Sunday, August 14, 2011

Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Today is the 201st birthday of composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the grandson of hymnwriter Charles Wesley. His father, also Samuel, was a composer of some renown in his day but is largely forgotten now. The elder Samuel worked to promote the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in England, and his son (whose middle name came from the German master) would do the same in his day.

Young Samuel Sebastian became a boy chorister at the
Chapel Royal at age ten. One story told of his time there claims that his singing caught the attention of King George IV, who gave him a gold watch.

He obtained his first position as an organist at sixteen at St. James Church, Hampstead Road, and over the next five years worked at three additional London churches (sometimes at more than one at a time). In 1832 he became organist at Exeter Cathedral, and would go on to serve at the cathedrals of Winchester and Gloucester. He published the book A Few Words on Cathedral Music (1849) which argued for higher standards (and therefore higher salaries) for cathedral musicians.

Wesley wrote some music for the organ, but most of his output was
choral music, both anthems and music for the service, as well as 130 hymn tunes, several of which we have already heard here.

Today's hymn is set to a tune by Wesley which appeared in
The European Psalmist (1872), a collection he edited. The text is by an unknown author, but it has been used as a gospel song with a tune by James McGranahan.

O Christ, in thee my soul hath found,
And found in thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown.

I sighed for rest and happiness,
I yearned for them, not thee;
But, while I passed my Savior by,
Thy love laid hold on me.

I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But, ah, the waters failed;
Even as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other Name for me!
There’s love, and life, and lasting joy,
Dear Jesus, found in thee.

Author unknown, 19th cent.; alt.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1872

The 'broken cisterns' in stanza three are presumably those in Jeremiah 2:13.

Two Years Ago: Samuel Sebastian Wesley

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