O Worship the King


Performance Notes:

The first line of this beloved hymn immediately reveals its appropriateness for the festival of the Ascension. We know a good deal about the text, but the source of the tune was always a puzzle. Our "final" draft of the handbook included the usual indication that no one had been able to discover the origins of the tune. Though hymnals have always indicated "attributed to Haydn," no one could trace it to Haydn.

Now comes the fun part. Last summer at the Hymn Society Conference in Savannah, Georgia, I was talking with Daniel McKinley, then choirmaster and organist at First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, and learned that his assistant, Margaret Dinsmore, had just dug up some new information about this tune. Their congregation was in the process of producing its very own hymnal, a very big task! They wanted to be accurate in listing authors and composers, and since no one had ever uncovered the real source of this tune, Margaret Dinsmore went to work. She was researching Haydn sources in the University of Indiana library when a title popped up: "The Sonatina with Twelve Variations by J. Haydn (sic). It was the "sic." that intrigued her. After some more sleuthing, she got the title of a German book by Bertil H. Van Boer, Jr., who wrote about the Swedish composer Joseph Martin Kraus. That book listed the Sonatina, and the first few measures included in the book were obviously the same opening notes to the tune LYONS!

Mystery solved! In fact, the tune was written for piano with an added violin part. Dinsmore kindly faxed me the information; I went to the library, got some biographical information on Kraus, and quickly added the new information to the first page proofs of the handbook. The Psalter Hymnal Handbook is probably the first one to list Kraus as the composer, thanks to the impressive library research skills of Margaret Dinsmore.

What a rich testimony this hymn is to the communion of the saints: the hymn text is rooted in Scripture as well as the devotional life of someone with Scottish roots living in India and set to a tune by a German/Swedish composer living in England. And the hymn is still sung around the world a hundred and fifty years later!

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 18:2, Dan. 7:9, 13, 22
st. 2 = Ps. 18:9-12, Ps. 104:1-3
st. 3 = Ps. 104:7-10
st. 5 = Ps. 145:10

Robert Grant (b. Bengal, India, 1779; d. Dalpoorie, India, 1838) was influenced in writing this text by William Kethe’s paraphrase of Psalm 104 in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter (1561). Grant’s text was first published in Edward Bickersteth’s Christian Psalmody (1833) with several unauthorized alterations. In 1835 his original six-stanza text was published in Henry Elliott’s Psalm and Hymns. Stanza 3 was omitted in the Psalter Hymnal.

Rather than being a paraphrase or versification, the text is a meditation on the creation theme of Psalm 104. Stanzas 1-3, which allude to Psalm 104:1-6, focus on God’s creation as a testimony to his “measureless Might.” More personal in tone, stanzas 4 and 5 confess the compassion of God toward his creatures and affirm with apocalyptic vision that the “ransomed creation, with glory ablaze” will join with angels to hymn its praise to God.

Of Scottish ancestry, Grant was born in India, where his father was a director of the East India Company. He attended Magdalen College, Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1807. He had a distinguished public career a Governor of Bombay and as a member of the British Parliament, where he sponsored a bill to remove civil restrictions on Jews. Grant was knighted in 1834. His hymn texts were published in the Christian Observer (1806-1815), in Elliot’s Psalms and Hymns (1835), and posthumously by his brother as Sacred Poems (1839).

Tune Information:

LYONS, named for the French city Lyons, appeared with a reference to “Haydn” in volume 2 of William Gardiner’s Sacred Melodies. However, the tune was never found in the works of Franz Joseph Haydn or those of his younger brother Johann Michael Haydn. Recent research revealed that the tune was composed by Joseph Martin Kraus, a German composer who settled in Sweden and who traveled widely throughout Europe. Die Werke von Joseph Martin Kraus systematisch-thematisches Werkvereichnis, by Bertil H. Van Boer, Jr. (Stockholm, 1988), includes information on Kraus’ “Tema con variazioni (Scherzo),” a work composed around 1785 in London with an incipit that clearly matches the opening measure of LYONS. The work was published as a set of twelve variations for piano and violin in London in 1791. The violin part may have been an addition by another composer, perhaps “G. Haydn,” since a subsequent London edition (c. 1808) was entitled “Sonita with Twelve Variations for the Piano Forte with Violin Accompaniments, composed by G. Haydn.”

Joseph Martin Kraus (b. Miltenberg am Main, Germany, 1756; d. Stockholm, Sweden, 1792) spent his youth in Germany, but in 1778 moved to Stockholm. He was elected to the Swedish Academy of Music and became the conductor of the court orchestra and eventually the best-known composer associated with the court of Gustavus III. On his travels, Kraus did meet Franz Joseph Haydn, who considered Kraus “one of the greatest geniuses I have met.” Kraus wrote operas as well as many vocal and instrumental works.

A bright melody, LYONS is much loved by many congregations. Lines 1,2, and 4 are similar in shape; lines 2 and 4 are identical. The climbing melody and dominant pedal-point of line 3 provides contrast. Sing stanzas 1, 3, and 5 in solid unison and stanzas 2 and 4 in harmony. Use clear, bright accompaniment. Maintain one pulse per bar. LYONS’ opening figure is similar to that of HANOVER (149 and 477), a good alternate tune.

Other Resources:

  • Visit hymnary.org for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, LYONS.

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Easy Hymn Settings General. Set 3 Morningstar MSM-10-615 [2001]
  • Cassler, G. Winston. Organ Descants for Selected Hymns. Augsburg 11-9304 [1972]
  • Fedak, Alfred V. Hymn Intonations Preludes and Free Harmonizations. Vol III. Selah 160-723 [1992]
  • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H W Grey GB 644 [1978]
  • McKinney, Howard D. Preludes for Fifty-Five Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 9770 [1967]
  • Noble, T. Tertius. Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 8175 [1946]
  • Wyton, Alec. New Shoots from Old Roots. SMP KK 279 [1983]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Carlson, J. Bert. Let It Rip! At the Piano. vol. 2 Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7580-0 [2003]
  • Hopson, Hal H. The Creative Use of the Piano in Worship. Hope 8392 [2008]
Song Audio: 
Psalm 104
Song Number: 
Projection and Reprint Information: 
  • The Words and Music are in the Public Domain; you do not need permission to project or reprint the Words and Music.
Public Domain