Hyperion Records

Jerusalem
Sir Jacob Epstein’s bust of William Blake, which commands our attention staring out from Poets’ Corner, is one of the few fine pieces of contemporary art in Westminster Abbey. Those who have a rose-tinted appreciation of Englishness may find this a disturbing representation of the poet and artist who wrote so beautifully of our ‘green and pleasant land’. However, Blake penned the short poem in 1804 by way of introduction to his Milton, a poem—a mystical, metaphysical epic—which combines classical references with Dante-esque imagery, as John Milton returns to earth in order to unite great literary figures of history with Blake himself. Jerusalem refers to the legend that Jesus visited Glastonbury in the years before his public ministry in Galilee. Blake’s romantic imagination contrasts the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem blossoming in England with the darkness of the Industrial Revolution’s ‘satanic mills’.

Parry’s masterful and rousing setting was not initially composed for a great national occasion, but rather for Francis Younghusband’s patriotic Fight for Right Society in 1916. Although it was to be conducted by Walford Davies, Parry was reluctant about seeming to give credence to such ultra-patriotism, and later withdrew his support entirely. To Parry’s delight, Jerusalem was adopted by Millicent Fawcett and the Women’s Suffrage movement in 1917. The Parrys were keen supporters of the fledgling movement for universal suffrage. Jerusalem was sung at the 1918 Suffrage Demonstration Concert, and it remained the property of The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies until 1928. It is hard to overstate the hymn’s popularity in contemporary terms, and for many it has become akin to a second English National Anthem, not least through its perennial inclusion in the last night of the Proms programme. It was sung as the final hymn at the wedding of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

from notes by The Revd Dr James Hawkey 2014

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