Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sir Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

His full title was actually The Reverend Canon Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, Bart., and his birthday is today (born in 1825).  As I've written before, he was a musically precocious child who composed an opera at age eight.  Even earlier, at age five he reportedly observed that "Papa blows his nose in G!".

In spite of this early ability in music, he did not initially pursue formal training in composition.  Following his college education he was ordained in the Church of England in 1849 and only after that did he study for a Doctor of Music degree at Oxford, graduating in 1854.  Probably due to his first calling to the priesthood, his music was limited to sacred themes: anthems, two oratorios, service music and Anglican chants, and, of course, hymn tunes.  In his day, hymn tunes arranged from secular melodies were much more popular than they are today, and he wrote of them with disapproval:

"How can they result in aught but the disgust and discouragement of all musical churchmen, the misleading of the unlearned, the abasement of sacred song, the falsification of public taste, and (last, but not least) the dishonour of our God and his worship?"

Today's tune by Ouseley is perhaps in a style that is not always popular today (some musicians really dislike so-called "waltz tunes" but that can have more to do with how you play them than any deficiency in the tune itself).

There’s not a tint that paints the rose,
Or decks the lily fair,
Or streaks the humblest flow'r that blows,
But God has placed it there.

There’s not of grass a single blade,
Or leaf of loveliest green,
Where heav’nly skill is not displayed,
And heav’nly wisdom seen.

There’s not a star whose twinkling light
Shines on the distant earth
And cheers the silent gloom of night,
But God has giv'n it birth.

There’s not a place on earth’s vast round
In ocean deep, or air,
Where skill and wisdom are not found,
For God is everywhere.

Around, beneath, below, above,
As far as space extends,
Is God, the source of boundless love,
Whose pow'r with mercy blends.

James Cowden Wallace, 1825; alt.
Frederick A. Gore Ouseley, 19th cent.

I have used a few other tunes by Ouseley (click on his name in the tags below), but he is not well-loved by modern hymnal editors.  A new feature at charts the prevalence of hymnal appearances for authors and composers, and you can see his decline (but, to be fair, most of his contemporaries chart similarly).

His more lasting legacy has been in the area of Anglican cathedral music standards.  Ouseley single-handedly founded a choir school , the College of St. Michael and All Angels in 1856 in Tenbury.  He intended for the school to set high standards and to serve as an example for others, and the effort was highly regarded over the next century.  When the school was finally forced to close in 1985 for financial reasons, the assets from the sale of the property were preserved as the Ouseley Trust, which still awards grants each year to support church music programs in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Four Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Three Years Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Two Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Another Birthday Today: Katharine Lee Bates


Kittredge Cherry said...

Perhaps he is related to the recently deceased Gore Vidal. Gore was his mother's maiden name.

C.W.S. said...

Gore was his father's first name and does not seem to have been a family name otherwise, so it seems unlikely.

For Frederick, it was sort of a second middle name. Though some sources hyphenate Gore-Ouseley, this appears to be incorrect.