Hubert Parry: Elegy for Brahms


Hubert Parry (1848-1918) was at the height of his fame by the start of the 20th century. He was held a Professorship at Oxford from 1900, as well as being knighted two years previous 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 Music

Elegy for Brahms was composed in 1897 after the death of Johannes Brahms that same year. Parry believed that Brahms was one of the greatest composers of all time, and often based his music on Brahmsian teachings. Elegy for Brahms quotes Brahms’s music in a number of places. 

Opening with a woodwind soli, the pastoral effect of Parry’s writing comes to the forefront of the music. Rich strings bolster the woodwind to create rich textures that move as one collective to create orchestral swells. Largely staying in the key of A minor, the dark undertones of this first section, and subsequently most of the piece, adds to the growing tension of the piece. A central climax is supported by the brass, the horns in particular, who also wind the orchestra back down to a steady dynamic and tempo. 

Parry’s manipulation of the tempo throughout creates waves of adrenaline that burst into fruition, with other sections slowly pulling out the melodies. Although one of Parry’s most densely orchestrated works, Elegy for Brahms was never performed in Parry’s lifetime. Instead, it was performed at his own funeral in 1918, and then did not receive another performance until 1977. 


Final Thoughts

Hubert Parry’s love and admiration for Johannes Brahms was made perfectly clear in this richly scored Elegy in memoriam. With dense scoring and luscious timbres showcased throughout, this piece certainly does Brahms’ memory justice. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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