Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) [Composer Of The Week]

Episodes

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01Wesley's shifting religious views20200203

Donald Macleod delves into Samuel Wesley’s religious background and fluctuating views.

Samuel Wesley was a child prodigy, and it was the older composer William Boyce who said of the boy that he was the English Mozart, and that he had dropped down from heaven. Wesley’s star speedily ascended to the heights from an early age as both performer and composer, but with issues surrounding his often extreme character, and also his health and morals, this ascendency was not to last. His popularity went in and out of fashion during his lifetime, and trying to secure a permanent position as an organist was something which eluded him for a long time. However, he was one of Britain’s leading musicians, mixed in the highest circles, and was responsible for promoting the largely unknown J. S. Bach to these shores. Towards the end of his life, famous musicians and composers sought Wesley out and even Mendelssohn asked the famed organist Samuel Wesley to play for him. We’re only just beginning to understand Wesley’s importance to the development of British classical music, and many of his substantial works, including numerous concertos for piano, organ, and violin, and large scale works for choir and orchestra, all still remain to be recorded.

Samuel Wesley was born into a Methodist background. His father Charles composed over six thousand hymns, and his uncle John was the famous founder of the English Methodist movement. However, as a young teenager Wesley started going to services at the chapels of several Roman Catholic embassies in London and eventually converted to Catholicism, sending a copy of his newly composed Mass to Pope Pius VI. Yet for Wesley, despite this very public statement of conversion, and his then highly questionable personal relationships, for him, it was really all about the music. In later life when religion wasn’t a key consideration for Wesley, he frequently attended churches and chapels of both Anglican and Catholic traditions, in order to play the organ, or just to listen to the choir.

Symphony in A major (Brillante)
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

O Lord God most holy
Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Geoffrey Webber, conductor

Might I in thy sight appear
Frances Cary, soprano
Andrew Arthus, organist
Geoffrey Webber, conductor

Psalm 42 & 43
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge
John Challenger, organ
Andrew Nethsingha, director

Dixit Dominus
Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Christopher Monks, organ
Geoffrey Webber, conductor

Preludium, Ariette & Fuga in C minor
Jennifer Bate, organist

Symphony in A major
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Samuel Wesley's changing religious views.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02Wesley's distinguished circle20200204

Donald Macleod explores the distinguished circle of friends and colleagues of Samuel Wesley.

Samuel Wesley was a child prodigy, and it was the older composer William Boyce who said of the boy that he was the English Mozart, and that he had dropped down from heaven. Wesley’s star speedily ascended to the heights from an early age as both performer and composer, but with issues surrounding his often extreme character, and also his health and morals, this ascendency was not to last. His popularity went in and out of fashion during his lifetime, and trying to secure a permanent position as an organist was something which eluded him for a long time. However, he was one of Britain’s leading musicians, mixed in the highest circles, and was responsible for promoting the largely unknown J. S. Bach to these shores. Towards the end of his life, famous musicians and composers sought Wesley out and even Mendelssohn asked the famed organist Samuel Wesley to play for him. We’re only just beginning to understand Wesley’s importance to the development of British classical music, and many of his substantial works, including numerous concertos for piano, organ, and violin, and large scale works for choir and orchestra, all still remain to be recorded.

Donald Macleod journeys through Samuel Wesley’s distinguished circle of friends and colleagues. We get a picture of very distinguished beginnings with Wesley meeting with the composer William Boyce, to later in life being sought out by the Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull, and performing for Felix Mendelssohn. We explore his collaborations with the famed writer on music Charles Burney, with his friend the organist Vincent Novello, to Wesley being appointed the first ever Grand Organist to the Grand Lodge of Freemasons. Wesley’s circles demonstrate him to have been one of the key performers and composers in British music, during his lifetime.

Fugue in B minor for Dr Mendelssohn
Jennifer Bate, organ

Sinfonia obligato
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

O sing unto mie roundelaie
Julia Gooding, soprano
Ana-María Rincón, soprano
Charles Daniels, tenor
Rufus Müller, tenor
Christopher Purves, bass
Timothy Roberts, fortepiano & director

Voluntary in D
Jennifer Bate, organ

Air and Gavotte
Carlo Curley, organ

Violin Concerto No 2 in D major
Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin
The Parley of Instruments
Peter Holman, fortepiano & director

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod delves into Wesley's eminent circle of friends.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Wesley the virtuoso20200205

Donald Macleod traces Samuel Wesley’s journey as a performer of both the violin and keyboard.

Samuel Wesley was a child prodigy, and it was the older composer William Boyce who said of the boy that he was the English Mozart, and that he had dropped down from heaven. Wesley’s star speedily ascended to the heights from an early age as both performer and composer, but with issues surrounding his often extreme character, and also his health and morals, this ascendency was not to last. His popularity went in and out of fashion during his lifetime, and trying to secure a permanent position as an organist was something which eluded him for a long time. However, he was one of Britain’s leading musicians, mixed in the highest circles, and was responsible for promoting the largely unknown J. S. Bach to these shores. Towards the end of his life, famous musicians and composers sought Wesley out and even Mendelssohn asked the famed organist Samuel Wesley to play for him. We’re only just beginning to understand Wesley’s importance to the development of British classical music, and many of his substantial works, including numerous concertos for piano, organ, and violin, and large scale works for choir and orchestra, all still remain to be recorded.

