Jerusalem: 100 years since Hubert Parry composed an anthem

It is 100 years since composer Hubert Parry set William Blake’s words to music - how the Guardian and Observer reported its popularity

One hundred years ago, Hubert Parry wrote the music for Jerusalem. On 10 March 1916, the Edwardian composer set words originally penned by William Blake to a tune, beginning with the line ‘And did those feet in ancient time.’

Just over two weeks later, the song was performed for the first time by a choir of 300 at a Fight for Right meeting at the Queen’s Hall on 28 March 1916.

Manchester Guardian, 24 March 1916.
Manchester Guardian, 24 March 1916. Photograph: THE GUARDIAN

The Fight for Right movement was formed by Sir Francis Younghusband in 1915 to reinforce British resolve during the first world war. It was supported by many well known writers and public figures, and music was considered an important part of the movement’s meetings. This led to Robert Bridges, the poet laureate, asking Parry to write ‘music that an audience could take up and join in.’

The Observer, 31 October 1915.
The Observer, 31 October 1915. Read the full article. Photograph: The Observer

Jerusalem soon became popular and was adopted by the Women’s Institute as their anthem in 1924. The centenary of William Blake’s death in 1927 also saw calls for the song to become an English national anthem, something that continues to this day. It has long been sung at sporting events, in the 1950s became part of the Last Night of the Proms, and is the hymn of the Labour Party.

However, while Hubert Parry is famous for just this single work, he composed hugely influential chorales and symphonies.

The Guardian, 7 August 1998.
The Guardian, 7 August 1998. Read the full article. Photograph: the Guardian


Richard Nelsson

The GuardianTramp

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