’s Book of Praise of 1868), ‘The people that in darkness sat’ sung during Epiphany. The tune first appeared in the Scottish Psalter of 1615 and came to England in 1621 where it was published in Ravenscroft’s Psalmes. Parry’s prelude is structured in a similar manner to those baroque chorale preludes modelled on Pachelbel, where each strain of the chorale (in this instance presented in the top line) is preceded by a contrapuntal working-out of a subject based on the melody. ‘Dundee’ is a broad, richly-textured, diatonic celebration which draws on the spirit of Blest Pair of Sirens and I was glad as well as looking forward to the confident effulgenge of Jerusalem. This is nowhere more evident than in the splendid coda where Parry’s characteristic higher diatonic dissonance brings the prelude to a spacious climax. As a contrast to the joy of Epiphany, Rockingham (A & M 120) evokes the contemplation of Holy Communion. Often associated with the Passion hymn, ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, the tune was (and still is) often sung to Philip Doddridge’s verse ‘My God and is a table spread’ from which Parry extracted his motto, ‘Thither be all Thy children led, And let them all Thy sweetness know’ (lines 3 and 4). The tune, first found in Miller’s Psalms of David (1790), was taken from a reconstruction originally called ‘Tunbridge’ found in an obscure volume called Psalmody in Miniature, published in 1778. It appears elusively in Parry’s prelude as a tenor voice (similar in manner to Bach’s famous ‘Wachet auf’ prelude from the Schübler set) punctuating a gentle trio-sonata texture based on the opening phrase of the tune. The mood is one of quiet yearning, expressed eloquently in the sequences of poignant suspensions and subtle chromatic inflections of the inner contrapuntal lines. For Hampton (A & M 141), Parry turned to a well-known tune (which first appeared in Hackett’s National Psalmist of 1850) by his former mentor, S. S. Wesley, who had encouraged him as a teenager. The words, from a translation by Benjamin Webb, of a text attributed to Thomas á Kempis, were taken from the Hymnal Noted (1854), the flagship publication of the ecclesiological movement, and were no doubt well known to Parry through his father’s membership of that organisation. The prelude is prefaced by line one of Webb’s translation, ‘O love, how deep! how broad! how high!’, summarising the warm and fervent atmosphere of Parry’s effusion. In much the same way as ‘Dundee’, each melodic strain is anticipated by a contrapuntal introduction, though here the longer duration of the melodic notes (in minims) creates the impression of a more antiquated cantus firmus having much in common with the similar projection of Chorale melodies in Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. The “Old 104th” (A & M 193 for Saints’ Day) is prefaced by the first two lines of verse three of a translation by Isaac Williams (published in the British Magazine in 1836) of a hymn by J. B. de Santeuil taken from the Cluniac Breviary (1686). The tune , ‘The Old 104th’ or ‘St Werburg’ first appeared in Ravenscroft’s Psalmes (1621) though with different words (‘My soule praise the Lord, Speake good of his name’). Parry’s treatment of this somewhat dour melody is intended to mirror the grand vision of his motto ‘Like clouds are they borne To do Thy great will’. Strains of the chorale appear as long notes in the pedals projected against a scherzo background of fluent counterpoint which gradually rises to a pitch of considerable intensity (marked by fermata on a dominant minor ninth of B). The prelude then dissolves into fantasy where bold harmonisations of the hymn tune, interspersed with an extrovert improvisatory style (much in the manner of Bach’s ‘In dulci jubilo’), bring the piece to a majestic conclusion. The motto of Melcombe (A & M 5), ‘New mercies, each returning day Hover around us while we pray’, was taken from John Keble’s poem ‘Hymn for Morning’ in the Christian Year (published in 1827). The popular tune (also known as ‘Granton’ or ‘St Philip’s’) is by Samuel Webbe. Initially the melody was published anonymously in plainsong notation with the words ‘O salutaris hostia’ (in An Essay on the Church Plainchant of 1782), appearing again in Harrison’s Sacred Harmony (1791) and Webbe’s Collection of Motets (1792) where the latter’s name is clearly attributed to the melody’s creation. Parry creates a tender ‘Pastoral’ from Webbe’s lovely tune, reversing the traditional baroque pattern by introducing embellished versions of the melody and then using each phrase as a basis of a further musical flight of fancy. At the conclusion of this treatment, Parry gives us a much less adorned variation of the melody over a tonic pedal, in a rhythmical manner more akin to plainsong, perhaps making a subtle reference to the tune’s origins. This in turn ushers in a final reference to the ‘Pastoral’ which incorporates the last strain of the hymn into its cadential descent. Quiet introspection continues with Christe, redemptor omnium (A & M 57),a Christmas meditation. The motto, ‘Jesu, the very thought is sweet’, is the first line of Neale’s translation of the eleventh-century Benedictine hymn ‘Iesu dulcis memoria’ (which was Parry’s initial title of the prelude) included in the Hymnal Noted with the plainsong, a version which became popular in Hymns Ancient & Modern. Of most interest in the chorale prelude is not so much the presentation of the plainsong melody, which is essentially traditional in method and character, but the elaborate and passionate garb of the extemporary material that envelops it. The final prelude of Set I is the first of two workings of St Ann’s (A & M 403), a widely sung general hymn with words by Isaac Watts (from his Psalms of David of 1719) and the tune attributed to William Croft. Indeed, such was the popularity and ubiquity of the melody that Grove devoted a special article to it in the first edition of his dictionary (see ‘St Anne’s Tune’). The spirit of Parry’s concept is one of a lively, Bachian toccata in which the melody is sounded in long notes in the upper voice. With the end of the third line of the tune, which concludes on the dominant of the submediant, Parry exploits the sudden change of tonal direction to build tension both texturally and harmonically. The final section is framed by presentation of the last line of the melody, interspersed by an exultant improvisatory passage based on fragments of the entire tune.

