This year is the centenary of the death of Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, one of the great 19th century British composers.
Parry, whose symphonic poem From Death to Life (1914) the Brighton Phil will perform on Sun 14 October at Brighton Dome, is perhaps best known as the composer of popular choral works Jerusalem, I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens.
Parry was assistant editor to George Grove on his seminal “Dictionary of Music & Musicians”, to which he contributed 123 articles.
His pupils at the Royal College of Music (where he was professor of composition & musical history and then director) included Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge and John Ireland.
He died in 1918 in Rustington, West Sussex, aged 70, a victim of the Spanish Flu during the global pandemic, just one month before the Armistice.
In May 2015 70 unpublished works by Parry came to light after being hidden away in a family archive for decades. It is thought that some may have never previously been performed in public.
Parry’s moving symphonic poem for orchestra From Death to Life was a Brighton Festival commission in 1914 (this earlier iteration of the Brighton Festival being officially called the Brighton Music Festival, organised by Henry Lyell-Tayler pictured, the eccentric conductor of Brighton’s municipal orchestra at the time).
Writing for AllMusic.com, Bonnie Fleming says of the piece:
“From Death to Life was written four years before Parry’s death and it represents his fully mature style of composition. The Brighton Festival commissioned the work for its 1914 season and this symphonic poem portrays Parry’s very personal reaction to the outbreak of the First World War.
The meaning of the work was aptly described by F. Gilbert Webb, who wrote the programme notes for the Festival that year saying, ‘Death, arm-in-arm with Fate, walks ever in our midst, while life unceasingly protests, deplores, defies, despairs, and finally triumphs spiritually. Such briefly stated, is the psychological basis of Sir Hubert Parry’s latest work, inspired by the tremendous events through which we are passing.’
From Death to Life is two connected movements, the first initially subtitled ‘Lament’, and the second ‘Consolation’. These subtitles were used for the first performance which Parry conducted on November 12, 1914 in Brighton. At a second performance in London at the Queen’s Hall on March 18th, 1915 the whole work was given the subtitle ‘Mors et Vitae’ with the two movements appearing as ‘Via Mortis’ and ‘Via Vitae’, titles which further stressed Parry’s ethical view of the meaning of life together with man’s moral obligations within it.”
In this YouTube video the London Symphony Orchestra perform the piece conducted by Mathias Bamert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym07cuagIPw
Tickets for the Brighton Phil’s concert are available from Brighton Dome Ticket Office (01273) 709709 www.brightondome.org