Vaughan Williams on Hubert Parry

Vaughan Williams studied composition with Dr. Hubert Parry at the Royal College of Music, London. Vaughan Williams recalled:

Many … entirely misunderstood Parry; they were deceived by his rubicund bonhomie and imagined that he had the mind, as he had the appearance, of a country squire. The fact is that Parry had a highly nervous temperament. He was in early days a thinker with very advanced view. I remember, for example, how in the early nineties (1890s) he accepted Ibsen with delight. He was one of the early champions of Wagner when other thinkers in the country were still calling him impious…

In 1891 when I first went to Parry he was indeed an out-and-out radical both in art and life. He introduced me to Wagner and Brahms – which was quite contrary to curricula then obtaining in academies. He showed me the greatness of Bach and Beethoven as compared with Handel and Mendelssohn…

Parry was a thinker on music, which he connected, not only with life, but with other aspects of philosophy and science. When Parry was a young man the Darwinian controversy was in full swing (1). He became a follower of Hubert Spencer and decided to find out how far music, as well as the rest of life, followed the laws of evolution. These thoughts he embodied in his great book, The Evolution of Art Music, in which he proves, conclusively to most people, that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for example, is not an isolated phenomenon, but a highly developed stage of process of evolution which can be traced back to the primitive songs of our people. (2)

(1) Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Vaughan Williams was in fact a great nephew of Charles Darwin.

(2) Vaughan Williams, cited in Holmes, Paul (1997) Vaughan Williams. London: Omnibus Press, p.17.