Horatio William Parker

Horatio William Parker (1863-1919) was one of the most respected American composers of the late 19th century and professor of music at Yale University.

Horatio Parker was born on Sept. 15, 1863, in Auburndale, Mass. At 14 he began taking piano lessons from his mother and soon wrote a collection of songs for children. At 16 he became organist of a church at Dedham and began to compose hymns and anthems.

In 1882 Parker went to Europe to study at the Royal School of Music in Munich. While abroad he married fellow music student Anna Plossl, a Munich banker's daughter. Upon returning to America, Parker settled in New York, teaching at the Cathedral School in Garden City. He taught at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City at the time Antonin Dvořák was its director and in 1893 became choirmaster and organist at Trinity Church in Boston. The following year Parker was appointed head of the Music Department of Yale University, a position he held until his death. While at Yale, he organized the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

Although Parker attempted a number of symphonic and instrumental pieces, his choral music was his finest work. His most lasting composition, the oratorio Hora Novissima (1891-1892), was written during a time when he was grieving over the loss of a sister. Here the composer reveals his ability at massed choral effects, as well as his skill for developing hymnlike themes. The music is masculine and vital, if at times overly calculated. He received the National Conservatory Award in 1892 for his cantata The Dream King and His Love.

Parker's first opera, Mona, won a $10, 000 prize offered by the directors of the Metropolitan Opera House for the best American opera. It was premiered on March 14, 1912, but was dropped from the Metropolitan repertoire after four performances. His second opera, Fairyland, was also awarded a $10, 000 prize, this time by the National Federation of Music Clubs; the work was performed six times in 1915 during the federation's biennial in Los Angeles.

Parker served as editor in chief for a series of graded songbooks for children and remained actively interested in music education in the public schools. He received a doctor of music degree from Cambridge University in 1902, by which time his choral works were enjoying considerable success in England. He commanded greater social standing than most American musicians of his day, although his strong-willed, individualistic personality made him a figure of controversy among students and colleagues. He died at Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Dec. 18, 1919.


Further Reading on Horatio William Parker

An interesting, personalized account of Parker is George W. Chadwick's Horatio Parker (1921). Isabel Parker Semler, Horatio Parker (1942), is based primarily on the composer's papers and family letters. The best brief discussion of Parker's life and work is contained in Gilbert Chase, America's Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present (1955; 2d ed. 1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Kearns, William, Horatio Parker, 1863-1919: his life, music, and ideas, Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1990.

Semler, Isabel Parker, Horatio Parker: a memoir for his grandchildren, New York: AMS Press, 1975.