Who sang the first Jerusalem?

Who sang the first Jerusalem?


norman lebrecht

July 19, 2015

Sir Hubert Parry’s setting of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ received its first performance on 28th March 1916 at the Queen’s Hall in London.

The conductor was Sir Henry Walford Davis. He and Parry had previously appeared together on a ‘Fight for Right’ platform and Parry gave Walford Davis the score with the words, ‘Do whatever you like with it.’

It quickly became one of the most popular English anthems, sung without fail at the Last Night of the Proms.

There was a boys’ chorus of 300 at the world premiere. Can anyone verify which schools sent their boys to the choir? We have some readers who are most anxious to know ahead of the centenary.

bbc proms



  • Nigel says:

    According to The Times (29 March 1916, p. 11), “The song, a melody of inspiring breadth, was sung by a large choir of about 300 voices whose members, belonging to the chief choral societies and choirs of London, had volunteered their services to sing it and other fine choral music under the the direction of Dr. H. Walford Davies.” In other words, it wasn’t just boys, but a lot of adults too. It must be possible to find a copy of the original programme for “Fight for Right”, the event on which The Times was reporting.

    • Nigel says:

      A little bit of further digging took me to Toby Thacker’s book “British Culture and the First World War” (Bloomsbury, 2014). He writes (p. 143) that the first performance of “Jerusalem” was at a Fight For Right meeting at the Mansion House on 13 March, that it was given again on 23 March at Westminster Cathedral Hall, and then again on 28 March at the Royal Albert Hall. So the RAH performance appears to have been the third, rather than the first performance

  • Nigel says:

    Correction – of course, Queen’s Hall, not RAH.

  • Robert King says:

    It’s also worth knowing about the accompaniment for Jerusalem. That Queen’s Hall performance in March 1916 was accompanied only by organ (publ. Curwen), with the suggestion that the first verse be sung by a soloist, and the second verse by “all available voices”.

    In November of that same year, Parry created an orchestral version, which was quite austerely scored; but the orchestral version we more normally hear nowadays is the orchestration by Edward Elgar created in 1922 (which is, it has to be said, a masterpiece of orchestration, full of wonderful touches – the two bar, three octave string sky rocket for the “arrows of desire” is an especially thrilling moment).

    Prof. Jeremy Dibble’s biography of Parry (OUP, 1992) is a fine reference point.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Very interesting. The Walford Davies biography is sketchy.

      • Robert King says:

        Jeremy’s biog is a great work: he is also one of the scholars with whom I most like working on a project as he is so open to sharing his enormous knowledge with performers, and understands our needs.

        I much enjoyed going back to the original Ms of Elgar’s orchestration of Jerusalem which I made for TKC’s recording (VIVAT 101) – it’s a wonderful manuscript to look at, and it was a real joy to get back wholly to Elgar’s intentions. For instance, Elgar asks that the first verse be sung by sopranos and altos (so no male voices), and the second verse by the full assembly. The orchestration for verses 1 & 2 reflects that change of vocal timbre.

  • Roy Oakshott says:

    To introduce a new thread (strain?) Can anyone tell us whose was the very first recording of the Parry/Blake hymn? Was a recording made in 1916? We’re anxious to know for a radio programme we’re writing about the music of World War 1. While the BBC Gramophone library has a number of very early versions (pre-electric), they don’t have any recording dates!