At the end of March 1913 a telegram arrived from Rome announcing the death of Sidney Herbert, 14th Earl of Pembroke, the brother of Parry’s wife. The funeral took place on 7 April in the estate church at Wilton House, the seat of the Pembroke family and for the occasion Parry composed a short Elegy appropriately solemn and ceremonial in mood. The piece was published privately that same year, but was not available for general circulation until 1922.

In his book on Bach, Parry took pains to enunciate the difference he understood by the terms ‘Choralvorspiel’ and the ‘Choralfantasie’:

The ‘Choralfantasie’ was the larger form in which the phrases of their loved chorales were introduced bodily with infinite adornment of expressive polyphony. Their nature was more or less determined by the fact that they were independent works of art, whereas the “Choralvorspiel” was dependent as a prelude on the chorale which was to be sung in the church service, and therefore avoided the too obvious presentation of the melodies, so that they might come more freshly from the congregation. (p. 182)

To some extent this gives us a useful insight into the functionality of parry’s own chorale preludes (for liturgical worship), but it is even more illuminating with regard to the composer’s concept of his own chorale fantasias which are more musically ‘independent’, more intellectual and generally much more ambitious in architectural vision. The Three Chorale Fantasias were in fact drafted much earlier than their publication, but, as was usual in Parry’s creative process, were subject to extensive revisions and recasting. An entry of 27 November 1911 indicates that he was at work on one of the fantasias (though it is not specified). It was in fact a period of immense industry on his organ works. A week before, Parratt had tried out his chorale prelude ‘Christe, redemptor omnium’, and shortly afterwards, Douglas Fox gave him the first hearing of three further preludes. Fox continued to be the ‘guinea pig’ for the chorale preludes throughout December 1911. The in the first week of January 1912, Parry noted in his diary the he was struggling with a revision of some chorale fantasias, though it was not until 28 March, after breaking off to sketch the soliloquy to Browning’s Saul (for bass and organ), that Fox played all three fantasias through to him. Though he was modestly satisfied with them, the works were put aside for the rest of 1912 and almost all of 1913, during which time he was preoccupied with his first symphonic masterpieces, the Symphonic Fantasia ‘1912’ (Fifth Symphony), the Ode on the Nativity, the double-choir anthem God is our Hope and two other organ works, the Fantasia and Fugue in G, an earlier version of the ‘Wanderer’ Toccata and Fugue, and drafts of four of the Songs of Farewell. It was not until December 1913 that he turned his attention once again to the fantasias whereupon he called on the services of Walford Davies, former pupil and Organist of the Temple Church to give him technical advice. Writing to Davies on 21 December, after a session on ‘The Old Hundredth’, he expressed his gratitude:

Thank you ever so much for giving me the opportunity to hear ‘the old hundredth’. It was a first rate lesson to me. It seemed to me that it was all right up to the place neat the end where the triplets begin in semiquavers, and then it got confused. I must sit tight over it and redo a lot. The last line too which ought to make the final climax of sound was thin instead of big. It’s the inner parts that did it. And they must come out. The more massive statement of the final line in plain big chords will do much better.

