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Music: Yankee Echo

3 minute read

In Manhattan two years ago Antonia Brico assembled 87 women musicians and conducted them in their first symphony concert (TIME, March 25, 1935). Last week when Miss Brico wound up the third season of the New York Women’s Symphony Orchestra, she also had command over four solo singers and a composite chorus of 250. This time there were men in her orchestra, managing some of the unwieldy winds. Though Conductor Brico was in excellent form and the women played better than ever before, the real hero of the evening was Horatio William Parker, a dead and almost forgotten composer whose first oratorio made him famous 40 years ago. His Hora Novissima has since been played so rarely in the concert hall that last week it seemed like a premiere.

Horatio William Parker, who belonged to one of New England’s proudest families, was born in Auburndale, Mass, in 1863. Until he was 14 young Parker took little interest in music. Within two years he became a church organist in Dedham, later in Roxbury, forsook his job three years later to study at the Hochschule fur Musik in Munich. In 1886 he returned to the U. S. with a Bavarian bride, got organ posts with churches in Brooklyn, Harlem and Manhattan.

At 28 Parker wrote Hora Novissima, his masterpiece, taking the text from Bernard de Morlaix’ 12th-Century Rhythm of the Celestial Country. The oratorio was full of magnificent solos and broad, romantic melodies, showed unmistakably the young composer’s German training. After a great success in the U. S., Hora Novissima became, in 1899, the first U. S. work ever sung at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, England. Three years later Cambridge University made him a Doctor of Music.

Domestic honors came to Parker thick & fast. All in a few years he was made choir director and organist at Trinity Church in Boston, Battell Professor of Music at Yale and later dean of its music school, organist at New York’s Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, conductor of Philadelphia’s Eurydice and Orpheus Clubs, conductor of the New Haven Symphony. By juggling his appointments, rehearsals, classes, Parker managed to carry a prodigiously heavy schedule. He still found time to write odes, masques, chamber music, organ-pieces, ballads, overtures, sonatas, cantatas, two operas. But he never equaled his early Hora Novissima. At 56, rheumatic and overworked, Parker wrote A.D. 1919 as a memorial to Yalemen killed in the War, died soon after.

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