Born: 21 May 1841, Merthyr Tudful, Wales
Died: 17 February 1903 (aged 61), Penarth, Wales
Joseph Parry was the most famous musician – if not person – in nineteenth century Wales. A gifted all-round musician, he was primarily a composer, but was also well-known as a singer, pianist, organist and conductor. Throughout his life he was active as a teacher and sought after as a music competition adjudicator; and later in life, he gained prominence as a journalist, critic and public speaker.
He was also known as ‘Pencerdd America' (literally ‘America's principal musician'), a bardic name given to him by Gorsedd y Beirdd at a ceremony during the 1865 National Eisteddfod of Wales, held that year in Aberystwyth. More informally, Parry was also called ‘Y Doctor Mawr' (The Great Doctor) by his fellow countrymen because of his musical qualifications, reputation and stature.
Parry's life falls into six periods: Merthyr Tudful (1841-54), Danville, USA (1854-68), London (1868-71), Danville for a second time (1871-74), Aberystwyth (1874-80), Swansea/Abertawe (1880-1888), Caerdydd/Cardiff (1888-1903).
A prolific composer and perceptive critic of the music of others, he was unwilling or unable to apply the same appraisal to his own compositions. As his contemporary, Alaw Ddu (W. T. Rees, 1838-1904), aptly said of his compatriot: “Pe bai wedi cyfansoddi llai, byddai wedi cynhyrchu mwy.” (If he had composed less, he would have achieved more).
An increasing number of Parry's compositions can be viewed on the Petrucci Music Library website.
This photograph is the only known portrait of Joseph Parry and his family, taken around 1886. Back row from left: Joseph Haydn Parry (1864-94), David* Mendelssohn Parry (1865-1915), William Sterndale Parry (1872-92). Front row from left: Annie Edna Parry (1873-c1940), Joseph Parry (1841-1903), Dilys Joseph Parry (1884-1914), Jane Parry née Thomas (1843-1918) – born in Pennsylvania to Welsh immigrants from Blaenafon, Monmouthshire [Gwent].
* Daniel, according to some sources.