Hubert Parry was born in 1848, the year of European unrest, and died almost exactly 100 years ago on 7 October 1918, just over a month before the end of the First World War. He was Director of the Royal College of Music for some 35 years, his students including Vaughan Williams, Holst, John Ireland and Frank Bridge, who in his turn taught Benjamin Britten. He was respected as a musicologist and it is good in this centenary year to see his compositions, which included five excellent symphonies and the anthems Blest Pair of Sirens and I was Glad, being re-evaluated.
Jerusalem, setting William Blake’s poem, was written in 1916 for a meeting of the Suffragette movement at the Queens Hall (which was the venue for the Henry Wood Proms until it was bombed during the Blitz). After the granting of the vote to women over 30 in 1918 it became the anthem of another women’s movement, the Women’s Institute, and George V wished it to replace the National Anthem itself. Shortly before his death Parry conducted his own orchestration in the Royal Albert Hall and it immediately became a national institution. Elgar’s magnificent orchestration, made in 1922 for the Leeds Festival, has become the standard version for the Last Night of the BBC Proms, a superb conjunction of two of Britain’s greatest composers.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among those dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold,
Bring me my arrows of desire,
Bring me my spear, O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.