Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parry, John (1776-1851)

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PARRY, JOHN (1776–1851), musician and composer, was born at Denbigh, North Wales, on 18 Feb. 1776. He gave early indications of musical talent, and received some lessons in theory and in clarinet-playing from a local dancing master. In 1793 he joined the Denbigh militia band, and having in the meantime had lessons from Rakeman, the bandmaster, he became leader in 1797, and held that position for ten years. During this time he learned to play many instruments, and the feat which he acquired of playing on three flageolets at once led to his being asked to ‘exhibit’ at Covent Garden Theatre. He played there for the benefit of Mrs. T. Dibdin in 1805, and in 1807 he settled in London as a teacher of the flageolet. He had already written some poetry and songs, and in 1809 he was first engaged to write songs for Vauxhall Gardens. He continued to write for the manager of the gardens for several years. In 1814 he wrote a farce, called ‘Fair Cheating,’ for Lovegrove's benefit at Drury Lane, and also the music for T. Dibdin's ‘Harlequin Hoax.’ These were followed by ‘Oberon's Oath’ (1816), ‘High Notions’ (1817), ‘Helpless Animals’ (1818), an adaptation of music for ‘Ivanhoe’ (1820), and ‘Two Wives, or a Hint to Husbands’ (1821). He conducted the Eisteddvodau at Wrexham in 1820, and at Brecon in 1822; and in 1821 he received the degree ‘Bardd Alaw,’ master of song. He was one of the chief promoters of the Cambrian Society, and became its registrar; and on 24 May 1826 his efforts on its behalf were recognised in a complimentary concert, followed by a dinner, at which Lord Clive presided. He was honorary secretary to the Melodists' Club, and was from 1831 to 1849 treasurer to the Royal Society of Musicians. He was one of the original contributors to the ‘Musical World,’ was from 1834 to 1848 concert-music critic of the ‘Morning Post,’ and for a time musical editor of the ‘Sunday Times.’ In January 1837 he gave a farewell concert, when he sang his own ballad, ‘Jenny Jones,’ made popular by Charles Mathews. He died in London on 8 April 1851. His portrait forms part of the collection of the Royal Society of Musicians. His only son was John Orlando Parry [q. v.]

Parry's compositions include a very large number of songs, glees, pieces for harp, piano, flageolet, flute, violin, &c. Many of them were popular, especially two Scottish songs, ‘O merry row the Bonnie Bark’ and ‘Smile again, my Bonnie Lassie.’ He wrote ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Harp,’ published in the ‘Transactions’ of the Cambrian Society, and ‘An Account of the Royal Musical Festival held in Westminster Abbey in 1834;’ of the latter festival he was secretary. Under the title of ‘The Welsh Harper’ (vol. i. 1839, vol. ii. 1848) he published a collection of Welsh melodies, in which is incorporated the greater part of Jones's ‘Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards.’ For Vauxhall Gardens he adapted to English words a selection of Welsh airs in 1809. Other collections of no great importance include ‘Beauties of Caledonia,’ a selection of Scottish songs, 3 vols., London, n.d. Many of his Welsh airs and arrangements were reprinted in Purday and Thomas's ‘Songs of Wales,’ London, 1874.

[Biogr. Dict. of Musicians, 1824; Grove's Dictionary of Music, i. 651, 484, ii. 248, iv. 443; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 450, 551, v. 188; Musical Times, May 1851; Baptie's Musical Scotland, p. 207; Gent. Mag. 1836 pt. ii. p. 80.]

J. C. H.