Your reading of it was most sympathetic to me. Your variations of time and plotting out of colour and sound were perfect.

Davies replied from his Hampstead home the following day:

That is a most delightful letter to have, though half of it is not a quarter deserved. The ending was my fault: I had nothing in reserve for it, or it would have sounded massive and glorious. Our organ is not capable of the resounding peroration it needs; not that the superbest tone is not there, but it is all shut in... For delicate effects it is superb of course, and I wish you could have heard your own “Hover around us” Chorale on that organ....

Revision of the fantasias took place in fits and starts throughout 1914. Correspondence between Parry and Davies at the end of the year shows that he was still worrying over details of harmony. Davies had once again played over ‘The Old Hundredth’ to him, at which time by his initial thoughts rather than the revisions:

[27 December 1914]

I think you played it quite splendidly; and I was especially delighted with the way you did all sorts of things I wanted in the ‘registration’, and had suspected were nearly impossible. I’m afraid I must revise the last page but one. I don’t like the ferocious F# major chord for the demisemiquaver passage; it seems to me out of the picture. I liked it when I did it, but then I had my nose too close to the individual moment - and I am gravitating back to my first familiar diminished 7th!

Davies offered Parry a further opportunity to meet at the Temple to discuss registration on the other fantasias. This eventually took lace in February 1915, after which Novello engraved all three pieces. Both Parry and Davies studied the proofs and, besides making a few further suggestions as to phrasing, Davies also made the suggestion that the tune of the second fantasia be printed at the beginning of the piece:

It would be awfully niece to have the bare tune printed in small type as a motto at the head of the work (just under Sir Walter;s name) Then we could make the whole clearer to an audience by playing it unadorned before the piece; or failing that the player could have it impressed on his mind.

Davies’ suggestions was in part heeded, though Parry decided to include the full four-part harmonisation of the tune in short score, replete with text.

The first of the Three Chorale Fantasias, dedicated to Walter Alcock, Assistant Organist of Westminster Abbey (until his move to Salisbury in 1917) and organ teacher at the RCM, was another, more extensive essay on the tune ‘St Ann’, though Parry preferred this time to associate the fantasia with the familiar word of the hymn, O God our help. The fantasia open with a broad statement of the opening line of the hymn tune, unfamiliarly harmonised, from which emerges a complex texture of quavers (in 12/8 time), rhythmically opposing duplets and dotted crotchets - a process of augmentation - all based on the same melodic cell. This texture subsequently provides an accompaniments to the chorale melody heard in yet greater augmentation as dotted minims in the top line. The three rhythmical components established at the beginning remain constant throughout the piece and provide a tonally discursive accompaniment to each strain of the chorale melody as it appears. Indeed Parry’s counterpoint (highly demanding for the organist), fluent, exploratory and inventive, generates a sense of controlled grandeur in form of exhilarating assurance. The send fantasia, ‘on an old English tune When I survey the wondrous Cross’, was based on a tune from Gawthorn’s Harmonia Perfecta of 1730 called ‘Eltham’. The marrying of the tune with Isaac Watts’ famous text was very probably the initiative of Parry himself, since none of the extant sources shows any such original associations. An elaborate Passion mediation, the fantasia is modelled on that highly embellished style associated with Georg Böhm, but brought to a high state of refinement by Bach in ‘O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross’ and ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein’ from Die Orgelbüchlein. The original version of Parry’s fantasia was G minor, in keeping with the original key appearing in Harmonia Perfecta, but later, with much revision, it was transposed down to F minor, the key of the version in Hymns Ancient & Modern; it was dedicated to Sir Walter Parratt. Structurally the piece is an interesting example of a baroque concerto form, the ritornello (heard in the opening bars) being ornamented form of the first line of the chorale melody. This idea punctuates the episodic design which mirrors the tonal and phraseological pattern of the hymn tune. It is a deeply expressive lament which many considered to be Parry’s finest utterance for the organ. Lloyd described it as ‘perfectly beautiful and Harwood was equally adulatory: ‘It seems full of the most real beauty and tenderness and poetry,’ he wrote to Parry; ‘I love it already.’ Gerald Finzi (one of Parry;s most fervent advocates) fell in love with the Fantasia in the late 1940s calling it ‘one of the supreme meditations of all organ music’. In December 1948 he made a transcription which was performed by his Newbury String Players. Finzi’s arrangement, simple in design, gave the opening melancholy line to a solo instrument (in the score it could either be violin or viola, though Finzi preferred the doleful tone of the latter). It was published by Novello in 1950 in time for a performance at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1950 where it was conducted by Herbert Sumsion. Writing to Dorothea Ponsonby, Finzi was effusive in his admiration for the piece. ‘I was more than ever struck by its loveliness at the London rehearsal,’ he wrote, ‘where it went very well, and short as it is, I’m not sure that it isn’t the loveliest thing of the whole Festival.’ Appropriately The Old Hundredth (A & M 316) was dedicated to Walford Davies who had been so active in the work’s gestation. Of all three fantasias this movement is the freest in the nature of its extemporary development, its changes of mood, tonal direction, metrical variation and registrational diversity. This is perhaps most brilliantly evidenced in the massive accumulation of the last 27 bars which encapsulate that sense of earnest jubilation, befitting the sober deportment of the sixteenth-century melody.

