Hubert Parry on BBC 4

Programme: The Prince and the Composer

Aired: Friday 10th February 2012

Hubert Parry is best known for two works: "Jerusalem" and "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind". A religious man, we might think. But no. His father's heart was made to ache by his son's rejection of Christianity.

He reminds me of Samuel Wesley, son of Charles Wesley, who left Methodism and became a Roman Catholic (while the work was there). And he in turn reminds me of so many men who have composed grand music "for the Church" from outside the Church. 

Can the "infidel" (as Parry's father termed him) write music to the glory of God? I reply that he cannot, any more than the kindest deeds of a humanist are acceptable before God. How can a man proclaim the worthiness of God when he does not believe it?

It is no coincidence that fake "sacred" music has come so often from unbelievers. In abandoning the tangible beliefs of Christianity, they seek comfort in the sounds of music (and often too in the grand architecture of Churches, Cathedrals and Abbeys). It is foolish and misguided. 

These composers have no respect for when music is fitting, so they thrust bigger, more intrusive compositions into God's worship - caring nothing for anything as restrictive as the regulative principle. What have such men ever cared about propriety since they think nothing wrong about pretending to praise God?

The indulgence of such men is to be regretted. It harms the individual by allowing not only the respectability of Church approval but also religious material to infuse sad compositions with thoughts of hope. But the greater crime is the harm done to society.

Today we take Jerusalem as a national anthem. Who it praises, I don't know. What it means, I don't know. The fact that we go on singing it suggests that many people are like Parry today - without God but not without a desire to replace him.