Joseph Parry on his appointment at the University College, Aberystwyth in 1874
Joseph Parry - flawed genius?
Joseph Parry was the most important Welsh
musician of the 19th century and his standing
among Welsh musicians became almost
legendary. A great musician? Yes. A great
composer? Well.... A successful composer
of small miniature works? Emphatically
YES especially with his songs, part songs,
anthems, choruses and hymn tunes.
His large-scale works, both vocal and
instrumental, were not successful, apart from
his first opera, Blodwen. Between 1878 and
1896 the opera was performed over 500
times in Wales, England and America.
He had male choruses from his opera
Blodwen performed at his Lodge! In Blodwen,
for better or for worse, his male voice part
song Myfanwy is instantly recognised all over
the world, as are famous hymn tunes like
Aberystwyth, Sirioldeb. Dies Irae etc.
Blodwen, which was the first opera written
by a Welsh composer, was given its gala
performance at the Temperance Hall,
Aberystwyth on 21 May 1878, though the
work had been completed in 1876, the year
Parry became a joining member of the Lodge,
Aberystwyth Lodge No. 1072, on 9 March.
The Lodge met at the Belle Vue Hotel,
on the promenade at this time. It has been
stated more than once that he had been a
member of a London Lodge whilst a student
at the Royal Academy of Music from 1868-1871. However, there is no proof at all to
substantiate this in the Library and Museum
of Freemasonry. As far as the Lodge
performance is concerned, Parry refers to
this in a letter dated October 28, 1878:
...it was in the Lodge's Complimentary
Concert to me for acting as Organist of your Lodge
that Blodwen was first performed so that it was
the masons brought out my important work.
Also interesting is that he composed
a song with Masonic overtones in 1875,
Ysgytwad y Llaw The Handshake.
Joseph Parry first saw Masonic light
at Mahoning Lodge No. 224 at Danville,
Pennsylvania on 21 January 1867. He was
passed on 19 February and raised on 21
March 21 of that same year. His occupation
given was `music teacher.'
The Lodge is known since 2002 as
Danville-Mahoning Lodge No 224. Parry
remained a member until 2 December
1879, when he as suspended for non-
payment of dues.
`Suspension' in this context means that
as far the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
was concerned, Parry had just disappeared,
had become ill or died, or simply moved
without anyone ever notifying his mother
The following year, 1880, he paid his
final dues as a member of Aberystwyth
Lodge No. 1072, as well as moving from
his house at Ffordd Ddewi to a much larger
house at 16 Ffordd Llanbadarn where he
opened his own school of music.
He and his family left for Swansea some
time after April 1881. He does not appear
to have joined a Lodge again. The reason for
this was probably pressure of work and that
he spent so much time away conducting
festivals and adjudicating in Wales, England
and the US.
As a Victorian composer, he stands
second only to Sir Arthur Sullivan,
who was also a Mason. Freemasonry
was popular among many Welsh cultural
leaders, especially with regards the National
Eisteddfod, not only in the 19th century
when London was the centre of its
governance, but also well into the first
half of the 20th century. Joseph Parry was
certainly one of the most colourful of them.
Web site created by Mark Griffin