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Providing new insight into the Wesley family, the fundamental importance of music in the development of Methodism, and the history of art music in Britain, Music and the Wesleys examines more than 150 years of a rich music-making tradition in England. John Wesley and his brother Charles, founders of the Methodist movement, considered music to be a vital part of religion, while Charles's sons Charles and Samuel and grandson Samuel Sebastian were among the most important English composers of their time.
This book explores the conflicts faced by the Wesleys but also celebrates their triumphs: John's determination to elevate the singing of his flock; the poetry of Charles's hymns and their musical treatment in both Britain and America; the controversial family concerts by which Charles launched his sons on their careers; the prolific output of Charles the younger; Samuel's range and rugged individuality as a composer; the oracular boldness of Sebastian's religious music and its reception around the English-speaking world. Exploring British concert life, sacred music forms, and hymnology, the contributors analyze the political, cultural, and social history of the Wesleys' enormous influence on English culture and religious practices.
Contributors are Stephen Banfield, Jonathan Barry, Martin V. Clarke, Sally Drage, Peter S. Forsaith, Peter Holman, Peter Horton, Robin A. Leaver, Alyson McLamore, Geoffrey C. Moore, John Nightingale, Philip Olleson, Nicholas Temperley, J. R. Watson, Anne Bagnall Yardley, and Carlton R. Young.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252077678
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 10/14/2010
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nicholas Temperley is professor emeritus of musicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of The Music of the English Parish Church and other works. Stephen Banfield is Stanley Hugh Badock Professor of Music at the University of Bristol. His books include Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early Twentieth Century.

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Music and the Wesleys


Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07767-8


Nicholas Temperley

"What a family!" exclaimed the late John Betjeman. He was discussing the hymn "O thou who camest from above," where the text is Charles Wesley's and the customary tune, Hereford, is by his grandson (Betjeman: 54). It is difficult, indeed, to think of many families that have supplied at least two pre-eminent figures in each of two different areas of cultural activity. Such was the case with the Wesleys. John and Charles revived religious passion in an age when the English churches were declining toward a state of apathy. Charles's sons Charles and Samuel, and Samuel's son Samuel Sebastian, kept the flame of English music alive in a period of foreign domination and relatively modest creative achievement.

There is no question that music was a dominant force in the lives of all five men. Its role differed greatly between the generations, but the sum of the Wesleys' influence on musical history, especially in Britain and the English-speaking world, is incalculable. This book gives some idea of its scope over the last three hundred years.

Neither John nor Charles the elder was particularly musical, though Charles played the flute in his youth. As children they became acquainted with music mainly as a handmaid of religion. Their mother, Susanna, who personally undertook the education of all her children, made a point of singing metrical psalms with them both before and after lessons, morning and evening (Lynch). Their father, Samuel, introduced a religious society in his parish at Epworth, Lincolnshire, which promoted a rehearsed choir in the parish church; the Wesley children would have heard the singing every Sunday (Temperley 1979b, 1:43).

From these experiences John and Charles learned of music's immense power to enhance feelings specified by sung words. They carried it from Epworth, through their schooling at Charterhouse and Westminster, respectively, to the "Holy Club" at Oxford, and then on to the societies of the Methodist movement. The importance they attributed to music is demonstrated not only in their writings, but in the pains they took to supervise and direct every aspect of the singing in their societies. Hymns were fully as significant for their mission as preaching.

The role of hymns as Methodism changed from a movement to an independent denomination is discussed in Chapter 3 by Robin Leaver, who also investigates their relationship with German Pietism. The theology of Charles Wesley's sacramental hymns, as modified in American Methodism, is Geoffrey Moore's subject in Chapter 7. As J. R. Watson tells us in Chapter 2, Charles's hymns can also be seen as poems for silent reading, with their own internal music. But they have inspired an extraordinary range of musical settings. In the 1740s, Lampe wrote the first custom-made tunes for Wesleyan hymns, examined in Chapter 4 by Martin Clarke. Sally Drage in Chapter 5 explores some musical developments in northern England that exceeded John Wesley's tolerance for choirs, soloists, and textual repetition. Nineteenth-century American musical practices are the subject of Anne Yardley's Chapter 6, while Carlton Young in Chapter 8 offers a historical survey, bringing the story up to modern times. Indeed, hymns written, translated, or introduced by the Wesleys are sung worldwide today, and in many languages.

