Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parke, William Thomas

PARKE, WILLIAM THOMAS (1762–1847), oboist, composer, and author, born in 1762, began his musical studies under his elder brother, John Parke [q. v.], to whom he was afterwards articled. From him he learnt the German flute and the oboe, from Dance the violin, from young Burney the pianoforte, and from Baumgarten theory. In 1775–6 Parke sang in the chorus of Drury Lane Theatre, and in 1776, at the age of fourteen, he was regularly engaged there and at Vauxhall as tenor violinist. But the oboe especially attracted him, and in 1777 he was second oboe at the theatre and at Vauxhall Gardens, playing double concertos with his brother. In 1783 he became principal oboe at Covent Garden Theatre, succeeding Sharpe. He had not yet attained his brother's eminence, and was called ‘Little Parke’ when he played at the benefit concert of the elder musician (Public Advertiser). Parke held his post at Covent Garden for forty years, Shield occasionally writing an effective obbligato for him. He continued to study, practising concerted music with friends, until he so far perfected himself as to succeed Fischer at the Ladies' concerts. His brilliant performances a little later at the Vocal concerts, and those of the Nobility on Sundays, commanded attention, and won the admiration of the Duke of Cumberland, who became his patron, and commanded his presence at his musical parties in town and country. It was said that the last words of the duke, as he lay on his deathbed, were: ‘Are Shield and Parke come yet?’ his mind running on a concert arranged for that day. The Prince of Wales made Parke one of his band at Carlton House, where he met Haydn; but Parke missed being appointed one of the king's musicians.

Parke was one of the original members of a glee club founded in 1793; and he belonged to the Anacreontic Society. His long connection with Vauxhall Gardens was interrupted at intervals by provincial tours, in the course of which he visited Birmingham in 1794, Dublin in 1796, Cheltenham in 1800, Portsmouth, Worcester, and other towns.

Parke's tone on the oboe was sweet, his execution brilliant, and he added to the known capabilities of the instrument by extending its compass a third higher, to G in alt. Peter Pindar [see Wolcot, John] wrote complimentary lines on Parke's achievements in music (Morning Herald, December 1784); while Mara assured him that if she, in her brilliant song, had flown away as far as Germany, he, with his oboe obbligato, would have been able to follow. ‘Yes,’ put in Dr. Arnold; ‘and if you had chosen to visit the lower regions, Parke would have pursued you, like another Orpheus, to restore another Eurydice to a sorrowing world.’

Parke retired in 1825, and died on 24 Aug. 1847. In 1830 he published his ‘Musical Memoirs,’ a valuable record of the period between 1784 and 1830. His judgment of other artists—even rivals—is always temperate, sometimes warmly appreciative, never uncharitable. The volumes are strewn with facetious anecdotes. Parke's musical productions are of little importance. They include the overture and a song for ‘Netley Abbey,’ 1794; the adaptation of Dalayrac's ‘Nina;’ a concerto for the oboe, about 1789; solo and duets for the flute; and ballads and songs composed for Vauxhall and the theatres.

[Parke's Musical Memoirs, passim; Dict. of Musicians, 1824, ii. 262; Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 650; Georgian Era, iv. 319; Bunce's Birmingham Musical Festivals, p. 64; Mrs. Papendieck's Journal, i. 94, ii. 295.]

L. M. M.