2013-02-17 Notes from the Bench

Three Anthems by Samuel Sebastian Wesley
A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

“Wash Me Throughly from my Wickedness” was written by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (c. 1840) and is among Wesley’s best-known anthems.  The text is based on Psalm 51: 2-3; a psalm frequently appointed during the season of Lent.

“Cast Me Not Away” is also based on Psalm 51, verses 8, 11, 12 and 17.  Wesley composed this anthem following a fall in late 1847 that resulted in a fractured right leg. Some of the musical discord that illumines the text, “the bones which thou hast broken…” is also attributed to Wesley’s personal expression of the pain he endured during his recovery.

The text of “Solomon’s Prayer” is based on I King 8.  This work was included in a collection of twelve anthems published in 1853 that comprised of works Wesley wrote over the previous 20 years.  Wesley considered these anthems among his most important works; “Solomon’s Prayer” being the final piece of the collection which he considered an offering in humility with supplication.

The organist and composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) is a descendant of a distinguished lineage of church musicians in England.  His grandfather Charles Wesley was a prominent leader of the Methodist movement and is remembered for the abundance of hymns texts he wrote, many of which we continue to sing today, while his father Samuel Wesley was a well-respected organist and composer.  Samuel Wesley held great admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach and thus named his son Samuel Sebastian Wesley, after himself and his musical hero.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born in London.  He began his musical training as chorister for the Chapel Royal and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  He received Bachelor and Doctor of Music Degrees from the University of Oxford. In 1826, Wesley embarked on his adult musical career as an organist and composer, holding appointments at Hereford Cathedral, Exeter Cathedral, Leeds Parish Church, Winchester Cathedral and Gloucester Cathedral.  He composed music primarily for the Church of England including anthems, choral services and organ voluntaries.  He was famous and greatly admired as one of England’s leading organist and choirmasters.  While he was an advocate for improving the state of Anglican Church music, he had a reputation of being outspoken and difficult, which often left him at odds with church authorities.

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