Jerusalem at 100
21 April 2016
How song inspired by William Blake’s poetry became an anthem for patriots and suffragettes
Celebrating its 100th birthday, Jerusalem remains one of Britain’s best loved anthems.
Its intriguing history as the ‘people’s national anthem’, still sung the length of the country at major national events, is to be revealed by a Cardiff University academic on BBC Radio Four as part of its World War One season.
Dr Toby Thacker of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion discusses the background to the song, composed in March 1916 by British composer Hubert Parry, and inspired by stanzas from William Blake’s Jerusalem.
Speaking on the second series of The Cultural Front, the author of Music after Hitler, 1945-1955 and Joseph Goebbels: life and death reveals how Jerusalem was taken to heart, first by those supporting the war effort, and latterly by those fighting another battle closer to home.
Dr Thacker explains: “Hubert Parry was pulled in different directions in his response to the British war effort by his family, his friends, and his conscience. He wrote the song initially for the patriotic ‘Fight for Right’ movement, which was campaigning for a more vigorous prosecution of the war against Germany. The song immediately became popular, and within a year was also being sung by groups of women campaigning for the vote. But in May 1917 Parry formally withdrew the song from the Fight for Right movement.
“A few months later in early 1918, after women over the age of 30 had been given the vote, he consented to its being formally adopted as the Women Voters’ Hymn.”
The Cultural Front with Francine Stock continues on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 23 April, 10.30am.