With the palpable success of the first set of chorale preludes, Novello requested a further set which the composer wrote during the spring and summer of 1915. Again Davies was consulted on matters of registration along with his assistant Harold Darke who was also Organist at St James’s, Paddington. Darke performed three of the chorales from manuscript in November 1915 at St James’s (since the proofs were not satisfactorily legible) and continued to be an important exponent of Parry’s works after his move to St Michael’s, Cornhill, in 1916. That same year the Chorale Preludes Set II were published.

Croft’s 136th (A & M 234) refers to the motto, ‘Ye boundless realms of joy’, part of a paraphrase of Psalm 136 (‘To God, the mighty Lord’) to which the tune, Croft’s 148th, was set. Both appeared together in Divine Companion of 1709. Parry’s chorale prelude, based on the tune of Croft’s 148th, but inspired by the acclamation of the psalm text, is a sturdy, energetic affair, full of virile harmony and distinctive multiple suspensions. ‘As pants the hart’, the first line of the translation of Psalm 42 by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate, prefaces Martyrdom (A & M 478), the well-known tune by H. Wilson which appeared in R. A. Smith’s Sacred Music Sung at St George’s Church, Edinburgh in 1825. The prelude is a sedate minuet whose accompanying material is elusively drawn from subtle conflations of individual cells of the melody, and Parry provides a delightful touch in the echoes he adds at the close of each strain. More affecting still, however, is the extemporary section after the last line which takes us to the flat mediant (C major), and Parry’s graceful recovery to the tonic is equally elegant. St Thomas (A & M 260) is prefaced by the first line of the Advent hymn, ‘Lo, He comes, with clouds descending’ by Charles Wesley and John Cennick, which is set to the anonymous eighteenth-century tune ‘St Thomas’. This is a grand piece on a scale comparable with the chorale fantasias.Each line of the hymn tune is heard twice, first in the pedals, then in the top line. This feature is exploited with tremendous effect in the fifth line of melody where Parry’s reharmonisation ignites a period of tonal dissolution swelling to a subclimax on the flat submediant and culminating on an ecstatic 6/4, and event which marks the presentation of the sixth and last line of the tune. The Lenten hymn St Mary (A & M 103) bears as its motto the first line of John Marckant’s hymn ‘O Lord turn not thy face from me Who lie in woeful state’ found in Sternhold and Hopkin’s The Whole Book of Psalmes of 1562. The melody (also known as ‘Hackney’ or ‘Playford’s’) first appeared in Arch-deacon Pry’s Welsh Metrical Psalter of 1621 though it gained wider circulation in Playford’s Whole Book of Psalms (1677). Each line of the chorale melody, heard in the pedals, is preceded by an embellished version in diminution, while the entire structure is framed by material derived from the opening line of the hymn. Eventide (A & M 23), a counterpart to ‘Melcombe’ in Set I, known ubiquitously as ‘Abide with me’, retains the solemnity of Henry Francis Lyte’s hymn and W. H. Monk’s tune which the latter wrote for the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern. St Cross (A & M 128), based on John Bacchus Dykes; setting of stanzas from Frederick William Faber’s poem Jesus and Mary (1849), is a Passiontide elegy whose rhetorical gestures seem more orchestral in origin. This is perhaps the most moving of all Parry’s contemplative chorale essays. To conclude, Parry chose Sir Richard Grant’s celebrated hymn ‘O worship the King’, selecting the fifth line (‘Our Shield and Defender’) as his motto, and arranged the tune Hanover (A & M 326) in the style of a fantasia, presenting the melody initially in the manner of a trio before restating it more cohesively as an imposing apotheosis.

