Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry

Last updated: 18 November 2008

Dr Joseph Parry, who died on 17 February 1903, was famous for his compositions both in Wales and the USA. One of the most famous Welsh tunes - Myfanwy - and perhaps the greatest hymn tune ever written - Aberystwyth - came from his pen.

Although these are the only two works for which Parry is still widely known, he was much more prolific than that would suggest, with 10 operas, three oratorios, five cantatas and numerous anthems, songs and orchestral works to his credit.

He also edited and harmonised six volumes of Welsh songs, and wrote what was probably the first original composition for brass band.

Born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1841, his family struggled to make ends meet, and Joseph left school and went down the mine aged nine to play his part supporting his parents and seven brothers and sisters. The family emigrated to the US in 1854, and went to live in a Welsh community in Pennsylvania.

Joseph worked in an iron works but also studied music, setting Welsh texts to music and performing widely both in America and in Wales. He returned to Britain to study music in London and Cambridge, then became a stalwart of Welsh academic musical life, teaching and composing in Aberystwyth, Swansea and finally Cardiff, where he died in 1903.

Although most of his work has fallen into obscurity, Parry was much feted as a composer on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime. The opera Blodwen is probably the first Welsh opera and did very well, receiving some 500 performances; and his oratorio Saul of Tarsus was also very well received.

Sadly, neither remains in the repertory, although a couple of choruses from Blodwen have been recorded by the Pendyrus Male Choir.

There was a real Myfanwy in Joseph's life - his childhood sweetheart Myfanwy Llywellyn. She also emigrated to the US and, using the name Lena van Ellen, became a well-known opera singer. The story goes that they lost touch, but Parry saw Myfanwy again some 30 years later, when she was ill. She snubbed him. Was he then moved to pen this song of romantic yearning and regret?

Joseph Parry is buried at St Augustine's Church, Penarth - a fitting location for a musician. The church has a fine acoustic and is often used for concerts and recordings.

Key works

  • Joseph Parry, Blodwen


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