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Biographies Horatio W. Parker (1863-1919)

Image: Horatio William Parker
Horatio William Parker, 1916. Photographic print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-56791

Horatio William Parker was born in Auburndale, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1863. He received his earliest musical training from his mother, Isabella Jennings Parker, who instructed him in piano, organ, and music theory. He went on to study with pianist John Orth, theorist Stephen Emery, and composer George Chadwick, with whom Parker maintained a lifelong friendship. Although he began composing small pieces during this early period, Parker's first major works were composed under the tutelage of Josef Rheinberger while he was attending the Hochschule für Musik in Munich from 1882 to 1885.

From 1885 to 1893, Parker worked as organist and choirmaster at a series of churches in New York: St. Luke 's in Brooklyn, St. Andrew's in Harlem, and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan. His church music career in New York led to the composition and publication of a significant number of anthems and other sacred works. Parker's increasing recognition as a prominent young composer culminated in 1893, when he received the National Conservatory prize in composition for his cantata Dream-King and His Love and the Church Choral Society of New York commission and performance of his oratorio, Hora novissima.

Parker left New York in the fall of 1893 to take a position at Boston's Trinity Church. After only one year in Boston, he relocated to New Haven, Connecticut, to accept the Battell Professorship in music at Yale University. Parker's new career direction, in a faculty position that he would hold through the end of his life, established him as a leading educator of young American composers. His students at Yale included Charles Ives, Seth Bingham, Quincy Porter, and Roger Sessions. Parker became dean of the School of Music at Yale University in 1904.

The popularity of Parker's choral compositions extended beyond the United States. In 1899, Parker conducted a performance of Hora novissima at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, England, becoming the first American composer to participate in the prestigious event. A major new commission, The Wanderer's Psalm, and other British festival performances of his works occurred in the years to follow. On June 10, 1902, Parker was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree from Cambridge University.

In addition to teaching and composing, Parker continued to cultivate his career as a choral and orchestral conductor. He was the principal conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra from 1895 to 1918 and the director of the Derby Choral Club from 1904 until his death in 1919. In 1903, Parker founded the New Haven Oratorio Society, and in 1907 he became the director of Philadelphia's Orpheus Club male chorus and its sister group, the Eurydice Chorus.

Parker's health began to decline seriously during the final years of his life, forcing a severe reduction in his teaching and performing schedule. In 1919, while on the first leg of a planned recuperative voyage to the West Indies, Parker contracted pneumonia. He died on December 18 in the home of his daughter Isabel in Cedarhurst, New York.


Although Parker composed many works for orchestra, theater, keyboard, and solo voice, he is primarily remembered for his extensive contributions to the choral repertoire. His early training in Munich led him to compose several part-songs for male chorus and a large number of secular cantatas, including The Dream-King and His Love (1891), King Gorm the Grim (1908) for the Norfolk Festival, and Seven Greek Pastoral Scenes (1913) for the Eurydice Chorus of Philadelphia.

Parker's most impressive accomplishments within the choral genre are his large-scale sacred works. His first oratorio, Hora novissima, is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Composed in 1893 for the Church Choral Society of New York, the oratorio is an eleven-movement setting of medieval Latin poetry by Bernard de Morlaix. The holograph is in the holdings of the Music Division, Library of Congress.