After his rocky start as the orphaned son of a ne’er-do-well father, Scottish born Henry Francis Lyte served as an Anglican curate; established schools for children and sailors; built a library; shared extensive knowledge about both wildflowers and literature; protested slavery in Britain; discovered pottery and human remains while excavating at Ash Hole Cavern; spoke Latin, Greek and French; raised a family; and expertly played the flute. (Whew – he makes me tired!) But for all his achievements, it could be said that Lyte is best remembered for the legacy he left from a free-time pursuit: his poetry.
Lyte’s most famous text is likely Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide but a very close second is his hymn Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. Penned at a time when hymnwriters were expected to keep Psalm texts as close to the original Scriptures as possible, Lyte rebelled and took a different route. He chose to breathe new life into the Psalms with his own versions while maintaining the spirit and meaning of the originals. The result was his book Spirit of the Psalms where you’ll find his version of Psalm 103 – Praise My Soul the King of Heaven.
Praise My Soul the King of Heaven is quite popular in the U.K. and was one of the hymns used at the royal wedding of H.R.H. the Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947 – exactly one hundred years after the death of Henry Francis Lyte.
Today, most hymnals use only four of Lyte’s original five stanzas of Praise My Soul which is unfortunate since the omitted stanza – considered poetically weaker by some editors – is a beautiful reminder of the fragility of life and the constancy of God.
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.
Hymnals will sometimes pair Praise My Soul the King of Heaven with the tune Regent Square (better known in the U.S. as Angels from the Realms of Glory) but more often Praise My Soul is sung to Lauda Anima – Latin for the opening words of Psalm 103 – of which there are two. Mark Andrews composed one of the Lauda Anima tunes in 1930 but it hasn’t stood the test of time like the original written for Praise My Soul in 1868 by English organist and composer Sir John Goss.
Since Goss’ sturdy Victorian tune is the most popular, I used his melody for my piano arrangement but gave it a small twist. To underscore (pun intended) the idea of raising the music to the King of Heaven, I progressed through three ascending key signatures to give the arrangement some lift. Then I topped it at the end with a rising melody and choral progression to reach the heights of heaven. But because another text that can be sung with Lauda Anima is the 11th century Latin hymn Alleluia, Song of Gladness – a hymn often used the last Sunday before Lent to sadly bid farewell to using the word “alleluia” for six weeks – I kept the arrangement fairly subdued and simple to play with only a bit of drama. Enjoy!