109. Samuel Sebastian Wesley [365 Composers for 2013]


19th April – Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Wesley (14th August 1810 – 19th April 1876) is our composer for 19th April, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: English
Lifespan: 65 years
Genre: Anglican Church (Romantic)
Education: With Father
Fame Ranking: 2

Samuel Sebastian Wesley was the grandson of Charles Wesley, the leader of the Methodist Church movement in 18th century England. Samuel’s father was a big fan of the music of J.S. Bach, and gave Samuel his middle name, Sebastian, after the great composer. Wesley was first taught music by his father, and then at the age of ten, he joined the Chapel Royal as a chorister.

Wesley started his life as a professional musician early – by the age of sixteen he was working as an organist at no fewer than three different London churches. By 1832, he had become organist at Hereford Cathedral. In 1839 he was awarded a Bachelor of Music and Doctorate from Oxford University. He took on further appointments as organist at several other notable English churches, such as Exeter Cathedral and Leeds Parish Church. Wesley was quite outspoken within the church about conditions for musicians and standards of music, however he never got himself into trouble and was never criticised for his views by the church authorities.

Wesley composed music for the Church of England, and within that establishment his music is still well-known and loved. Two of his best-known works are “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace” and “Wash me throughly”. He wrote hymns, verse anthems and several respected organ works.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Wesley was opposed to the tuning system of “equal temperament”, where the interval between each semitone is exactly the same. He preferred the older system of “just temperament”, which allows each individual key to have its own unique flavour. For more on temperaments, see here.

Here is Wesley’s “Wash me Throughly”, with score:


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