C. Hubert H. Parry

Musician and Literary Man

Jerusalem (2014-02-14) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1st Baronet (1848–1918), is celebrated as one of Britain’s most significant musicians spanning the 19th and 20th centuries.

His name is historically linked to one of the most popular English tunes, which is recognised as a sort of national hymn: Jerusalem.

Sir Hubert H. Parry by Breitkopf & HartelRoyal College of Music

As composer, teacher and historian of music, Parry made a remarkable contribution to the cultural life of his country. This exhibition focuses on his life and the influence that literature had on his compositions, including his songs, music for theatre and many choral works.

Eton College Eton College (1850s–1910s) by Stereoscopic Gems|UnknownThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

At Eton College

Parry was born into a privileged and cultured family.  His father, Thomas Gambier Parry, was a gifted amateur artist and musician who collected medieval and renaissance art.  Like his father, Hubert was educated at Eton College (1861-1866) where he was introduced to many classical texts in the original Latin and Greek.  Parry developed here a lifelong interest in literature, keeping a list of his reading in the back of his diary each year.  The poets he read ranged from Shakespeare through Byron and Wordsworth to Tennyson.  

Euro (Bri) Berkshire Windsor Castle Interiors Incl S. Georges ChapelLIFE Photo Collection

Alongside his schooling Parry received musical instruction from Sir George Elvey, organist at St George's Chapel, Windsor. He went on to study for his Oxford BMus in his last year at Eton, becoming the youngest successful candidate to receive the degree.

Oxford University by Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

At Exeter College, among music and literature

Parry went up to Oxford in January 1867, reading law and modern history at Exeter College.  Music continued to be his greatest passion and he developed his skills both in piano playing and composing. During this period his musical horizons began to widen as he immersed himself in works by German composers such as Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert.    

Edward Dannreuther (1870) by UnknownRoyal College of Music

Edward Dannreuther 

After university, following the wishes of his family, Parry started a career as an underwriter at Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. However he continued to study music with the pianist Edward Dannreuther and through him became acquainted with the music of Brahms, Wagner, Stanford and Richard Strauss.

Prometheus Falling from the Rock (19th century) by FrenchThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

It was only in 1877 that Parry decided to devote his life completely to music. He then received his first important commission for a choral work to be performed at the 1880 Three Choirs Festival, to be held in Gloucester. For this occasion he wrote the dramatic cantata on the text of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.

Sir George Grove (1895) by Charles Wellington FurseRoyal College of Music

George Grove 

Parry was greatly encouraged to undertake a musical career by George Grove who soon invited him to contribute to his monumental Dictionary of Music and Musicians, whose first volume was to be published in 1879. Parry eventually wrote 123 entries for the dictionary, covering technical aspects of music.

As editor of Macmillan’s Magazine, Grove had also published 6 of Parry’s own poems back in 1875, recognising Hubert’s literary talent.

Laying the foundation stone of the Royal College of Music (1890-07-08) by Barnes & BradforthRoyal College of Music

The Royal College of Music Foundation Stone

In 1882, Grove, now the Director of the newly-founded Royal College of Music, wrote to Parry at the behest of the Prince of Wales asking him to join the College as Professor of Musical History. He joined at the same time as Charles Villiers Stanford (Professor of Composition), Walter Parratt (Professor of Organ) and Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt (Professor of Singing).

Hubert Parry's notebooks of Lectures by RCM LibraryRoyal College of Music

Parry Historian of music

As Grove stated in a letter to Parry (dated 30 Dec. 1882):  “It is our wish to make lectures an important part of the College course. And into no hands could those on the history and development of music be put with more propriety than into yours […]”.

All the notes of Parry’s lectures are collected in 35 notebooks and include topics ranging from early music to the music of his contemporaries. 

Hubert Parry's notebook (detail) (1885) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

A few pages from one of the notebooks show how Parry organised his material for his lectures.
In this example, the left hand page shows the arrangement of the orchestra in Dresden from the mid 18th century.

