Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Delight by Robert Bridges

Set to music by Hubert Parry. To be sung by the Washington Collegium and to be conducted by Benjamin Hansen on this Sunday evening, July 19th, at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington DC at 7:30 PM.

In the 19th century, the Germans used to refer to England derisively as 'Das Land Ohne Musik,' (the land without music). From the era of Henry Purcell to the era of Edward Elgar, the English took great care to celebrate the finest foreign composers: Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak were all venerated by the English in their own lifetimes. But the English did not take much care to venerate their own composers in the same way.

(I Was Glad by Hubert Parry, played at the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952)

This does not mean that there were not composers of enormous skill working in England who preserved a quintessentially English tradition. In fact, composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst would not have achieved their eminence without the example set by teachers of theirs like Charles Villars Stanford and Hubert Parry. Indeed Elgar, who so loathed the composers of the English establishment, made a singular exception for Parry whose music he counted as a crucial influence upon his own.

Parry is not remembered by us as one of the great composers, but we do number many of his works among the greats. At every coronation of an English monarch, his choral anthem: I Was Glad is sung. Every year at the Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall, his choral ode: Jerusalem, is played and sung along to by the vast preponderance of the audience. Parry may not number among the greats, but much of his work does.

(Jerusalem. Sung by the audience of Royal Albert Hall under the baton of Sir Roger Norrington at the Last Night of the Proms 2008)

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