The Lord’s My Shepherd


THANKS for the welcome you gave this new series, and for your recommendations. Please keep them coming.

As most people know, the words of The Lord’s My Shepherd are closely based on Psalm 23 in the beautiful 1611 King James Bible version:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There have been many variations in the words but by far the most popular first appeared in the Scots Metrical Psalter of 1650, in which psalms were turned into verses suitable for singing. This was based on an earlier version in 1565 by Thomas Sternhold, who was a Groom of the Robes to Henry VIII. The spelling in the Scots Metrical Psalter has been updated but otherwise the words are unchanged to this day.

There are many musical settings, and here are a couple that I know.

The first is called Belmont and was written by William Gardiner (1770-1853), an English composer whose promotion of Beethoven led to the first performances of his work in Britain.

The second Brother James’s Air. It was written by James Leith Macbeth Bain (1840-1925), a Scottish healer, mystic and poet who was known as Brother James. This is a vintage recording.

(The descant is by Gordon Jacob (1885-1984), a professor at the Royal College of Music, who orchestrated the National Anthem for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. I couldn’t find a contemporary clip but here it is at the Westminster Abbey service celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Coronation in 2013)

Here is another setting by the wonderful Schubert, which I had not heard before.

However by far the most widely used version is Crimond, by Jessie Seymour Irvine. For someone who wrote such a celebrated melody, remarkably little seems to be known about her. She was born in 1836, the daughter of a Church of Scotland minister who served the parish of Crimond in Aberdeenshire. It is believed that Irvine wrote the tune while still in her teens as an exercise for an organ class she was attending. It first appeared in The Northern Psalter in 1872 but was wrongly ascribed to David Grant, an Aberdeen businessman and amateur musician, whom Irvine had asked to provide a harmonisation. The correct attribution was made in the 1929 Scottish Psalter. Irvine died unmarried at the age of 51 in 1887 and is buried in Aberdeen’s St Machar Cathedral.
While looking for performances of the Crimond setting, I came across a couple of treats. The first is unused Pathe News material of the choir of Westminster Abbey rehearsing for the 1947 wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth to the Duke of Edinburgh.

The second is a Pathe News report of the wedding itself.

A lost world.

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