Hubert Parry: I Was Glad 

Context

Hubert Parry (1848-1918) was at the height of his fame by the start of the 20th century. He held a Professorship at Oxford from 1900, as well as being knighted two years previously in 1898. It was during this mature period of Parry’s life that he composed his most famous and popular two works: I Was Glad (1902) and Jerusalem (1916). 

Parry’s compositional style became highly influential on emerging British composers such as Elgar and Vaughan Williams. It is often noted that Parry’s development as a composer came from the large scope of work he took on over a number of years. His energy and passion for music twinned with his abilities as a teacher, musician and administrator made him a triple threat in the field. Parry played a large part in establishing art music at the centre of British culture, which really put Britain on the map in the classical music world. 

 

The Text

I Was Glad is a choral introit that is traditionally sung in the Church of England at coronations of British monarchs. A number of British composers have set the text, which consists of verses from Psalm 122, including Henry Purcell and William Boyce. Parry’s 1902 setting of the text is by far the most popular of them all. Parry does not set the whole text, but verses 1-3, 6 and 7:

 

I was glad when they said unto me,

We will go into the house of the Lord.

Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity in itself.

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.

Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.

 

The content of the psalm is a prayer for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, and its use in coronation services ties together Jerusalem and the United Kingdom. Parry’s setting was composed in 1902 in time for the coronation of Edward VII. It was later revised in 1911 for the coronation of King George V.

 

The Music

Parry’s grand setting of I Was Glad is large in its employment of forces and sees the composer utilising these forces to create a bold and powerful statement. After the bold orchestral opening consisting of a trumpet fanfare and powerful chords from the rest of the orchestra, the chorus proclaim the words ‘I was glad’. The notes move in an ascending sequence, representing the positive word painting on the word ‘glad’. The orchestra drive the music forward as the chorus sing through the lines of Psalm 122.

Parry creates an antiphonal effect between the chorus and the brass in particular, creating two opposing forces. This is then developed throughout the orchestra, with both sections keeping up the important musical dialogue. The imperial splendour of the music is one of its biggest attractions as a piece, and it is now often heard in concert halls around the world as a stand-alone work. One of the biggest musical innovations of I Was Glad is in the central section with the acclamation’s ‘Vivat Rex’ or ‘Vivat Regina’ – ‘Long live King/Queen’. This section is the most revised as it is tailored to the occasion (e.g – who is being crowned).

Parry’s powerful use of dynamics and rich textures supports the intensity and drama of the piece, which, in turn, supports the unifying message of peace from the psalm. The composer’s utilisation of brass is also noteworthy in I Was Glad as it establishes the dialogue between the chorus and orchestra. Parry unifies these two large forces to create a magnificent work perfect for any grand occasion. 

 

Final Thoughts

In 1902, Parry was made a baronet for his contribution to the coronation and his setting of I Was Glad has joined Handel’s Zadok the Priest as an essential part of a British coronation. 

 

This blog is dedicated to my friend and colleague Steve Terry.

Happy Reading!

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