O worship the King
Text: Origins. This hymn by Robert Grant (1780–1838), a paraphrase of Psalm 104, first appeared in Edward Bickersteth’s Christian Psalmody (London: E.B. Seeley & Sons, 1833 | Fig. 1), in six stanzas of four lines, without music, unattributed. In the earliest printings, each line was divided into two smaller phrases by an em-dash, but in subsequent editions the em-dash was removed in favor of longer phrases.
The hymn then appeared in H.V. Elliott’s Psalms and Hymns for Public, Private, and Social Worship (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1835 | Fig. 2), this time reformatted as three stanzas of eight lines. The differences here are very minor: a change from “establish’d” to “stablish’d,” which works better for the meter, a change from “It streams” to “In streams,” and a correction to the last phrase, “shall lisp to thy praise.” In his Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 855, John Julian claimed, “From the preface to Elliott’s Ps. & Hys. we find that the text in Bickersteth was not authorized,” except no known edition of Elliott’s collection contains a preface, and this claim cannot otherwise be confirmed.
Lastly, the hymn appeared in a posthumous edition of Grant’s work, Sacred Poems (London: Saunders and Otley, 1839), edited by Grant’s brother, Charles Grant (Lord Glenelg). The preface indicated how the hymns in this edition represented “a more correct and authentic version” than what had previously circulated. In this collection, the hymn was reformatted again, this time in six stanzas of eight short lines. The text is in agreement with Elliott’s version, except a change back to “It streams,” and the omission of “The” before “deep thunder-clouds,” which interrupts the flow of the meter.
Text: Analysis. Grant’s text is a free paraphrase of Psalm 104, roughly covering verses 1-13 and 24-33. He patterned the meter after the traditional setting of 10.10.11.11 established by William Kethe’s version in Foure Score and Seuen Psalmes of Dauid (Geneva, 1560), repeated in the complete English psalter of 1562, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Collected into Englysh Metre by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins & Others [see Sternhold & Hopkins]. This connection is reflected in the way Bickersteth’s and Elliott’s printings gave the meter as “104th M.”
For hymnologist Erik Routley (1917–1982), this hymn ranked among his favorites:
For sheer literary grace and beauty this may be one of the six finest hymns in the language. We all love it for its combination of effortless energy, high-spirited innocence, and the occasional touch of superb dignity. Almost every word in it is a word in the common man’s vocabulary—the vocabulary both of its own day and of ours. Yet in the first and last verses there rise two towering lines, built in monolithic style, which give a grand sweep of structure to the whole—
Pavilion’d in splendour, and girded with praise … O measureless might, ineffable love.
This highly wrought and eloquent simplicity gives the whole hymn a texture which very happily reflects that of the psalm on which it is founded. For the 104th Psalm is, even among the psalms, an astonishing piece of writing. … The total message of the hymn is that all that is set down in Psalm 104 is a pageant not merely of God’s power but also of his love. This takes us to the heart of the Christian teaching on creation.
Note: Some sources, including Edwin Hatfield in The Poets of the Church (1884), have claimed “O worship the King” was published in the Christian Observer in 1806 and revised in 1812. This is not correct; the hymn appearing in that publication on those dates was “When gathering clouds around I view” (PDF).
Tune 1. In England, the preferred tune is HANOVER, generally attributed to William Croft (1678–1727), first published in A Supplement to the New Version of Psalms, 6th ed. (Savoy: John Nutt, 1708 | Fig. 4). The original printing was headed Psalm LXVII even though the tune was intended for the 149th Psalm of Tate & Brady’s New Version (1696/1698) or Psalm 104 of the old Sternhold & Hopkins edition (1562). The music was in two parts, melody and bass, set to “Our God bless us all in mercy and love,” which is a paraphrase of Psalm 67, author unknown, first printed in the first edition of this supplement (1700) with a different tune.
This tune was first called HANOVER in A Collection of Tunes, suited to … Watts’s Imitation of the Psalms of David (1722), named after the House of Hanover, which was the royal family of King George I (1660–1727). J.R. Watson has called it “a magnificent and strong tune which carries the words with great conviction and sureness.” See Leaver & Temperley (1994) for further discussion on issues related to Croft’s authorship.
Tune 2. The other most common tune is LYONS, most likely written by Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792), from his “Thema med variationer” (scherzo), possibly in 1784 or 1785 during a visit to London. Two manuscript copies of Kraus’ piece are held at Kungl Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm, and at Uppsala University. The oldest surviving printed copy attributed to Kraus is in Musikaliskt Tidsfördrif, no. 14-15 (1793 | Fig. 5).
A few additional early printings of this tune have added to the confusion of authorship. The oldest known printing of this melody is “A Minuetto con XII variazioni per il piano forte con accompagnamento d’un violin,” published in London in 1791 and attributed to Ignaz Pleyel. The same piece was published under an English title, “Sonatina with Twelve Variations,” ca. 1805, credited to “G. Haydn,” which seems to be the source for all subsequent attempts to credit the tune to either Joseph (Giuseppe) Haydn or Johann (Giovanni) Michael Haydn. Some scholars believe the Pleyel and Haydn copies were plagiarized and sold by publishers to capitalize on the popularity of the two composers.
The tune entered English hymnody through William Gardiner’s Sacred Melodies from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, vol. 2 (London: William Gardiner, 1815 | Fig. 6), where it was set to Philip Doddridge’s hymn “O praise ye the Lord, prepare a new song” in an arrangement for small orchestra. Gardiner is credited for assigning the name LYONS, a city in France, for unknown reasons, although this name does not appear on the same page as the arrangement. Gardiner also perpetuated the attribution to Haydn.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
15 February 2019
rev. 20 March 2019
Erik Routley, Hymns and the Faith (London: John Murray, 1955), pp. 8-9.
J.R. Watson, An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: University Press, 2002), p. 264.
John Julian, “O worship the King,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 854-855: Google Books
Bertil H. van Boer Jr., Die Werke von Joseph Martin Kraus (Stockholm: Kgl. schwedische Musikakademie, 1988).
J. Wilson, “Julian and ‘O worship the King,’” Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Bulletin, vol. 12 (October 1989), p. 155.
David W. Music, “LYONS,” Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), p. 996-997.
Robin A. Leaver & Nicholas Temperley, “O worship the King, all glorious above,” Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), pp. 727-731.
Bert Polman, “O worship the King,” Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids: CRC, 1998), p. 588-589.
Margaret K. Dismore, “LYONS: A tune in search of its composer,” The Hymn, vol. 58, no. 2 (Spring 2007), pp. 27-31: HathiTrust
Carl P. Daw Jr. “O worship the King, all glorious above!” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 43-44.
“O worship the King, all glorious above,” Hymnary.org: