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To Philadelphia and Back - The Life and Music of Joseph Parry

Manylion a Disgrifiad y Llyfr | Book Details & Description

  • ISBN: 9781845273026
  • Dulais Rhys, Frank Bott
  • Publication May 2010
  • Format: Paperback, 215x138 mm, 296 pages

A portrait of one of Wales' most important cultural figures. Joseph Parry was born the son of an illiterate steel-worker, but his musical talents were to make him the best-known Welshman of the nineteenth century. He emigrated to America with his family at the age of twelve, and later studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Dulais Rhys and Frank Bott have produced an authoritative account of the life of a remarkable Welshman.

Joseph Parry was born in Merthyr Tudful in 1841, the third of five surviving children of Daniel and Elizabeth Parry, both immigrants from Welsh-speaking west Wales. The booming coal and ironworks industries had attracted people from all areas of Wales, England and Ireland and the population of the small town soared. At the age of nine Joseph became a pit-boy and when he was twelve he followed his father to work at Cyfarthfa ironworks where he was a ‘roller’. As part of the Welsh community in Merthyr, the chapel was very important to the family and they were also enthusiastic musicians. At that time there were gifted amateur musicians in many towns in south Wales, men and women who did not have the opportunity to follow an academic music career but were active in their own localities, forming choirs, arranging eisteddfodau, teaching young people and bringing a rich cultural environment to otherwise impoverished communities. Joseph was a keen choir member and took singing lessons, learning the great oratorios and performing with the choir in many halls in the mining valley.

Then in 1853, Daniel Parry decided to emigrate to America. Bet Parry and the children followed in 1854 and the family settled in Danville, Philadephia, where Joseph and his father and brother were employed, as in their previous jobs, in the local ironworks. There was an active Welsh community in the area and the family resumed life very much as it had been in Merthyr. Joseph joined the chapel choir and, with the help of other Welsh musicians who had immigrated to Pennsylvania, rekindled his enthusiasm for singing and performing and he began to focus on composition. These early influences laid the foundation for a distinguished career as a prolific composer of many genres of music as well as having an influence in all areas of music in Wales, and in the Welsh communities, in America over the following forty years.

So great was Parry’s impact on the people of Pennsylvania that in 1865 a Parry Fund was set up to enable him and his growing family to return to England so that he could undertake formal training at the Royal Academy. He went on to gain a B.Mus. of Cambridge and later a doctorate at that university. In 1871 the family returned Danville. He was now a US citizen and was keen to further musical education in America. After three years he returned with his family to Wales where he remained for the rest of his life making occasional short trips back to America. In September 1874 he took up the post of Professor of Music at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth, at that time a fledgling college of only 86 students, a quarter of whom wanted to study music. His seven years at Aberystwyth were, musically, a very productive time for Joseph Parry but his relationship with the College Council was fraught with disagreements over the time spent in teaching. In 1881 the family moved to Swansea where he was involved in setting up a Welsh music college. Finally, in 1888, the family settled in Penarth when Joseph Parry became lecturer in music at Cardiff. He died there in 1903 at the age of sixty-one.

These are the bare bones of Joseph Parry’s remarkable career but this book adds a wealth of detail to all aspects of his life – every known composition, every known performance, all the outstanding people he met and worked with, life in Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century, as well as appealing facts about his life in Wales, his family and friends and his eminence in the cultural life of Wales in the second half of the nineteenthth century.