Charles had to take serious account of music in another way when he was blessed (or burdened) with two sons who were among the most remarkable prodigies of their time. Their musical talent must have been inherited chiefly from their mother, Sarah.

This was an age when Rousseauian ideas placed a high premium on the natural genius that child prodigies were thought to embody. A long succession of them was displayed in public and courted by the world of fashion: four, from the city of Bristol alone, are listed on page 141. The most famous of all, Mozart, was nearly two years older than young Charles. Something of this philosophy can be sensed in the pictorial representations of the two boys, explored by Peter Forsaith in Chapter 11. An essential point was that natural talent should be allowed to express itself in free and untrammeled form. But these ideas, tending toward Deism, did not fit comfortably with the Puritanism that was a strong element in the Wesleys' inheritance, nor with the educational legacy of Susanna, who had stated that "In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will" (Lynch: 200), nor with Wesleyan views on the centrality of adult conversion and rebirth in Christ. Charles's own doubts on the matter are vividly expressed in his second hymn on "The True Use of Musick," quoted on page 29.

As Chapter 12 makes clear, it is highly probable that Sarah was the primary influence on the boys' musical development. Her family, the Gwynnes, could claim several accomplished amateur musicians, including Sarah herself, who sang and played harpsichord and guitar. She also possessed inherited wealth, and her friends were drawn from the gentry and aristocracy. Charles, who was already more at ease than John in such company, moved more rapidly in the direction of high society after his marriage in 1748 (Lloyd 1998: 23). In those circles it was entirely acceptable to cultivate secular music as a delightful art, and it seems clear that Sarah's influence would have been in that direction.

Confronted with a dilemma, Charles decided that his sons' gift came from God and must be nurtured, though properly disciplined. His consideration and careful supervision of their musical training are clearly documented by Jonathan Barry in Chapter 10 and Philip Olleson in Chapter 13; but he allowed them to take their studies far beyond the limits of church music (to the dismay of his brother and several other Methodist leaders), notably in the series of concerts detailed by Alyson McLamore in Chapter 12.

The elder son, Charles, though famous as a child prodigy, made little impact as a mature composer. As Stephen Banfield points out in Chapter 9, his gifts have not yet been understood; and John Nightingale's catalogue (Appendix 1) includes a large number of compositions quite unknown to musicologists, let alone performers. On the other hand, his younger brother Samuel is now regarded as the premier English composer of his generation, distinguishing himself particularly in organ voluntaries, other instrumental music, and settings of Roman Catholic liturgical texts. But Peter Holman believes that his originality and his importance in musical history have still not been properly recognized, as he argues in Chapter 14.

Samuel's son Sebastian was generally esteemed in the Victorian era as the leading English organist and composer for the Church, though Peter Horton has shown that he distinguished himself in several other branches of composition (Horton 2004). He succeeded, by the expressive power and intensity of his anthems and services, in bringing new life to the ancient tradition of cathedral music, starting a revival that lasted for more than a century. In Chapter 15 Horton now discusses Sebastian's boldly individual approach to the selection and setting of anthem texts. His free cutting and mixing of biblical words to bring their meaning home to the worshipper, and even to modify that meaning, offers a parallel to John and Charles Wesley's paraphrases of biblical words in their hymn texts. His personal reputation and influence have outlasted the general rejection of Victorian arts that was dominant in the twentieth century. Chapter 16 brings this other side of the Wesley story up to the present time.

A common factor of the "famous five" was their relationship with the Church of England. John and his brother Charles, like their father, were ordained priests, immovably devoted to the Church's symbolic authority if not to its current practice. Charles's sons were baptized on January 7, 1758, and March 15, 1766, respectively (BRro, St. James parish registers), and raised as strict church members in the strongly evangelical culture of Bristol, explored in Chapter 10. Charles the younger became a prominent organist in London, where his final post was at St. Marylebone parish church. Samuel left the Church for a brief spell as a Roman Catholic convert but was still involved from time to time in the music of Anglican worship, for which he composed some thirty-five anthems and an ambitious and successful service setting. In the life and music of his son Sebastian the Anglican element came to the fore again. He was organist and choirmaster at a series of cathedrals and, for a period in middle life, at Leeds parish church.