In this programme, Donald Macleod delves into Samuel Wesley’s career as a performer. His older brother Charles was a child prodigy, but Samuel soon overtook his brother, so that by his sixth birthday, not only had he learnt Handel oratorios by heart, but he was also starting to compose his own oratorios. As a performer, Wesley would take to both the violin and the organ, often as a lad giving recitals at distinguished venues such as Bath Abbey. However, things took a downward turn when as a young man Wesley was left a legacy, which meant for a period he didn’t have to pursue a career as a musician. The result was a loss of focus, and he gave up the violin altogether. Later in life he became famous for his ability as an organist, often giving concerts around the country, and he even took up the violin again in order to play and promote the music of Bach.

Sonatina Op 4 No 1
Timothy Roberts, piano

Sonatina Op 4 No 2
Timothy Roberts, piano

Duet for the organ
Hans Fagius, organ
David Sanger, organ

Symphony in E flat
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

Arrangement with Variation of Rule Britannia
Jennifer Bate, organ

Rondo on God rest you merry, Gentlemen
Timothy Roberts, fortepiano

All go unto one place
The Choir of New College Oxford
Edward Higginbottom, director

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Wesley's career as a performer.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Wesley's passion for Bach20200206

Donald Macleod traces Samuel Wesley’s passion for, and promotion of, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Samuel Wesley was a child prodigy, and it was the older composer William Boyce who said of the boy that he was the English Mozart, and that he had dropped down from heaven. Wesley’s star speedily ascended to the heights from an early age as both performer and composer, but with issues surrounding his often extreme character, and also his health and morals, this ascendency was not to last. His popularity went in and out of fashion during his lifetime, and trying to secure a permanent position as an organist was something which eluded him for a long time. However, he was one of Britain’s leading musicians, mixed in the highest circles, and was responsible for promoting the largely unknown J. S. Bach to these shores. Towards the end of his life, famous musicians and composers sought Wesley out and even Mendelssohn asked the famed organist Samuel Wesley to play for him. We’re only just beginning to understand Wesley’s importance to the development of British classical music, and many of his substantial works, including numerous concertos for piano, organ, and violin, and large scale works for choir and orchestra, all still remain to be recorded.

Donald Macleod follows Samuel Wesley on his journey to explore and promote the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was largely unknown in the United Kingdom, and Wesley wanted to share his discovery of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. The famed music historian Charles Burney was dismissive of Bach, but soon changed his tune once Wesley played Bach’s music to him. Wesley went on to bring out publications of Bach’s music, to give lecture recitals, and to re-learn the violin in order to play some Bach sonatas. Wesley never missed an opportunity to perform the music of Bach to new audiences, often interspersed with his own compositions.

Duet in B flat major (for Eliza)
Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
Olivier Beaumont, harpsichord

Voluntary in D, Op 6 No 8
Jennifer Bate, organ

Handel Arr. Wesley
Rejoice the Lord is King
Psalmody
Timothy Roberts, organ
Peter Holman, director

Symphony in D major
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

String Quartet in E flat major (Allegro spiritoso)
The Salomon Quartet

Confitebor tibi, Domine
Claire Seaton, soprano
Susanne Holmes, mezzo soprano
Nicholas Sharratt, tenor
Jonathan Brown, baritone
Southern Pro Musica
David Gostick, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Wesley's passion for Bach.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05Wesley's mysterious health20200207

Donald Macleod explores the mystery surrounding aspects of Samuel Wesley’s health.

Samuel Wesley was a child prodigy, and it was the older composer William Boyce who said of the boy that he was the English Mozart, and that he had dropped down from heaven. Wesley’s star speedily ascended to the heights from an early age as both performer and composer, but with issues surrounding his often extreme character, and also his health and morals, this ascendency was not to last. His popularity went in and out of fashion during his lifetime, and trying to secure a permanent position as an organist was something which eluded him for a long time. However, he was one of Britain’s leading musicians, mixed in the highest circles, and was responsible for promoting the largely unknown J. S. Bach to these shores. Towards the end of his life, famous musicians and composers sought Wesley out and even Mendelssohn asked the famed organist Samuel Wesley to play for him. We’re only just beginning to understand Wesley’s importance to the development of British classical music, and many of his substantial works, including numerous concertos for piano, organ, and violin, and large scale works for choir and orchestra, all still remain to be recorded.

Samuel Wesley was noted to be a rather extreme character, often displaying entirely opposite ends of his personality, from deep gloom to extreme elation. People have more recently speculated that Wesley may have suffered with bipolar disorder, or manic depression. However, there was an attempt to explain Wesley’s behaviour, due to a blow to his head early on in his life. But did this really happen? Later in life, and as his personal life became more complex - including the stress of needing to earn more money to support two families, periods of depression often set in. At one stage he threw himself out of a window, and was subsequently committed to an asylum in Chelsea for an entire year. However, Wesley demonstrated determination and a strength of character to rebuild his career after this period, continuing to perform and compose music.

Voluntary in G minor
Jennifer Bate, organ

Ode to St Cecilia (extract)
Julia Gooding, soprano
Charles Brett, countertenor
David Mattinson, baritone
St John’s Smith Square Orchestra
John Lubbock, conductor

Might I in thy sight appear
Patrick McCarthy, tenor
Timothy Roberts, organ

Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum
Portsmouth Choral Union
Southern Pro Musica
David Gostick, conductor

Symphony in B flat major
London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert, conductor

Fidelia omnia mandata ejus
Claire Seaton, soprano
Southern Pro Musica
David Gostick, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod delves into the mystery of Wesley's health.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.