‘I was persuaded to write an arrangement of Jerusalem by a friend after initially having reservations about the song. But after researching the origins of Jerusalem I soon fell headlong in-love with it.
Jerusalem was written in 1816 using a short poem by William Blake and set to music by Hubert Parry. Although originally commissioned to raise morale in England during the First World War, the words by Blake tell a much bigger picture. Blake was a humanist rather than a nationalist and his poem laments the rise of industrialisation, it’s effects upon the oppressed poor and the degradation of England’s natural beauty. It is a calling for radical change and a better society for the country’s working population.
The dramatic phrases in Verse 2 were not meant to be taken literally, this is not a call to arms. Blake favoured non-violent sedition, the mental fight, to restore a new ‘Jerusalem’ to England’s green and pleasant land. Jerusalem in this context means ‘heaven’. The suggestion in Verse 1 that Jesus may have walked upon England’s mountains green is well acknowledged, referring to the many undocumented years of Jesus’s life. ‘And did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?’ Blake was a religious man and often resorted to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory. It is no wonder this beautiful song has been an anthem for the labour and trade union movements as well as the suffragette movement and WI.s
In re-writing Jerusalem I wanted to move away from pomp and nationalistic fervour as I believe this is not what Blake intended. Hubert Parry also wanted to distance himself from any notion of nationalism. To this end I chose to re-write the time signature in 6/8 time rather than the marching 4/4 time, giving the song a more lilting, folky feel; more longing, less vainglory. I have also created an uplifting chorus in a gospel-like style, in keeping with Blake’s references to ‘he who may have walked’ on England’s blessed isle.
You can purchase this arrangement on the Scores Page.