Everyone enjoys a ‘Rags to Riches’ story. One in which a person rises from poverty to wealth. From obscurity to fame. Joseph Parry is such a classic example.
At the age of nine Joseph went to work in the mines. This was to help the paltry Parry family finances. He then moved on to the demanding Cyfarthfa ironworks. No respite there.
Joseph Parry’s Music Legacy
At the same time he was showing early promise at music composition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Joseph Parry became a respected and much loved composer of music from Wales.
Parry’s prolific musical output has left a rich legacy.
It includes over 400 hymn tunes, 300 hundred songs and 300 anthems. A staggering output.
Born in Merthyr Tydfil. The simple cottage at 4 Chapel Row is now a museum open to the public.
Joseph Parry’s family emigrated to the USA when he was 13 to seek a better life. He found work as an ironworker in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Whilst still in his teens, Joseph’s musical talents were becoming obvious.
At the Welsh National Eisteddfod in 1863 at Swansea he won major music prizes.
He repeated the feat at Llandudno a year later. Then elected to the Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod.
Monies raised in Wales and America enabled him to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he gained the degree of Bachelor of Music.
On completion, Parry returned to Danville in 1871. There he set up his ‘Danville Musical Institute.’
Joseph Parry Back in Wales
Wales once again beckoned Joseph Parry in 1874. Appointed the first Professor of Music at the University College, Aberystwyth.
What an amazing achievement. For a man who had experienced such dire conditions in his early life.
This became the most satisfying and prolific period of his life.
Despite his vast musical output, one song, ‘Myfanwy’ ensures that his name will forever live in the memory.
Other work of considerable merit is the hymn tune ‘Aberystwyth.’ Considered one of Wales’ finest.
The first Welsh opera ‘Blodwen’ composed in 1878 became a huge success.
Our current repertoire includes no fewer than three Joseph Parry compositions.
‘Myfanwy‘, ‘Y Ddau Wladgarwr‘ and ‘Sirioldeb‘ feature in concerts and other engagements.
Parry also took up music teaching posts in Swansea and Cardiff.
Joseph Parry died, aged 62, on February 17, 1903. He is buried in St Augustine’s Churchyard, Penarth.
His story is told in the novel ‘Off to Philadelphia in the Morning’ written by Merthyr born author Jack Jones.
It was also dramatised by Elaine Morgan and televised by the BBC in 1978.
His entire family became United States Citizens in 1859.
Yet Wales will forever regard Joseph Parry as one of its own.
Ed: The Music from Wales series continues with Mai Jones and Ryan Davies.
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