Charles Hubert Hastings Parry – Elegy for Brahms (1897)
(b. 27 February 1848, Bournemouth – d. 7 October 1918, Rustington)
Hubert Parry did not attend a music college, unlike his colleague C. V Stanford, who studied at Leipzig. True, Parry had been the youngest graduate in music (at 18) from Oxford – a record that still stands – though his initial career path was in finance, working for Lloyd’s of London. But he was a gifted musician with a touch of genius about him, and a talented writer, so it was no surprise when in 1883 Sir George Grove appointed him as Professor of Musical History at the newly opened Royal College of Music. His early compositions betray the influence of both Wagner and Brahms, something typical of many composers of the late 19th century. By 1895 Parry had also shown an aptitude for administration, and when Grove became too ill to continue he was appointed Director of the Royal College of Music.
On 3 April 1897 Johannes Brahms died in Vienna, and the Royal College planned a memorial concert. Parry started to write an Elegy in homage, but progress was slow since it conflicted with a commission to write a choral work for the Three Choirs Festival, to be held that year in Hereford (this was the Magnifcat, performed in September). In the event the work was not complete by the time of the memorial concert, and Parry filed it away, never (apparently) returning to it. This tale is typical of Parry’s working practices: he would accept commissions almost willy-nilly, relegating his own preferences to the background. Elgar once said that Parry was a perfect gentleman, “and if he had not been such a perfect gentleman he might have been a greater composer”.
Parry died in October 1918, and a memorial concert for him was held at the Royal College of Music at which Stanford conducted the Elegy for Brahms – its first performance. Thereafter it was returned to the Library until Sir Adrian Boult recorded in 1978 in the final session of his 58-year recording career. It has never been generally available for study: this MPH score corrects that.
It is in a loose sonata-form structure in A minor and major. Parry’s love of the Wagner of Tristan und Isolde is apparent in some of the passionate writing (for instance through figure 19), as is Tchaikovsky; Richard Strauss, too, makes an appearance in the closing pages. But the spirit of Brahms hovers over everything – the second subject (figure 4) could even have been scored by the German master. In the end, though, the strongest personality of all is Parry’s own, a fitting quality for a very fine work.
Notes on this edition
1. The version Stanford conducted in 1918 was mainly Parry’s original score with minor amendments, seemingly by Stanford. This score is slightly different. The autograph score is almost complete, but there are signs that Parry intended to do more. For instance, bar 209 is the last bar of page 21 of Parry’s autograph (it is on page 30 of this score). Turn the page and we find that the 1st oboe, 2nd bassoon and horn parts that had started in bar 209 do not continue into page 22. Presumably Parry intended to correct this, and would have done so had he completed the score. In other places we can speculate that Parry might have ‘smoothed over’ an awkward moment. Accordingly, this edited score attempts to provide a useful performing version of a very beautiful score.
2. Tempo and expression markings have been made consistent – and some added, for they are few in the autograph.
3. The horn parts are laid out slightly differently from the original. In 1897 Parry still wrote as if the horns were crooked in different keys, although the parts are clearly not for natural horns. Thus, much of the layout is for pairs of horns in F and E, making the distribution of parts dependent upon the crooks. I have redistributed the parts between the four horns in F, in the hope that this provides a more satisfying experience for the players. Likewise, trumpet parts are written for instruments in C, rather than the original A.
Phillip Brookes, 2019
For performance material please contact Musikproduktion Höflich (www.musikmph.de), Munich.