The Toccata and Fugue ‘The Wanderer’ was drafted as early as 1912 and played over at the RCM by both Douglas Fox and Walter Parratt. But, particularly dissatisfied with the Toccata, Parry decided to withhold the work. After Parry’s death in 1918 Walford Davies and Emily Daymond agreed to edit the work for publication at the request of the composer’s executors. The task was completed in November 1920 and the work published in 1921. That same year, George Thalben-Ball, the brilliant 25-year-old organist, who was assistant to Davies at the Temple Church and assisted with the work’s registration, gave its first hearing at Westminster Abbey. The title, ‘The Wanderer’, was ascribed to the work by the composer. It referred almost certainly to his eponymous yacht which he had bought on late 1900, and, one presumes, to his intrepid sailing adventures around the British Isles. Originally named The Humber, the yacht had been built in Hull for piloting duties on the river. Parry purchased her, made her seaworthy, and in 1901 made his first extended journey to Ireland in her. In 1903 he renamed the yacht The Wanderer and, in Harvey’s boatyard at Littlehampton, he had her lengthened by ten feet to increase the accommodation for himself and his travelling companions (such as Lloyd, George Roberston Sinclair, and the writer, Logan Pearsall Smith). Thereafter he sailed in her every summer until 1914 when private sailing was proscribed owing to the war. The Toccata and Fugue is a large-scale conception in which both sections are based on one germane cell: B-A-F#-G. Inhernetly ambiguous in its potential either to suggest G major or E minor (keys already explored by Parry in his earlier Fantasia and Fugue), this cell is immensely influential in Parry’s tonal scheme. The Toccata, which begins and ends in G, is nevertheless strongly infected by the relative minor. At the beginning of the Fugue,w hose subject is constructed from the cell, we are beguiled initially into hearing the idea in G, but it soon becomes apparent that the tonality is orientated towards E minor (with the answer in B minor). Significantly, after the lengthy fugal exposition, Parry introduces the fugue subject in G major. With its new semiquaver countersubject, and the answer in the dominant (D), this section takes on the semblances of a second exposition. Parry embarks on a third, more developmental section by modulating to B flat major, a tonal event marked by a further entry of the fugal subject. Events become more fluid and rhythmically animated as the tonality begins to pull back in the direction of E minor, but this is suddenly contradicted by a forceful dominant pedal of G and a recapitulation of the fugal subject in that key. Yet even this triumphal statement is not the last word, for the final entry of the subject is presented in E minor (in the pedals), and it would seem from the ensuing extemporisation and ‘quasi cadenza’ that this is the tonal conclusion. In the last three bars, however, G major emerges victoriously in a spacious augmentation of the subject.

A diary entry for 23 March 1918 mentions an ‘Elegy’ for organ which Parry had tried over with only moderate satisfaction. The manuscript, Heavily annotated, is, in fact marked ‘Elegiac’, but a later revised version by Emily Daymond is entitled Elégie which may have been made during Parry’s life time or shortly afterwards. Daymond’s version has been used as the basis of this recording, though it has been subject to some editorial revision. This little piece, written during the last appalling phase of the First World War (the great German offensive having begun on 21 March), has a sense of quiet, yet passionate resignation. Barring the orchestration of his patriotic song, ‘England’, it was the last piece of work he undertook before his death in October.

