Wesley, Samuel

Younger son of Charles Wesley, born in Bristol on 24 February 1766. He showed musical talent at the age of 3 and at 8 presented a draft of his oratorio Ruth to William Boyce, who had described him as 'the English Mozart'. He entered enthusiastically into London's musical life, but found many church openings barred to a 'Wesley'. Disillusioned with the general quality of church music, he became for a time a Roman Catholic, attending the Chapel of the Portuguese Embassy where his friend Vincent Novello was music director. For many years he was chiefly remembered as the first English apostle of J.S. Bach and the father of the cathedral organist and composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). However, later research and reassessment has shown that he was one of the greatest English performers and composers, whose output, though varied, included organ voluntaries, harpsichord and piano pieces, anthems, symphonies, concertos and choral works. In later life he was music adviser to the Wesleyans and published a book of Original Hymn Tunes, adapted to every metre in the collection of the Rev. John Wesley AM.

He died in London on 11 October 1837 and is featured in a stained glass window in the south nave asle of Bristol cathedral.

  • George J. Stevenson, Memorials of the Wesley Family >(1876) pp.490-538
  • J.T. Lightwood, in WHS Proceedings, 2 pp.55-56
  • J.T. Lightwood, Samuel Wesley (1937)
  • Erik Routley, The Musical Wesleys (1968) chs.4-6
  • Francis Routh, Early English Organ Music (1973)
  • Philip Olleson (ed.), The Letters of Samuel Wesley: Professional and Social Correspondence'1797-1837 (Oxford, 2001)
  • Philip Olleson, Samuel Wesley: the man and his music (Woodbridge, 2003)
  • Peter Horton, Samuel Sebastian Wesley: a life (Oxford, 2004)
  • Philip Olleson, 'Samuel Wesley and the English Bach Awakening', in Michael Kassler (ed.), The English Bach Awakening... (Aldershot, 2004)
  • Oxford DNB


Entry written by: PLC
Category: Person
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