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Prince Charles and Jerusalem's composer Hubert Parry

John Bridcut


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.

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.