Horatio Parker

Biography

Born: September 15, 1863; Auburndale, MA   Died: December 18, 1919; Cedarhurst, NY  
Horatio Parker was among the first important American composers. While Ives would eventually eclipse him, Parker was much more prominent during his career. He also became widely known for his church music. In his works, he was a conservative, writing in a European Romantic style that in later years turned even more traditional and non-progressive.

Parker developed health problems during his youth that resulted in bouts of serious
Read more illness throughout his life. He began music studies with his mother on both piano and organ and at age 15, was already composing music. His first effort was the Kate Greenaway Songs (50) which, while immature in their writing, divulged his considerable potential. He went on to study composition in Boston with George Chadwick and concurrently served as church organist at a nearby Dedham church from 1880 to 1882. He also took instruction in music theory during this time from Stephen Emery and on piano from John Orth. In 1882, Parker enrolled at the Munich Academy of Music where he studied composition for three years with, among others, Joseph Rheinberger. He also composed his first large works during this period, including his Symphony in C. After his return to the United States, Parker served as a church musician from 1885 to 1893 at a succession of three major churches in New York City and taught at several, mostly religious, schools. The end of this period saw the appearance of what many consider Parker's masterpiece, the oratorio Hora novissima, whose numerous performances would elevate the composer to national renown by the century's close. In 1893, the year of the work's premiere, Parker accepted a post at Trinity Church in Boston as organist and choirmaster. The following year, he was appointed professor of music at Yale University, and in 1895, he organized the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, conducting many of the ensemble's concerts until 1918. In the latter 1890s, Parker composed a string of choral works on religious subjects -- such as The Legend of St. Christopher (1897) -- none of which, however, rose to the level of popularity or quality of Hora novissima. Among Parker's students at Yale was Charles Ives, who respected his teacher as a musician, but considered him hopelessly backward in his musical views. Still, Parker was highly regarded and eventually appointed dean of the music school (1904), elevating the institution to national prominence for its composition studies. He wrote little music for church services after 1904 and composed relatively few songs thereafter as well. But he continued to produce larger choral works, like the 1908 cantata King Gorm the Grim. Parker turned to opera for the first time in his career with Mona in 1910, which earned him $10,000 as the first-prize winner in a competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The work was premiered in 1912 at the Met and its success inspired the composer to write another opera, Fairyland (1914), which also garnered Parker a monetary prize awarded by the National Federation of Music Clubs. Despite initial successes, however, none of his operas or other stage works ever gained a foothold in the repertory. Parker's lifelong precarious health worsened as the war years drew on and by 1918, he was seriously ill. He developed pneumonia on a vacation to the West Indies and died a short time later. Read less

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