English Suite

May 9 2014

In July 1914 (date according to this source), Parry was working on a suite for strings whose movements, except for the last?, are named after baroque dances or musical forms: Prelude, In minuet style, Saraband, Caprice, Pastoral, Air, Frolic. The performers here are not named.

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.

Jeremy Dibble, C Hubert H Parry, OUP, 1992 (text via Questia, my links and subbing):

Emily Daymond undertook the editing of those completed works which, because of the war, had not achieved print. […] The bulk of the English Suite dates from 1914 and 1915, though some movements were written much earlier. The Pastoral dates from about 1890 appearing in a different key (B flat) as a piano piece and also as a piece for violin. [What key is used in the suite?] The Saraband is also earlier and includes a quotation from the Lullaby of the Twelve Short Pieces, Set 1 No 4 for violin and piano written in 1894. This was probably the date of the movement’s composition and it may well have been a rejected movement for the Lady Radnor Suite which dates from the same year. The last of the movements to be written (sometime between 1916 and 1917) was the Air – originally entitled Intermezzo by the composer but altered by Daymond ‘to match the other names’. Similarly the Caprice and the last movement Frolic were chosen and given titles by the editor since the composer had not decided on any definite names, nor had he settled on any definitive last movement. The movements of the English Suite are generally larger in scope than those of the Lady Radnor, and the harmonic language is more capricious, particularly in the jocular Caprice and Frolic. The Air attempts to recapture the serenity of the earlier suite’s Slow Minuet but never quite achieves its sensuous intimacy. In Minuet Style is distinguished by particularly imaginative string writing and a colourful mixture of tonality and modality. Most distinctive of all is the stately Elgarian Saraband with its broad diatonicism and liberal dissonance. After two semi-private performances under [Hugh] Allen’s direction, one at a [Royal] College [of Music] orchestral concert [in 1920], and the other at the Bach Choir’s Parry Concert on 10 May 1921, the Suite was given its first fully public hearing on 22 October 1922 at a Promenade Concert under Henry Wood.”

That date looks wrong: there were no Sunday performances. The BBC Prom archive says October 17. I sense generally that Dibble’s book, although indispensable, needed a better editor.

There was a fashion for neo-baroque and neo-classical suites before the launch of modern neo-classicism (which is usually dated to the premiere, in 1920, of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella).

An English Suite is occasionally im alten Stil, but the music is all Parry. The best recording is with the LSO and Boult on Lyrita.

The exulting, complaining, torn Saraband is one of his finest tunes and should be ranked as a hit with Blest Pair of Sirens, Repton, I Was Glad and Jerusalem. The slight but moving Air may also belong in that group. It has a Celtic rather than English lilt.

Why did he do nothing with the saraband for twenty years and perhaps even reject it for the earlier suite?

In English terms, An English Suite looks forward to Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (1926), which is loosely based on tunes in a French Renaissance manual, but amounts to an original work.

Marion M Scott, review of An English SuiteThe Christian Science Monitor, July 17 1920 (as cited here):

“It is paramountly English, as English as a Shakespearean comedy or a Herrick poem, and the stately prelude and sarabande, the delicious quasi menuetto, the pastoral with its touching yet happy charm, the expressive intermezzo [air] and lively finale might well stand as incidental music to ‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘As You Like It.’

“The suite […] was designed for one of his most brilliant pupils, Dr. Daymond, who amongst other musical avocations, conducted a string orchestra. […]

“Another point that strikes one in the suite is the strong ease, almost Handelian, with which Parry could deal with a string orchestra. He evoked rich, pure-toned masses of sound, or a singing and sympathetic quality from the instruments in combination as naturally as he wrote vital contrapuntally moving parts for each. There is never any stuffing in a score of his.

“The suite was played con amore by the college orchestra (many of whom had been under Sir Hubert as students) and was conducted by Dr. – now Sir Hugh – Allen, director of the Royal College of Music.” According to the article, the performance was on June 4.

Female conductors were rare in Parry’s day. Emily Daymond was one. The Countess of Radnor (1846-1929), for whom he had written the earlier, and less interesting, suite known as Lady Radnor’s Suite, was another and had an orchestra charmingly called Lady Radnor’s Band. He was not, as far as I know, romantically involved with either of them, though his marriage was not especially happy.

3 Responses to “English Suite”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The Air, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless:

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Eton produced Arne, Parry and Butterworth – but Westminster produced Purcell and, recently, George Benjamin. And Adrian Boult and Roger Norrington and Flanders and Swann.


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