Royal College of MusicRoyal College of Music

In 1894 George Grove retired and Parry was appointed Director of the Royal College of Music. Despite this new demanding role, Parry never dismissed his identity as a historian and didn’t stop dedicating himself to research. He kept his post as lecturer for the rest of his life.

The Birds (1883) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

Parry and the British Classical Revival

In the late 19th century Oxford and Cambridge universities started performing classical plays in ancient Greek, with musical scores by contemporary composers. In 1883 the Cambridge classics scholar Francis Jenkinson invited Parry to compose the incidental music for the university production of Aristophanes’ The Birds, setting the Greek text.  

It was for Parry the beginning of a long journey through the classics that lasted 31 years.

The Birds of Aristophanes (1883) by The Cambridge Greek PlayRoyal College of Music

The Birds

The Birds was performed at the Theatre Royal in Cambridge (November 1883) by the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club, conducted by Stanford. It was the first Greek comedy to be produced in full since antiquity. The opening night was attended by Prince Albert Victor Duke of Clarence and Avondale and the Postmaster General.

2704 tickets were sold. 

The Birds of Aristophanes (1903) by Cambridge Greek PlayRoyal College of Music

Parry’s music for The Birds was so well received that the composer compiled a Suite from it, adding more instruments. It was given its first performance at the Crystal Palace on 8 December 1883, conducted once again by Stanford. A new performance of The Birds took place in Cambridge in 1903 and Parry was himself the conductor, alternating with Charles Wood.

British Royal Wedding (1947-11)LIFE Photo Collection

One of the most popular pieces from The Birds is the ‘Bridal March’, written to accompany the scene of Pisthetaerus’s wedding with the lovely Sovereignty. This music was played during the wedding procession in Westminster Abbey for the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and again at other royal weddings, including the recent one of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018.

Agamemnon (1900) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music


In 1900 Parry composed music for Aeschylus’ tragedy Agamemnon, which kept him intensively busy throughout that year. Once again Parry expertly managed the Greek text. The result was largely appreciated by the critics, who had been initially sceptical about setting a work of antiquity to contemporary music. 

Memorial of a dinner with the Agamemnon Choir (1901) by UnknownRoyal College of Music

A few months after the performance of Agamemnon, the chorus organised a dinner in honour of Parry and all the staff involved in the production. The event, however, had to be postponed while the nation mourned Queen Victoria’s death on 22 January 1901.

Marble relief with two theatre masks (100/199)British Museum

Parry’s contribution to the classical revival is particularly connected to Aristophanes’ plays, which included also commissions by the Oxford University Dramatic Society for musical settings for The Clouds, The Acharnians and The Frogs. For this reason Parry earned the nickname “Paristophanes”.

The Acharnians of Aristophanes (1914) by Oxford University Dramatic SocietyRoyal College of Music

The Acharnians

Parry’s last contribution to the Greek plays was with Aristophanes’ Acharnians, in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. As the story talks about war, invasion scares, alliances and contains a strong appeal for peace, it had a deep significance for the times, especially for Parry himself who felt the profound sorrow in looking at his country lined up against Germany.

Moore Thomas 1779-1852 Irish Poet-........ BiographerLIFE Photo Collection

Music and Literature

Since his early years as a student, Parry loved to combine his interest in music and poetry – especially 19th-century English poetry – setting to music a remarkable number of poems during his career as a composer. His earliest song on a text by Spenser dates from 1864. Thomas Moore’s ‘Why does azure deck the sky’ was his first published song in 1866, written for his friend Cecil Ricardo, who sang it at an Eton Musical Society concert. 

One of the remarkable examples of union between literature and music is his song “Good-Night”, based on Shelley’s poem from 1820. This song appears in the first volume of Parry’s English Lyrics (1885), published in 12 volumes over the course of the rest of his life. The poems chosen for his songs show how widely read he was, as he included poets from the 16th century right through his contemporaries and friends.

