Music for Epiphany 5 — Sunday, February 5 2023

O worship the King, all glorious above – Text: Robert Grant  (1779-1838) / Music: Melody and bass William Croft (1678-1727)


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O worship the King, all glorious above, this Sunday’s offertory hymn in church, is found in nearly one hundred hymnals published in this and the last century. Few hymns have achieved such popularity in the Christian church. Written by Robert Grant (1779-1838), and based on a paraphrase of Psalm 104, it first appeared in Edward Bickersteth’s Christian Psalmody 1833. The first three stanzas are a paraphrase of the opening of the psalm, but the last three dwell upon the care, the mercy, the power, and the love of God. Two phrases shine out above all others: “pavilioned in splendour” and “O measureless might.” In them the unique character and strength of the hymn rest.

There has been some considerable debate as to the identity of the composer of Hanover, the tune to which this hymn is invariably sung. In some instances it has been attributed to Handel, but most evidence points to the authorship of William Croft (1678-1727). The tune first appeared in A Supplement to the New Version of Psalms by Dr. Brady and Mr. Tate in 1708. The subsequent name of the tune is probably due to its supposed association Handel, who was appointed court conductor at Hannover in 1710.

An important characteristic of the tune is its triple rhythm. Apart from Tallis and Gibbons, such rhythm is rare in church song prior to 1700. If the tune is indeed by Croft, then it marks an important point in the development of a freer style in church music.

O worship the King, all glorious above;
O gratefully sing his power and his love;
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.

O tell of his might, O sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space;
his chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, thy power hath founded of old,
hath stablished it fast by a changeless decree,
and round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air; it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distils in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

O measureless Might, ineffable Love,
while angels delight to hymn thee above,
the humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
with true adoration shall sing to thy praise.

Gerald Harder