Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Henry Francis Lyte

Henry Francis Lyte was born today in 1793, near the Scottish village of Kelso. His father deserted the family when Lyte was a boy, and his mother died shortly after. Young Henry was at the time attending Portora Royal School in Ireland, and the headmaster there adopted him unofficially.

Following Portora he studied at Trinity College in Dublin and was ordained in the Church of England in 1815. After serving at a few other country parishes he settled in Lower Brixham in 1823, where he was employed at All Saints Church until poor health forced his retirement in 1844.

Lyte is primarily remembered for his two most popular hymns, Abide with me and Praise, my soul, the King of heaven, though he wrote several others. That latter hymn first appeared in a collection by Lyte called Spirit of the Psalms (1834) which contained 65 psalm paraphrases, many of which were subsequently used in various hymnals. In the introduction to the book, he wrote: Poetry and music are never better employed than when they unite in the celebration of the praises of God. The first edition of the book was published anonymously, but it proved very successful, and Lyte eventually took credit for it. His paraphrases were compared favorably to those of Isaac Watts written a hundred years earlier, though they are not much known today.

This is Lyte's version of Psalm 46. One reason it is not generally sung today is that there is a much more familiar hymn based on that psalm, if one is called for.

God is our Refuge, tried and proved
Amid a stormy world;
We will not fear though earth be moved
And hills to ocean hurled.

The waves may roar, the mountains shake,
Our comfort shall not cease;
For God the world will not forsake,
And God will give us peace.

A gentle stream of hope and love
To us shall ever flow;
It issues from God's throne above,
And cheers the saints below.

When earth and hell against us came,
God spoke, and quelled their powers;
Eternal God is still the same,
The God of grace is ours.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1830; alt.
Tune: SINAI (C.M.)
Joseph Barnby, 19th cent.

Two Years Ago: Henry Francis Lyte


Kittredge Cherry said...

Ah, yes. I can still hear “Abide with Me” being sung at the evening vesper service of Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, now some 20 years ago. Thank you, Henry Francis Lyte and CWS.

Speaking of hymns, you and your readership may be interested in "A Heart to Praise Our God," a festival of sacred music and texts by gay and lesbian composers and poets June 13 in Berkeley. I wonder what hymns they will perform?

My alma mater Pacific School of Religion just sent me this link to info about it:


C.W.S. said...

Looking at the people involved I'd guess it's based in part on a presentation I helped with that was made at the Hymn Society's annual conference two years ago.

Pretty sure they will be singing this and this at least, as well as other texts by Georgia Harkness, Marsha Stevens, Katherine Lee Bates, and John Addington Symonds.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m especially glad to see that you posted “We Are the Church Alive.” I searched for it online recently after hearing it on an old MCC-SF worship tape, and was surprised to find almost no references to it on the Internet. There were hardly even any references to “Song to Remember Harvey Milk (Singing for Our Lives)” -- and that song was ubiquitous in the 1980s. Is there a central place preserving these queer hymns online?

The presentation at the Hymn Society’s annual conference sounds fascinating.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I posted a link to your piece on “We Are the Church Alive” at the Jesus in Love Blog today -- as part of an annotated list of my 6 favorite LGBT hymns. I heard that “We Are the Church Alive” was also on YouTube, but I couldn’t find it there.

I can’t believe that “Our God is Like an Eagle (When Israel camped in Sinai)” isn’t properly available online. I hope that somehow these gems from LGBT musical history can be preserved.

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for the link!

We are the Church Alive was indeed on YouTube at one time, posted by the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas from one of their worship services. It brought tears to my eyes, hearing it sung for the first time in nearly ten years. I was planning to link to it in my 2008 post but it was taken down shortly before I wrote that, and commenter Leland was kind enough to produce a sound file to go with the text.

As to When Israel camped in Sinai and some of the others you've mentioned, I can only say that they are all copyrighted works and really should not be posted online (in full) anywhere without the stated permission of the authors and composers. YouTube has become the biggest violator of copyright law that creators have ever seen since the development of the internet itself (and the photocopier before that, or course).

Now, it's another matter altogether that the organization that "owns" the copyright to Larry Bernier's hymn text might not even know that they control the rights.

C.W.S. said...

P.S. - I did link to Cris Williamson's Song of the soul (which is not on your blog today) back on Dexember 3, 2008.

Kittredge Cherry said...

In case you are interested: Lynn Jordan has posted little-known details about the origins of “I’m Not Afraid Anymore” in the form of comments to the What’s Your Favorite LGBT Hymn? post that we have been discussing.