Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sir Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Composer Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (August 12, 1825 - April 6, 1889) was born in London, the son of a baronet. His interest in music began at an early age; he reportedly wrote an opera, L'isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) at the age of eight. He attended university at Christ Church, Oxford, eventually receiving a doctorate in music. He was ordained in the Church of England, and later served parishes while also gaining the position of professor of music at Oxford, and succeeding to his father's title.

When the choir of men and boys was disbanded at St. Barnabas Church, where he had briefly served as curate, he brought the boys together again and established a choir school at his own expense, where they received a general education as well as a musical one. He then built the church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tenbury on his own property, and joined the school (which he now named St. Michael's College) to that parish. Composer John Stainer, Ouseley's most renowned student, was the college organist for a few years. Ouseley established an extensive one-of-a-kind musical library there; the collection was transferred to the Bodleian Library at Oxford following the school's closing in 1985.

Ouseley became a prolific church composer, producing eleven morning and evening services, more than seventy anthems (O Saviour of the world being perhaps the longest-lived), numerous Anglican chants, and two oratorios; Hagar (1873) and The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp (1854). Naturally, he also composed several hymn tunes as well. His books on harmony, counterpoint, and musical form remained in print for many years.

Like most of his contemporaries, his music is not sung much in modern times; though several pieces are scattered across many CD collections of English church music I don't know of any discs devoted solely to him. This tune probably hasn't appeared in many hymnals in the last hundred years, though it is in the Standard Edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (1916) which is still in print.

Spirit of mercy, truth and love,
O shed your influence from above,
And still from age to age convey
The wonders of this sacred day.

In every clime, by every tongue,
Be God’s amazing glory sung;
Let all the listening earth be taught
The wonders by our Savior wrought.

Unfailing Comfort, heavenly Guide,
Still o’er your holy church preside;
May humankind your blessings prove,
Spirit of mercy, truth and love.

London Foundling Hospital Collection, 1774
Frederick A. Gore Ouseley, 1875

This hymn text by an unknown author is often sung to the somewhat dreary tune MELCOMBE, by Samuel Webbe, but I think SHARON is an improvement.

A biography of Ouseley was published in 1896 which contained a fairly extensive bibliography of his published musical works, but it was admitted that since he often composed pieces at the request of various publications and gave them away in manuscript, no complete listing was possible.

One Year Ago: Sir Joseph Barnby


AuntE said...

Where DO you find all this interesting information, CWS?

Dorothy said...

I was just thinking the same thing as I read this post, AuntE! This fellow sounds so very interesting and I've never even heard of him! I'm always getting an education over here, C.W.S.

C.W.S. said...

Well, information is all over the place; what makes it fun for me is to find a few unusual facts or some links that I hope will be interesting. Sometimes I write entries entirely from online information, but usually I like to add facts or anecdotes from "real" books (I have a smallish hymnological reference collection). I'm considering writing some entries on the particular reference books I use, if I ever find myself without anything to write about for a few days.

As to Ouseley in particular, I've seen his name for years but never knew much about him myself, so I've been reading up on him a little for about a year now, on and off. But when it comes time to actually write the entry, one thing just sort of leads to another. For example, several sources mentioned the early opera he wrote, but then I wanted to dig further to find out the name of the opera, which was harder to find. And then along the way I found some other obscure facts to sprinkle in among the more generally-known things (like what you'd typically find at Wikipedia or an online encyclopedia entry).

Now, I'm not sure whether there's enough left to write about him again next year, but we'll see.

AuntE said...

How do you weigh the truth of online info? I am wary of swallowing a cyber-myth and perpetuating it!

C.W.S. said...

While many of the facts I use are dug up from more than one source, that really isn't any guarantee of accuracy; offline as well as online sources can perpetuate misinformation. You may recall the entry on Victorian composer Gauntlett(July 9) -- just about every source mentions that he wrote ten thousand hymn tunes, all repeating it from each other, and yet when you stop and think about it you realize how very unlikely that number really is.

I know there's always talk about how "unreliable" Wikipedia, or the internet in general, can be, but for the kinds of non-controversial topics I'm discussing I think there's not much to worry about. If I was writing a political blog I would never cite Wikipedia as a source -- I think the kinds of "errors" people are talking about tend to happen when someone has an axe to grind.