We’ll be exploring a very different side of Parry's music in our concert on 24 March when we sing his Songs of Farewell, six pieces for unaccompanied choir in which Parry reflects on loss, heaven and the approaching end of his own life.
Parry spent some time studying in Germany, and the deep influence of nineteenth century German choral music, particularly that of Mendelssohn and Brahms, comes through clearly in the Songs of Farewell through Parry’s masterly use of counterpoint and in his expressive harmonic language. The outbreak of the First World War was a double-blow to Parry; not only did it destroy the lives of so many young men, including several promising composers, but it also severed the close cultural ties between Britain and Germany that lie at the heart of Parry’s music, and all this loss is poured into the last two movements of The Songs of Farewell. Donne’s sonnet 'At the round earth’s imagined corners' invites us to remember all those who have died violent deaths, which Parry evokes with angular syncopation for tenors and basses before a lovely melody sings out in the alto line: “but let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space”. The piece concludes with a heartfelt prayer that we may learn how to repent.
The final piece, the Psalm text, 'Lord let me know mine end', is the longest and most complex of the set. It begins simply; the first few pages are reminiscent of earlier English music such as the piece by Purcell which we'll have sung earlier in the concert, but the music becomes increasingly turbulent as the psalmist recounts how God punishes human wickedness by making the body age and decay, with complex double-choir writing, and key changes that are both rapid and extreme. After these outbursts, the Songs of Farewell end quietly, and sadly; the words search for reconciliation with God, and the music dies away in a desperate plea for just a little more time that surely came straight from Parry’s heart during his prolonged illness: “O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence and be no more seen”.