Milton John Por 1608-1674LIFE Photo Collection

Parry’s interest in literature and poetry emerges also from a number of choral works.
Blest Pair of Sirens, from John Milton’s ode “At a solemn musick”, is one of his most renowned compositions. Parry’s skill in managing the poetical structure produced a work powerful in its simplicity.

The Vision of Life (1907) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

The Vision of Life

In his choral work “The Vision of Life”, we can also discover Parry’s poetic gifts as it is based on his own poem. It is a philosophical reflection on life: through the idealised characters of “The Dreamer”(Bass), inclined to pessimism, “The Spirit of the Vision” (Soprano) who leads him in his search for meaning and “The Dream Voices” (Chorus), Parry praises man’s philanthropy and his capacity to contribute to the common good. The work was much admired by Elgar.

Por Edward Vii Accession CoronationLIFE Photo Collection

I was Glad

The majesty of Parry’s choral music is however best illustrated in “I was glad”, considered one of his masterpieces of the genre, with its specific connection to the coronation ceremony.

In 1902, at the invitation of Sir Frederick Bridge (on behalf of the King), Director of Music for the Coronation, Parry composed the processional anthem, based on Psalm 122, to accompany the King’s and Queen’s entrance into Westminster Abbey during the Coronation of Edward VII. (The original music manuscript of this work is held at the RCM Library).

Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in Westminster Abbey (1911) by Joseph PennellNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The composition made such an impression that it was performed on many other royal occasions including George V’s coronation in 1911, which featured a large choir and orchestra, an organ and ten fanfare trumpeters from the Royal Military School.

Milton: a Poem in 2 Books (1804/1811) by William BlakeRoyal College of Music


In 1916 Parry was invited by the poet Robert Bridges to set the opening verses of Blake’s Milton to be used by the organisation Fight for Right (formed to counteract German propaganda). Despite his initial doubts, Parry eventually accepted Bridges’ proposal and composed the music for “And did those feet in ancient time”, better known as Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem (1916) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

The moving unison melody of Jerusalem, sung by a choir of 300, was performed at Queen’s Hall on 28 March 1916 in occasion of a meeting of Fight for Right and had extraordinary success. Parry could never have imagined that it would become one of his greatest legacies.

Wom Move Suffragettes 2 Of 2 (1900)LIFE Photo Collection

Parry was subsequently asked to prepare an orchestral version of Jerusalem which was then quite frequently used during his lifetime and after his death. In 1918 it was even used for a concert at the Albert Hall to celebrate the Votes for Women campaign of which Parry was a firm supporter. “Your Jerusalem” – wrote his old friend Mrs Fawcett in a letter – “ought to be made the women voter’s Hymn”.

Jerusalem (orch. Elgar) (Prom 75) (2017-09-09) by C. Hubert H. ParryRoyal College of Music

Parry’s original orchestration was quickly overshadowed by Elgar’s re-orchestration for large orchestra in 1922. This new version of Parry’s Jerusalem received acclamation and became popular being performed regularly at the Last Night of the Proms.

Sir C. Hubert H. Parry (portrait) by Sidney KentRoyal College of Music

“It is said that the greatest benefactor of a country is the man who writes its tune; if he had left us nothing but Jerusalem we could never repay him for what we owe him”(Harry Plunkett Greene).

Credits: Story

Concept: Peter Linnitt & Federica Nardacci

Text & image sourcing: Federica Nardacci
Editing: Sarah Batchelor

Special thanks to: RCM Museum (particularly Anna Maria Barry, Richard Martin, Erin McHugh) and all the RCM Library Staff (particularly Michael Mullen, Monika Pietras).

We are grateful to the Cambridge Greek Play Committee for the use of two images.


Bernard Benoliel - Parry before Jerusalem : studies of his life and music with excerpts from his published writings (Aldershot, Hants : Ashgate, 1997);

Jeremy Dibble - C. Hubert H. Parry, his life and music ( Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1992);

Charles L. Graves - Hubert Parry : his life and works (London : Macmillan, 1926).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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