Parry died on 7 October 1918, a month before the Armistice. Though he had been suffering from severe septicaemia for several weeks, it was ultimately the influenza epidemic that brought about his end. Throughout his last days he had asked for news of the war, and though often cast down by news of great losses at the front, he had never lost hope. His funeral took place at St Paul's Cathedral (strongly argued for by Stanford) on 16 October on which occasion a few of his friends and colleagues collected together ‘a small wreath of melodies, which were woven together and played.’ Around this ‘wreath’ a larger collection was mad for publication in Parry’s memory, and the title For the Little Organ Book appended, suggested by the title of Parry’s own (undated) miniature which heads the group. Parry’s little piece, perhaps intended for a collection inspired by Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, is an affecting binary movement (AAB) in minuet style that has a strong affinity with the neo-baroque string essays of the ‘Lady Radnor’ and ‘English’ Suites. In William Harris’ printed copy (now in the possession of James Lancelot), the piece is prefaced in pencil by the word ‘Preston’, suggesting perhaps that Parry had based his prelude on Bishop Jenner’s tune which appeared in the revised Hymns Ancient & Modern (No. 516) with the harvest words, ‘Lord of the harvest, once again We thank Thee’, by Joseph Anstice. ‘Preston’ (or ‘East Preston’) as a place name, or more specifically the small south coast Sussex village (though not the ‘Preston’ of Jenner’s tune), also had a personal association with the composer, for it was close to his seaside home at Rustington where he often took long walks, pondering many of his finest works. Parry’s early published song ‘Why does azure deck the sky’,composed at Eton in 1865, forms the basis of Stanford’s short ‘Chorale Prelude’, a symbol of the two men’s friendship (however stormy) and close artistic association. Two of the Three Choirs Festival organists are represented: Herbert Brewer of Gloucester, with his highly coloured ‘Carillon’ and Ivor Atkins with his forbidding ‘Chorale Prelude on the tune “Worcester”, (after his own cathedral city); Sinclair of Hereford, his one-time sailing companion, had sadly died in 1917. Charles Macpherson and Walter Alcock - teaching colleagues at the RCM - contributed gentle miniatures (Macpherson’s is an especially fine piece), while Alan Gray, Stanford’s successor at Trinity College, Cambridge, produced a moving elegy on the most seminal of phrases of Blest Pair of Sirens which is quoted as the coda. The remaining pieces, by Harold Darke, Frank Bridge (a powerful and emotionally probing threnody), Henry Ley, Charles Wood, Walford Davies (his ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ surely being a reference to Parry’s younger generation of RCM pupils who were either taught by Parry of who came into contact with him as students at the institution. As well as being a touching tribute from friends, colleagues and pupils, A Little Organ Book is a fascinating aesthetic document, providing a quintessential cross-section of the world of organ music and organ style in Britain during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Furthermore, as a document of homage, it is also a measure and indication of the extent of Parry’s considerable influence on his contemporaries and those younger men who, under his spell, disseminated his beliefs and artistic morality.

© Jeremy Dibble, 2000

Below you can find a review of this CD:


Complete Organ Works of Sir Hubert Parry (2 CD-Set)



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CLASSICAL GOOD CD GUIDE 2004, p.715 in the category of ‘Gramophone Award Winners: Recordings of Legendary Status’.

The reviewer said that ‘the combination of Lancelot and the Durham Willis/Harrison organ is, to coin a phrase, a “dream ticket”, and that ‘the excellence of the playing is matched by the recording. Quite simply, this is a definitive, outstanding, glorious recording’.


Fantasia and Fugue in G (earlier version c.1882)

Chorale Fantasia on an Old English Tune “When I survey the wondrous Cross”  (pub. 1915)

Chorale Fantasia on “O God, our help”

Seven Chorale Preludes for Organ, set I



“on S.S.Wesley’s Hampton”

The “Old 104th”


“Christe, Redemptor omnium”

“ St Ann’s”

Elegy (for April 7, 1913)

Toccata and Fugue “The Wanderer” (pub. 1921)


Seven Chorale Preludes for Organ, set II

“Croft’s 136th”


“St Thomas”

“St Mary”


“St Cross”


Chorale Fantasia on “The Old Hundredth”

Elégie (1918)

A Little Organ Book in memory of Sir Hubert Parry

Titles of individual pieces, where they exist, appear in brackets next to the composer’s name

C.Hubert H. Parry

C.V Stanford (Chorale Prelude on “Why does azure deck the sky”)

A. Herbert Brewer (Carillon)

Alan Gray

Charles Macpherson

Ivor Atkins (Chorale Prelude on the tune “Worcester” [Attrib. to Thomas Tomkins])

Frank Bridge

Harold E Darke

Charles Wood

Walter G. Alcock

G. Thalben Ball (Elegy)


Walford Davies (Jesu dulcis memoria)

Fantasia and Fugue in G (later version)