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Lord of the years presides over Queen’s celebration

10 June 2016


Praise my soul: the Queen at Marlborough House, London, on Thursday, to launch a new Commonwealth hub

Praise my soul: the Queen at Marlborough House, London, on Thursday, to launch a new Commonwealth hub

WHEN the Queen attends the service of thanksgiving in St Paul’s on Friday to mark her 90th birthday, she will hear a reflection “on the passing of the years” written by Michael Bond and read by Sir David Attenborough, both of whom were 90 this year.

In addition, one of those saying the prayers will be Hilda Price, who shares the Queen’s actual birthday, having, like her, turned 90 on 21 April.

The hymns for the service, as expected, are traditional, apart from one new-fangled one from 1969, “Lord for the years”. Its author, the Rt Revd Timothy Dudley-Smith, will have to wait until Boxing Day before joining the other three nonagenarians.

The other hymns at the service, which will be broadcast live by the BBC, will be “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”, “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us”, and “King of glory, King of peace”.

A new anthem has been composed for the service, a setting of Robert Bridges’s poem “I love all beauteous things” by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weir (a youthful 62).

Missing from the service are two hymns to be included in a Radio 2 collection of what are said by her friends to be the Queen’s favourite songs, to be broadcast on Sunday at 7 p.m.

The list includes “Oklahoma”, “Leaning on a Lampost”, and “Anything You Can Do” (from Annie Get your Gun).

The hymns in the list are “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” and “The Lord’s my shepherd”.

Below are their entries in the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnody:


Praise, my soul, the King of heaven. Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). First published in Lyte’s The Spirit of the Psalms (1834), as a free paraphrase of Psalm 103. It had five stanzas, with verse 4 (corresponding to verses 15-17 of the Psalm) bracketed for omission. Many hymn books (though not RS) have accordingly left out this verse:


Frail as summer’s flower we flourish;

Blows the wind and it is gone;

But, while mortals rise and perish,

God endures unchanging on:

Praise him! Praise him!

Praise the high eternal One.


There have been many alterations to Lyte’s text. The most persistent have been A&M’s substitution of ‘Alleluia! Alleluia!’ for ‘Praise him! Praise him!’ in each verse, and the change in verse 5 line 1 in Methodist books since 1904 from ‘Angels, help us to adore him’ to ‘Angels in the height, adore him’ (perhaps Methodist belief was suspicious of direct angelic help). More recently changes have been made to avoid ‘fathers’ in verse 2 line 2 (‘to his people’ in RS; ‘to our forebears’ in the Unitarian Hymns for Living, 1985).

With or without these and other minor changes, the hymn is a spectacular piece of praise rhetoric. It compresses a great deal into its five verses, and combines a powerful statement of God’s grandeur as the king of heaven with a recognition of his tenderness to frail humanity. It is also suitable for many different occasions, and can be sung by people of all denominations. Throughout the English-speaking world it is hard to find a major hymnbook that does not include it.

The most frequently used tune for this hymn is by John Goss. Its name, Praise my soul, suggests that it was written for these words. It appeared in Robert Brown-Borthwick’s Supplemental Hymn and Tune Book (Third Edition, 1869). It exists in three forms: in Brown-Borthwick’s book it is in D major for voices in unison and in E major for SATB; a further version in F sharp minor for the original fourth verse was written in November 1868 (printed in the Canadian Hymn Book, 1971). The hymn is also sung to Henry Smart’s Regent Square, although that tune was written for Horatius Bonar’s ‘Glory be to God the Father’. (JRW)


The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want. Scottish Psalter (1650). This paraphrase of Psalm 23 is the most famous of Scottish metrical psalms, although its fame outside Scotland is comparatively recent. The text is that of the Scottish Psalter of 1650, sometimes printed with the slight emendation of ‘no ill’ for the original ‘none ill’ (verse 3 line 2).

Psalm 23 is a psalm that is greatly loved for its beauty and its power to comfort, and it is not surprising that this version is now frequently used at funerals. However, its late 20th-century fame is almost entirely owing to the tune Crimond, which has only recently become associated with these words (the Scottish Psalter of 1929 recommended Wiltshire and Martyrdom). Crimond was sung to this text by a remarkable choir, the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, under Sir Hugh Roberton, in the early years of broadcasting on what was then called ‘the wireless’. It was chosen for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and for the Silver Wedding of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1948, and became widely known and loved from that time on. In many books the tune has been credited to Jessie Seymour Irvine*, but more recent research has suggested that it was almost certainly by an Aberdeen composer, David Grant (see Ronald Johnson, ‘How far is it to Crimond?’, Bulletin of the Hymn Society, 176, July 1988, pp. 38-42). (JRW).

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