*first line of closing stanza, “And did those feet”.
“ “And did those feet in ancient time” is a poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton: A Poem in Two Books, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. The date of 1804 on the title page is probably when the plates were begun, but the poem was printed c. 1808. Today it is best known as the hymn “Jerusalem”, with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. The famous orchestration was written by Sir Edward Elgar. It is not to be confused with another poem, much longer and larger in scope, but also by Blake, called Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
The poem was supposedly inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury during his unknown years. Most scholars reject the historical authenticity of this story out of hand, and according to British folklore scholar A. W. Smith, “there was little reason to believe that an oral tradition concerning a visit made by Jesus to Britain existed before the early part of the twentieth century”. The poem’s theme is linked to the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. Churches in general, and the Church of England in particular, have long used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.
In the most common interpretation of the poem, Blake implies that a visit by Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution. Blake’s poem asks four questions rather than asserting the historical truth of Christ’s visit. Thus the poem merely wonders if there had been a divine visit, when there was briefly heaven in England. The second verse is interpreted as an exhortation to create an ideal society in England, whether or not there was a divine visit.”
“The first Leeds Festival after the First World War was in 1922.
William Blake’s Jerusalem in its setting by Parry (who had died in 1918) was first heard with Elgar’s orchestration at this Festival, as was Gustav Holst’s choral Ode to Death, a setting of Whitman’s poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, which was written after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was, of course, perceived as an appropriate item in a Festival where the audiences would have included many who had lost loved ones in the Great War. (Hindemith wrote a setting of the same poem after the Second World War as a requiem for friends who died in that conflict.)
The Festival Conductors for 1922 and 1925 were Sir Hugh Allen, Principal of the Royal College of Music, and Albert Coates. Holst contributed his First Choral Symphony to the 1925 Festival. The words for this are from various poems by John Keats. Some of them are complete (for example Ode on a Grecian Urn) and some of them are in extract form.
Sir Hugh Allen returned in 1928, along with Sir Thomas Beecham. Façade was prominent, a collection of poems by Edith Sitwell with an accompaniment by the Sitwells’ protegé William Walton, who was accustomed to compose in the Sitwell attic in Carlyle Square, London.”
“Edward Elgar’s rich orchestration of Parry’s 1916 choral work, Jerusalem, was first performed in 1922. It was a musical moment that seemed to capture the spirit of a nation – and yet there is very little that is patriotic about Jerusalem. In fact, it’s an enduring enigma.
It’s sung in churches at weddings – only it isn’t a hymn. It’s performed at the start of sporting events like a national anthem – but it isn’t one. Its text is a set of lyrical and skeptical questions posed by the poet William Blake in 1804, based on a highly improbable myth that says the young Jesus came to England to bring the Holy Grail to Glastonbury. The music is also changeable – one moment, a lyrical waltz, the next a driving march.
Parry believed that music was for everyone, regardless of wealth or class. Perhaps that’s the connection with Jerusalem that the Leeds Festival audience felt in 1922, and that we still feel today. It’s a conversation in a language that we can all join in with.
This is one of 100 significant musical moments explored by BBC Radio 3’s Essential Classics as part of Our Classical Century, a BBC season celebrating a momentous 100 years in music from 1918 to 2018. Visit bbc.co.uk/ourclassicalcentury to watch and listen to all programmes in the season.”