Outspoken criticism of the established clergy and their behavior was something that any Wesley felt free to indulge in, even though none of them were notably successful in moving the Church authorities to change their ways. That illustrates another quality the Wesleys shared in varying degrees: a rugged independence of mind and spirit, sometimes going over the line to arrogance, and often accompanied by an insensitivity to the feelings of others. They were brilliantly creative thinkers, and having made up their minds, they had little patience with those who disagreed. They would use their reason and force of character to challenge any authority, however widely respected, but when in authority themselves they were often ruthless in their treatment of those under their charge. The result could be disastrous, but in the best cases it produced a new synthesis of permanent value. (Charles Wesley the younger was an exception to most of this paragraph. It is no coincidence that his milder temperament and willing submission to parental authority resulted in a comparatively reclusive career with little public acclaim, though his natural gifts were second to none: see Lloyd 1998 and Chapter 9.)

"I can only declare this truth, that my aversion to constraint is invincible," wrote Samuel to his mother in 1791 about his contempt for the conventional view of marriage (Olleson 2001: xxxii). It could well have been the motto of the whole family (again excepting his brother). Both John and Charles the elder, from the beginning of their ministry, adopted a relentlessly combative stance that doubtless played a vital part in establishing the Methodist movement but also alienated many Anglicans, Dissenters, and fellow evangelicals, causing untold strife and discord (Lloyd 2007b: 58-63). John "was insistent that he and his brother knew what was best for the Methodist movement and that preachers and people alike were under his personal charge" (62). For instance, in a letter to Edward Perronet in 1750 he wrote: "I have not one preacher with me, and not six in England, whose wills are broken enough to serve me as sons in the gospel" (J. Wesley 1975-, 26: 431).

This autocratic mindset naturally governed the brothers' approach to music. In his selection and editing of tunes John showed admirable taste and judgment, but he refused to be swayed by professional musicians ("masters of music"). As he wrote, "I was determined whoever compiled this [book], should follow my direction.... At length I have prevailed" (J. Wesley 1761: iii). And as I will show in Chapter 1, both he and Charles, once they were personally convinced of the value of a tune, assumed that all their followers would accept it too. John actually raised objections when he found them straying from the tunes he had authorized.

The same overweening self-confidence shows in the later generations. For instance Samuel, once he was persuaded of the supremacy of J. S. Bach, had only scorn or pity for those who could not see the truth. Indeed, there is much in the tone of his letters on the subject to suggest that he regarded his promotion of Bach's music in a religious light: not a simple effort to persuade others of its merits, but a "zealous Promotion of advancing the cause of Truth & Perfection," which he compared to the work of Martin Luther (Olleson 2001: 71), and perhaps by extension (though he did not say so) to that of his father and uncle.

Sebastian's frequent quarrels with his ecclesiastical superiors and with contemporary musicians were often about questions of authority. He would brook no rivals in musical matters, or in his control of the choirs he supervised (Horton 2004: 122, 311-12). In a more quixotic vein he stubbornly upheld the merits of meantone temperament in the face of the prevailing trend toward the equally divided octave (Thistlethwaite: 372), though it would have made some of his own works, such as the anthem The wilderness or the Service in E Major, sound intolerably out of tune.

This leads us to yet another family tendency: to favor the past over the present. All five Wesleys were musical conservatives, preferring older traditions to current fashions. John condemned some of the fundamental characteristics of modern music, such as counterpoint and even harmony (C. Young 1995a: 84-88), though he did not succeed in banishing them entirely from his societies. Charles the elder, according to his son Samuel, was "fond of the Old Masters Palestrina, Corelli, Geminiani, Handel, and among the English chamber composers Croft, Blow, Boyce, Greene" (Lbl Add. 27593). He wrote tributes to Handel as an immortal (Baker 1962: 311) and lines expressing scorn for modern composers like Felice Giardini and Johann Christian Bach, who, he said, "Have cut Old Music's throat, / And mangled ev'ry Note." He wrote a longer poem in 1783 savagely attacking the piano, which was just then beginning to overtake the harpsichord in popularity. As he sarcastically put it, "Loud as a spanking Warming-pan its tone, / Delicious as the thrilling Bagpipe's Drone" (Baker 1962: 363).

