Hubert Parry isn’t widely regarded as a great composer; his academic career prevented from composing as much as he would have liked. Some composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford considered him the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell; Frederick Delius certainly did not. What is generally agreed upon, however, is Parry’s influence on English composers, such as Edward Elgar, who orchestrated Parry’s most famous work, “Jerusalem”. Famous pupils of Parry’s include Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge, and John Ireland.
“Jerusalem” is an adaption of William Blake’s poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” as part of the Prophetic Books. The work, then written for organ and voices, was to be conducted by Parry’s former student Walford Davies in 1916, and Parry had some misgivings about the text. He didn’t want to deny his former student the gig, and handed the music over, saying “Here’s a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it.” A year later, the piece had grown enough in popularity with the Suffragette movement and Parry (clearly a man ahead of his time) was absolutely delighted. He re-arranged the piece for orchestra for a Suffrage Demonstration Concert in 1918. The work, originally titled “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” became known as “Jerusalem”, and Parry’s original orchestration is generally swapped out for Sir Edward Elgar’s arrangement for large orchestra, as it became very popular at Last Night of the Proms concerts.
So, at the end of the day, Parry’s music is part of English traditional pomp and circumstance, and he was supportive of women’s rights. He deserves a place in the annals of Composers With Great Intentions And Became Part of History.
Have a listen to “Jerusalem” (which is followed by “God Save the Queen”), performed at Last Night of the Proms in 2012.
Hubert Parry was born on February 27, 1848 in Bournemouth, England, and died October 7, 1918 in West Sussex.