Parry, Charles Hubert / arr. Brookes, Phillip

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Parry, Charles Hubert / arr. Brookes, Phillip

Long Since In Egypt’s Plenteous Land, Ballad from the oratorio Judith, for female voice and orchestra (also Meditation for violin & orchestra, arranged by Phillip Brookes, first print)

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Parry, Charles Hubert / arr. Brookes, Phillip

Long Since In Egypt’s Plenteous Land, Ballad from the oratorio Judith, for female voice and orchestra (also Meditation for violin & orchestra, arranged by Phillip Brookes, first print)

he birth of a favourite hymn
Parry lived toward the end of the age of oratorios. Handel had begun the fashion for large-scale works for chorus, soloists and orchestra, usually on a biblical or religious theme, and countless British composers had added to the canon. Many of these oratorios were very ordinary, ringing the changes of musical platitudes. But others were great, notably two central European examples written for the British market: Haydn’s The Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Parry’s first success in music had been his very un-biblical Prometheus Unbound, based on Shelley’s poem, and all eyes were on this new talent.

Commissions came quickly, including one for the Birmingham Festival of 1888. Parry was not religious (he described himself as a humanist) and wanted to write a secular work; indeed, he proposed several ideas. They included Sanskrit poetry and the story of Columbus (“no need of God or Devil to set matters going”, he wrote). But the Birmingham Festival committee insisted on a religious theme and Parry therefore chose a biblical story that had little of “religion or biblical oratorio beyond the name”. It is in fact a bloody tale of the sacrifice of children in the first part, and Judith’s mission to kill the Assyrian king in order to bring back his head to the Israelites in the second. Parry clearly wanted to write something more like Wagnerian music-drama, but he reluctantly accepted Birmingham’s insistence upon more choral numbers. The first successful marriage of oratorio and music-drama was still to come from one of the younger members of the orchestra that performed Judith at Birmingham on 19 August – Edward Elgar. The conductor was Hans Richter.

There is no doubt that the work was a success and consolidated Parry’s reputation. It was quickly taken up by choral societies throughout the land. But Parry did not retain good memories of the experience, and resisted attempts to revive Judith. When one such revival was proposed by Sir Frederick Bridge at a meeting of the Royal Choral Society in 1914, Parry (who was chairing the meeting) replied “Not while I am on the committee”. On another occasion, he threw the music out of the window when a singer was about to sing one aria at a private gathering.

One number has, however, survived, though not in its original form. It is the children’s song from Act I, scene 2, which generations of Britons have sung to different words as the school hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’. In the oratorio it is a charming moment when a child sins of the Exodus and the Israelites’ settling in the promised land. Called Ballad, its simplicity and memorable tune provide dramatic contrast with the horrors to come. The tune is one of Parry’s finest and very typical of his ‘innocent’ style. In 1924, Dr George Gilbert Stocks, music master at Repton School, compiled a book of hymns suitable for use in the school chapel. He used the main tune of the Ballad and fitted to it words by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Novello & Co. published it and in this form it became very popular, being regularly voted one of Britain’s favourite hymns.

Performance notes
The voice of the Child is not specified as a contralto but the part has usually been taken by one. There is a problem with this; many ‘traditional’ contraltos have voices that are simply too rich for a child. If a contralto is used, it should be one with a light timbre – a light mezzo-soprano in fact. Of course, a strong child’s voice would sound best, but the third part in the trio at the end of the Ballad descends to a G that might be difficult for many trebles to reach. However, nothing in the four solo verses is lower that Bb, so that one solution might be to use a treble soloist supported by a female choir. Ideally, the trio should be sung by three trebles.

For this volume I have prepared a version of the full Ballad arranged for violin and orchestra. This is to allow a beautiful vignette to be available in a form that is perhaps more useful than a song that needs unusual forces. I have altered the tune very little but have made more use of the orchestra (which Parry keeps very subdued throughout, no doubt to balance with the voices). The violin solo is of medium difficulty: good tone projection and assuredness with harmonics are the only technical demands.

Phillip Brookes, 2017

For performance material please contact Musikproduktion Höflich (https://musikmph.de), Munich.

Score No.

1917

Special Edition

The Phillip Brookes Collection

Genre

Violin & Orchestra

Size

210 x 297 mm

Performance Materials

available

Printing

First print

Pages

44