Peanut Butter and Jelly, Gin and Tonic, Stanford and Parry

This will be a good Sunday for music-loving Anglophiles; all of the choral and organ music is by those two heroes of British music, Stanford and Parry.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was a student of S. S. Wesley, and later a partner with George Grove in Grove’s first Dictionary of Music and Musicians.  His iconic “I was glad” was written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, and has been used at every coronation since.  Charles Villiers Stanford was an Irishman whose musical style was clearly influenced by his friend and mentor Brahms.  Stanford composed prolifically in all genres, but his mastery and appeal come across most clearly (to me, anyway) in his choral music.  Aside from the compositions they left us, both Stanford and Parry leave a goodly heritage as teachers though students like Vaughan Williams, Howells, and a host of others.

Both of the anthems the choir will sing are hymn-tune related.  In the case of Stanford’s ‘O for a closer walk,’ the composer used pre-existing music (the Scottish psalm tune Caithness) as the basis for an anthem, adding the choral parts and the flowing organ accompaniment.  In the case of Parry’s ‘Dear Lord and Father,’ the opposite process is at work: an editor took a melody from Parry’s oratorio “Judith” (don’t look it up, it’s a real snoozer—even worse than Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius), removed the original words and inserted new ones; from that we get the hymn tune known as Repton.

The elements that make British choral music sound the way it does are its lyrical phrases, its pointed but refined dissonance, and (of course!) its soaring melodies.  But even before one gets to the sound, we find that most of the great Anglican choral music begins with an elegant and expressive text.  Both of these pieces qualify, and both texts are in the hymnal if you want to look them up.  William Cowper’s ‘O for a closer walk’ is at hymn 684, and John Greenleaf Whittier’s ‘Dear Lord and Father’ (which was first published in The Atlantic Monthly) is at hymn 653.

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