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Classical Composers A-Z: Walter Parratt

Peter Wintersgill presents a pen portrait of Yorkshire-born Walter Parratt who was organist to the Queen and chief professor of organ at the Royal College of Music.

Born
10th February, 1841, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

Father
Thomas, organist of Huddersfield Parish Church for 50 years.

Childhood
Played Bach's "48" from memory at age of 10. Was a child prodigy, educated by parents. Organist at St. Paul's. Armitage Bridge at 11 years, salary 10 per annum.

Adolescence
Was organist at various churches in Huddersfield and London.

Early Adult Life
Married at 23, moved to be organist at Great Witley, Worcs., was also private organist to Earl of Dudley. He held a succession of organist posts (after being associate of Gore Ousley at St. Michaels, Tenbury) at Wigan (1869), Magdalene College, Oxford, in succession to Stainer (1872), and St. George's Chapel, Windsor, in succession to Geo. Elvey (1882). He was also conductor of music societies at Exeter, Trinity, Jesus and Pembroke Colleges and of Oxford Choral Society.

Among Parratt's award's were a knighthood, M.V.O. (1901), K.C.V.O. (1921), Master of the Queen's Musick (1893) and Organist to the Queen (1892). He became Mus Bac (1873), Chief Professor of Organ at Royal College of Music (1883), and Professor of Music at Oxford (1908).

He played a part, along with Parry and Stanford, in the renaissance of English music, and was one of the greatest organ teachers of his time, many of his pupils later occupying leading organists posts. His principles of teaching included attention to detail and an insistence on original organ music rather than arrangements. Aware of the decline in English church music, he promoted the best standards from Tallis to Wesley.

A strong but humorous personality, he was held in respect and affection by all. He once played chess while playing the organ and watching a spider spin its web.

He died on 27th March, 1924, in Windsor aged 83.

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