The piece was to be conducted by Parry's former student Walford Davies, but Parry was initially reluctant to set the words, as he had doubts about the ultra-patriotism of Fight for Right, but not wanting to disappoint either Robert Bridges or Davies he agreed, writing it on 10 March 1916, and handing the manuscript to Davies with the comment, "Here's a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it." Davies later recalled,
"We looked at [the manuscript] together in his room at the Royal College of Music, and I recall vividly his unwonted happiness over it ... He ceased to speak, and put his finger on the note D in the second stanza where the words 'O clouds unfold' break his rhythm. I do not think any word passed about it. yet he made it perfectly clear that this was the one note and one moment of the song which he treasured ..."
Davies arranged for the vocal score to be published by Curwen in time for the concert at the Queen's Hall on 28 March and began rehearsing it. It was a success and was taken up generally.
But Parry began to have misgivings again about Fight for Right and eventually wrote to Sir Francis Younghusband withdrawing his support entirely in May 1917. There was even concern that the composer might withdraw the song, but the situation was saved by Millicent Garrett Fawcett of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The song had been taken up by the Suffragettes in 1917 and Millicent Fawcett asked Parry if it might be used at a Suffrage Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918. Parry was delighted and orchestrated the piece for the concert (it had originally been for voices and organ). After the concert, Millicent Fawcett asked the composer if it might become the Women Voters' Hymn. Parry wrote back,"I wish indeed it might become the Women Voters' Hymn, as you suggest. People seem to enjoy singing it. And having the vote ought to diffuse a good deal of joy. So they should combine happily."
Accordingly, he assigned the copyright to the NUWSS. When that organisation was wound up in 1928, Parry's executors re-assigned the copyright to the Women's Institutes, where it remained until it entered the public domain in 1968.
The song was first called "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" and the early published scores have this title. The change to 'Jerusalem' seems to have been made about the time of the 1918 Suffrage Demonstration Concert, perhaps when the orchestral score was published (Parry's manuscript of the orchestral score has the old title crossed out and 'Jerusalem' inserted in a different hand). However, Parry always referred to it by its first title. He had originally intended the first verse to be sung by a solo female voice (this is marked in the score), but this is rare in contemporary performances. Sir Edward Elgar re-scored the work for very large orchestra in 1922 for use at the Leeds Festival. Elgar admired the song and would no doubt be disheartened to realise that his orchestration has overshadowed Parry's own, primarily because it is the version usually used now for the Last Night of the Proms (though, Sir Malcolm Sargent, who introduced it to that event in the 1950s always used Parry's version).
Upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred "Jerusalem" over "God Save the King", the National Anthem, and Jerusalem is considered to be England's most popular patriotic song; The New York Times said it was "Fast becoming an alternative national anthem," and there have even been calls to give it official status. England has no official anthem and so uses the British National Anthem "God Save the Queen", also an unofficial anthem, for some national occasions, such as before English international football matches. However, some sports, including rugby league use "Jerusalem" as the English anthem. Jerusalem is the ECB's official hymn, although God Save the Queen was the anthem sung before England's games in 2010 ICC World Twenty20 and 2010–11 Ashes series. Questions in Parliament have not clarified the situation, as answers from the relevant minister say that since there is no official national anthem, each sport must make its own decision.
As Parliament has not clarified the situation, Team England, the English Commonwealth team held a public poll in 2010 to decide which anthem should be played at medal ceremonies to celebrate an English win at the Commonwealth Games. Jerusalem was selected by 52% of voters over Land of Hope and Glory (used since 1930) and God Save the Queen.
More pieces by Parry
- Blest Pair of Sirens
- I was glad
- Ode on the Nativity