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Prince Charles and Jerusalem's composer Hubert Parry

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John Bridcut John Bridcut | 14:20 UK time, Thursday, 26 May 2011

Jerusalem is perhaps the greatest of England's national songs - familiar at rugby matches and meetings of the Women's Institute, as well as royal weddings and the Last Night Of The Proms.

But, unlike Edward Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory, its composer has languished in the shadows, an almost forgotten figure in our musical history.

The royal wedding came almost exactly two years after Prince Charles had suggested Hubert Parry as a suitable subject for my next composer documentary.

Organist and Master Of Choirs at Westminster Abbey, James O'Donnell, with the Prince Of Wales.

He felt Parry was a neglected figure who had written five marvellous symphonies, which hardly anyone has ever heard, with a quintessentially English flavour.

Across a 12-month period, we made The Prince And The Composer, a film for BBC Four, which was an opportunity for the Prince (and for me as director) to explore Parry's life and music in greater detail.

The twenty ninth of April may have raised Parry's profile because the roof of Westminster Abbey was raised at least three times by his music during the royal wedding.

First came the stentorian trumpets launching the anthem I Was Glad, as the bride prepared to walk up the aisle on the arm of her father.

It was the unmistakable signal that at last the hype was over and the real deal, the wedding service itself, had begun.

As the majestic flourishes of choir, organ and orchestra reached their climax a few minutes later, the new Duke of Cambridge turned to his bride for the first time and said, "You look beautiful."

Later, during the signing of the register, the congregation were regaled with the rich, romantic harmonies of the anthem Blest Pair Of Sirens.

And somewhere in between came Jerusalem, with not just choir and orchestra, but the whole congregation inside the Abbey and outside on the streets vigorously joining in.

As his music echoed round the world, thanks to radio and television, it was hard not to feel that its composer had at last emerged from the shadows into the sunlight, to the great personal delight of the father of the bridegroom, the Prince of Wales.

What emerges in The Prince And The Composer is a portrait of a man far removed from the impression his photographs give of a hearty imperialist.

Instead, Parry turns out to have been an insecure man, full of self-doubt, who nonetheless nurtured the prolific generation of British composers that came after him, such as Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Herbert Howells.

He fought hard to win the hand of his bride, Maude, whose mother was brutally frank in her opposition, but the marriage was far from being a success.

And, quite apart from the unforgettable Jerusalem, he was a composer of real talent, who was unfortunate enough to be followed immediately by Elgar.

Elgar admired Parry, but his music eclipsed him. Only now, almost a century after his death, is Parry's music coming into its own. He has few more ardent advocates than the Prince of Wales.

John Bridcut is the director of The Prince And The Composer.

The Prince And The Composer is on BBC Two at 3.10pm on Sunday, 25 December.

It was first broadcast on BBC Four at 7.30pm on Friday, 27 May and on BBC HD at 1.25am on Saturday, 28 May.

You can listen to Radio 3's profile of Hubert Parry on the Composer Of The Week site.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I am glad that Parry is being re-examined because our national composers are still neglected and should not. In an age where we are villified within our Nation we should bear ourselves with profound pride and rediscovering our roots through this music is a good thing. I will add that I am of mixed nationality and I am proud of this Nation I call home.

  • Comment number 4.

    I am writing this whilst watching this wonderful programme. Well done to the BBC and especially HRH Prince of Wales. The obvious enthusiasm and love for Parry's music is a pleasure to see from Prince Charles. Such an interesting and well put together programme. Having been a Cathedral Chorister and married to a Cathedral musician it is wonderful to learn about the background and story of Parry. I think it is important to learn about this type of music and composer and I watched the first part of the programme with my 5 year old daughter, who is used to choral music, and she was very quiet and still watching it - this is unusual! Wonderful programme especially with the very personal input from Prince Charles in which I think we have seen more of the man behind the Title - both men in the title in fact! Congratulations!

  • Comment number 5.

    It's not often that I enjoy a programme as much as I did this one. Brilliant!

  • Comment number 6.

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable programme in every way. The structure, the content, the analysis of the music, and the music itself. HRH did a brilliant job of hosting it, striking a balance that was informal, friendly and knowledgable. Hope he will host more such programmes in the future. Thank you BBC and all who participated.

  • Comment number 7.

    I watched this programmne last night on 4 it was beautiful I learnt a lot more about Parry. I shall watch it on HD with my blind husband, we both like choral music, then hear DVD's of Parrys works. Please may we have more such programmnes? There are many lesser known composers out there.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thank you HRH for sharing your enthusiasm for this part-neglected great English composer. What made this documentary special was that everyone involved was still discovering his music and not ashamed to admit it. Interest in Parry's music can now only go in one direction. many thanks to all involved.
    Bring on George Lloyd etc etc

  • Comment number 9.

    Hello everyone, thanks for your comments here on The Prince And The Composer.
    John Bridcut has been in touch to ask if I could post this response on his behalf:

    Delighted to learn here and elsewhere that people are seeking out more of Parry's music. That's the best possible result from any music documentary! Thank you to those who took the trouble to post their reactions here: it's always a great encouragement to get this sort of response from you the viewers, and means a lot to me and my team.


  • Comment number 10.

    A wonderful programme on Parry. I really enjoyed it and will now take the time
    to learn more about a composer I knew very little about.
    Thank you to The BBC and to The Prince.

  • Comment number 11.

    On behalf of Parry's family, I just want to say that this was a fantastic programme, at last uncovering Uncle Hubert's music, personality and significant contribution to British Music and of course the Royal College. Every aspect of this documentary was fascinating and the performances were beautiful. Please make a sequel! Let's maintain interest in this beautiful music! Thank you to all concerned
    Deborah (great great great niece of Parry)

  • Comment number 12.

    I came upon the programme by chance and didn't want it to finish.Lovely to hear a brief morsal of his rediscovered Magnificat and I hope there will be a recording of this soon by Jamie Burton and his wonderful choral forces in Oxford.I live in France and nothing makes me feel more homesick than lovely programes like this.More please.

  • Comment number 13.

    I have yet to see this programme but know that I will enjoy it. I watched Tony Palmer`s film anout Gustav Holst on BBC4 recently. It was very enjoyable - I`d love to see something made about Imogen Holst please. I am of a generation that sang British folk songs in school, listened to English anthems in church and sang English hymn tunes. I really love the period 1880 to about 1950. There is so much wonderful music from that time.

  • Comment number 14.

    I too would like to add my voice to this chorus of congratulation. Not everyone would though, it would seem. Contributors to this thread may not be aware of a parallel blog on the BBC radio blog site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio3/2011/05/the-prince-of-wales-and-the-co.shtml

  • Comment number 15.

    When I listened to Sir Hubert Parry's piece after the introduction by Prince Charles, I was struck to this wonderful piece .Though having listened to it without being conversant of the author takes it to another level.I am glad to have known the author 'I was Glad'and 'Jerusalem' the foremost are incredible.Well done Sir Hubert Parry....

  • Comment number 16.

    This was a wonderful programme and the BBC are to be commended. It is this kind of quality programming that the public miss and would benefit from greatly if more was made. Prince Charles came across as both articulate, perceptive and sensitive in his appreciation of this great British composer. I found his mix of intelligence and openess gladdening. I also enjoyed the emphasis and explanation of the composer's quintessentially English style. The insights of the musicians and family were touching. The photographs of the young Parry were charming, and the details of his personal life illuminated much of what informed his artistic genius. Let us please not forget our great British composers who we can be justly proud of as a nation. It is a historic legacy that enriches our country's identity, and adds to our country's culture today.


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