His sons maintained his partiality for older styles. Charles made Handel his master for life, generally though not uniformly resisting the fashionable galanterie, and many of his compositions reflect this preference. Samuel, throughout his career, continued to uphold the "ancient" style, with its diatonic dissonances, energetic basses, and counterpoint (see Chapter 14), and to adopt it whenever he considered it appropriate. Indeed, it was his passion for plainsong and the learned style of renaissance church music that induced him to convert to Rome, as Olleson points out in Chapter 13. Like his elder brother, he adopted the organ as his principal instrument and used it to pursue his bent for a fundamentally linear, contrapuntal style. Both brothers, to their lasting honor, would rather suffer hardship than yield to the dictates of fashion. Even in his piano music Samuel resisted the temptations of flashy virtuosity offered by the rapidly developing instrument, as well as its capacity for romantic mystery: he did not rely on the sustaining pedal, unlike his younger contemporaries John Field, John Baptist Cramer, and others. Instead, he invented bold new combinations and harmonic progressions in the spirit of late baroque and even older music (Temperley 1985: xiv-xvi).

Sebastian also hewed his own path, maintaining elements of the ancient style for yet one more generation. Though he was not impervious to the attractions of sentimental chromaticism after the manner of Louis Spohr, he did not surrender to it, as some of the lesser Victorians did. He maintained contrapuntal and structural discipline and a fundamentally diatonic harmonic palette. Sebastian in his cathedral posts kept to an extremely conservative repertory of choir music, populated by some of the same late-baroque English composers preferred by his grandfather (Horton 2004: 269, 287, 311-12). His attitude to Continental musicians of his own time was even less enthusiastic than that of his contemporary William Sterndale Bennett (Temperley 2006: 22). Like Bennett, he ignored his avant-garde contemporaries Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner.

So, in stark opposition to the prevailing xenophilia of English musical life (Temperley 1999: 3-19), the three composer Wesleys found most of what they needed at home, or in the distant past. They never left the shores of Britain. They rarely tried to associate with the distinguished foreign musicians who visited London or toured the country. They were not much impressed by, or even interested in, the dazzling virtuosos who gained the lion's share of applause (not to mention money) in every season. Each was entirely his own man. They must have had a potent inner reserve of confidence to draw on. Perhaps it can be traced to that unshakable faith in God's love that radiates from the hymns of their father and grandfather Charles.

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Table of Contents

Editors' Preface vii

Family Tree ix

Abbreviations xi

Introduction Nicholas Temperley xiii

Part 1 Music And Methodism

1 John Wesley, Music, and the People Called Methodists Nicholas Temperley 3

2 Charles Wesley and the Music of Poetry J. R. Watson 26

3 Psalms and Hymns and Hymns and Sacred Poems: Two Strands of Wesleyan Hymn Collections Robin A. Leaver 41

4 John Frederick Lampe's Hymns on the Great Festivals and Other Occasions Martin V. Clarke 52

5 Methodist Anthems: The Set Piece in English Psalmody (1750-1850) Sally Drage 63

6 The Music of Methodism in Nineteenth-Century America Anne Bagnall Yardley 77

7 Eucharistic Piety in American Methodist Hymnody (1786-1889) Geoffrey C. Moore 88

8 The Musical Settings of Charles Wesley's Hymns (1742 to 2008) Carlton R. Young 103

Part 2 The Wesley Musicians

9 Style, Will, and the Environment: Three Composers at Odds with History Stephen Banfield 121

10 Charles Wesley's Family and the Musical Life of Bristol Jonathan Barry 141

11 Pictorial Precocity: John Russell's Portraits of Charles and Samuel Wesley Peter S. Forsaith 154

12 Harmony and Discord in the Wesley Family Concerts Alyson McLamore 164

13 Father and Sons: Charles, Samuel, and Charles the Younger Philip Olleson 175

14 Samuel Wesley as an Antiquarian Composer Peter Holman 183

15 The Anthem Texts and Word Setting of Sebastian Wesley Peter Horton 200

16 The Legacy of Sebastian Wesley Stephen Banfield Nicholas Temperley 216

Appendix 1 Catalogue of Compositions by Charles Wesley the Younger John Nightingale 231

Appendix 2 Denominational American Methodist Hymnals Cited 242

Bibliography 245

Contributors 263

Index 267

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