Hubert Parry: connecting our souls with the divine - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Hubert Parry: connecting our souls with the divine

Hubert Parry: connecting our souls with the divine

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
(27th February 1848 – 7th October 1918)

Today, 7th October, is the centenary of the death one of the most distinguished and influential composers of the Victorian and Edwardian era, who died on this day in 1918, and whose legacy continues to leave a distinctive mark on Anglican worship today.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was born on 27th February 1848. As a school boy at Eton he studied composition, and he went on to study music at Oxford. He subsequently taught on the staff of the Royal College of Music, and in 1900 he was appointed Professor of Music at Oxford.

We have already heard his setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from his 'Great' Evening Service in D' this evening; he wrote the wonderful anthem that we heard a moment ago. He also wrote oratorios, symphonies, chorale preludes for organ, motets, and many songs - as well as some of the most famous hymn tunes in the canon. At our service here this morning we sang 'Jerusalem' - often regarded as this country's second national anthem, as well as hearing a version of the tune that we now famously associate with the hymn 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'. We shall close our service this evening with another of famous and memorable hymns - 'O praise ye the Lord'. And alongside his consummate gifts as a composer, Parry was also famous as both a teacher, and a writer - the author of a number of significant volumes on musical subjects.

Now, I am not a musician - indeed, it is not a world that I can claim to know very much about, beyond my interest as an enthusiastic amateur; but perhaps the reason why the legacy of a composer such as Parry is so significant is precisely because of the way in which his works speak to people like me - which has led to his compositions entering the national consciousness to a remarkable degree. It is fascinating that 'Jerusalem' is probably the single most requested hymn here at St Bride's for both weddings and memorial services.

Parry's music speaks to young and old alike; perhaps because of its power to stir the soul, and to enable us to reach out beyond ourselves to something transcendent. It gives us a vision of grandeur; a glimpse of the sublime.

One of the glories of the Anglican tradition of worship is its music. I find it fascinating that Choral Evensong is experiencing something of a revival these days - perhaps because some of the things it offers are becoming increasingly rare: a time apart from the busyness of life; a time of stillness and calm; Evensong has a structure and coherence of its own, in which music and words combine in a way that reaches out to truth through beauty; in a way that can touch our souls, bringing inspiration, and transformation.

In the days before I regarded myself as a regular churchgoer, one of the most significant moments on my own journey of faith took place on a very ordinary Sunday afternoon, during a very ordinary service of Evensong, in a very ordinary (and rather ugly) Victorian parish church in Bristol, during my student days.

The choir began singing a motet by Bruckner. And it was that piece of choral music that nailed me to the pew. It was that piece of music that touched my soul; it was that piece of music that led me to feel that I needed to come back to that place and to find out more. And it was in that church that I was subsequently confirmed, in 1982. Such is the power of music: it can sometimes take us to places that words alone cannot reach.

As some of you may be aware, in 2012 I published a book about the Elizabethan priest and writer, Richard Hooker who - as chance would have it, was appointed Master of the Temple Church right next door to us here, in the year 1585. When asked to choose a cover design for the book, I chose an image of a manuscript page from Book V of the book for which Hooker's is most famous - precisely because it is a passage about the power of music.

Music, Richard Hooker tells us, can have the power, not only to change our moods, but to carry us into ecstasies 'filling the mind with an heavenlie joy and for the time in a manner severing it from the body.'

Richard Hooker knew all about the amazing power of music to connect our souls with the divine; and so, of course, did Sir Hubert Parry.

blog comments powered by Disqus