Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parish-Alvars, Eli

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941974Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 — Parish-Alvars, Eli1895Robin Humphrey Legge

PARISH-ALVARS, ELI or ELIAS (1808–1849), harpist and musical composer, born on 28 Feb. 1808 at Teignmouth, where his father was organist (cf. Athenæum, 17 Feb. 1849), began to study the harp under Robert Bochsa in 1820, after the latter's flight from France, and was subsequently a pupil of François Dizi and of Théodore Labarre in Paris. In his fifteenth year he made a short concert tour in Germany, where his success was pronounced; and, after continuing his study of the harp, went in 1828 to Italy, where he gave his attention to the theory of music, pianoforte-playing (in which he was proficient), and to singing under Guglielmo and Leidesdorf in Florence. Two years later he returned to England, and in 1831 he revisited Germany, and gave concerts in Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. From Russia he went to Constantinople to perform before the sultan, and in 1832 he travelled through Austria and Hungary. He next joined John Field in a tour in Switzerland and Italy, and obtained in 1834 an engagement as solo-harpist at La Scala in Milan, whence in 1836 he went by way of Munich to Vienna. There he studied counterpoint under Sechter and Ignaz Seyfried, married the harpist Melanie Lewy (Hanslick, Geschichte des Concertwesens, p. 345 n.), was engaged as principal harpist at the Court Opera, and wrote much music for his own instrument with orchestra. From 1838 to 1841 he travelled in the East, and collected many eastern melodies, some of which he subsequently used in his compositions. In 1841 he returned to Europe, and gave concerts at Dresden and Leipzig. At Leipzig he made the acquaintance of Mendelssohn, who exercised a strong influence over his work.

Parish-Alvars eventually reached England in 1842, and on 16 May he, in conjunction with Molique and others, played before the queen at Buckingham Palace (Dramatic and Musical Review, 21 May 1842, p. 93). Two days later he made his first appearance at the Philharmonic concerts, and repeatedly performed elsewhere. From London he returned to Vienna to fulfil engagements; he next travelled through Italy (playing at Naples in 1844) and Germany, where, at Leipzig in 1846, he made a prolonged stay, benefiting by his intercourse with Mendelssohn. In the following year he returned to Vienna, when he was appointed ‘Kammervirtuose’ to the emperor. He died at Vienna on 25 Jan. 1849. Parish-Alvars was unquestionably one of the most distinguished harpists of any period; in Vienna he was invariably known as ‘der Paganini der Harfe.’ He excelled in the production of novel effects, and as a composer his works take high rank among compositions for the harp. He enjoyed playing on the harp such works as Beethoven's and Hummel's pianoforte concertos, Spohr's violin compositions, and Chopin's studies, thereby exhibiting a want of taste from which most of his own compositions are singularly free. His works include: 1. Fantasias ‘L'Adieu,’ ‘La Danse des Fées’ (Op. 62 and 68). 2. Concertos in G minor, Op. 81; Op. 91 for two harps and orchestra; in E flat, Op. 98. 3. ‘Voyage d'un Harpiste en Orient’ (Op. 79), which contains part of his collection of eastern melodies.

[Dramatic and Musical Review, 1842, p. 123; Grove's Dict. of Music, passim; Brit. Mus. Cat. of Music, and authorities cited in the text.]

R. H. L.