Perry, George (DNB00)

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PERRY, GEORGE (1793–1862), musician, born at Norwich in 1793, was the son of a turner, an amateur bass singer who took part in the annual performance of an oratorio at the cathedral, under Dr. John Christmas Beckwith [q. v.] Through Beckwith's instrumentality Perry became a member of the cathedral choir. His voice, if not refined, was powerful, and his musical propensity very marked. After quitting the choir Perry learnt the violin from Joseph Parnell, a lay clerk of the cathedral; pianoforte from Parnell's son John; harmony, it is supposed, from Bond, a pupil of Jackson of Exeter; and the higher branches of composition from a clever amateur, James Taylor.

About 1818 Perry succeeded Binfield as leader of the band at the Royal Theatre at Norwich, then an institution enjoying considerable reputation. While still resident in his native town Perry wrote an oratorio, ‘The Death of Abel’ (text by George Bennett of the Norwich Theatre), which was first performed at a Hall concert in Norwich, and afterwards repeated by the Sacred Harmonic Society in 1841 and 1845. Shortly after his appointment to the theatre he wrote another oratorio, ‘Elijah and the Priests of Baal,’ to a text by the Rev. James Plumptre [q. v.], which was first performed in Norwich on 12 March 1819. In or about 1822 Perry was appointed musical director of the Haymarket Theatre in London, where he wrote a number of operas. One of them, ‘Morning, Noon, and Night,’ was produced, with Madame Vestris [q. v.] in the cast, in 1822.

From opera, however, Perry soon turned again to oratorio, and in 1830 he produced ‘The Fall of Jerusalem,’ the text compiled by Professor Taylor from Milman's poem. While still holding his appointment at the Haymarket, Perry became organist of the Quebec Chapel, a post he resigned in 1846 for that of Trinity Church, Gray's Inn Road.

When the Sacred Harmonic Society was founded in 1832, Perry was chosen leader of the band, and at their first concert, on 15 Jan. 1833, the programme contained a selection from his oratorios ‘The Fall of Jerusalem’ and ‘The Death of Abel.’ Perry assiduously supported this society, and during his sixteen years' connection with it was never absent from a performance, and only once from a rehearsal. In 1848 Surman, the conductor, was removed from his post, and Perry performed the duties until the close of the season, when he severed his connection with the society on the election of Michael Costa [q. v.] to the conductorship.

In addition to the works already mentioned, Perry wrote an oratorio, ‘Hezekiah’ (1847); a sacred cantata, ‘Belshazzar's Feast’ (1836); a festival anthem with orchestral accompaniment, ‘Blessed be the Lord thy God,’ for the queen's accession (1838). His ‘Thanksgiving Anthem for the Birth of the Princess Royal’ (1840) was performed with great success by the Sacred Harmonic Society, the orchestra and chorus numbering five hundred, Caradori Allan being the solo vocalist. He also wrote additional accompaniments to a number of Handel's works, besides making pianoforte scores of several more. Perry died on 4 March 1862, and was buried at Kensal Green. Perry's undoubted gifts enabled him to imitate rather than to create. His fluency proved disastrous to the character of his work. It is said that he was in the habit of writing out the instrumental parts of his large compositions from memory before he had made a full orchestral score, and he frequently composed as many as four or five works simultaneously, writing a page of one while the ink of another was drying.

[Norfolk News, 19 April 1862; Grove's Dict. of Music, s.v. Perry; Sacred Harmonic Society, &c.; private information.]

R. H. L.