Samuel Sebastian Wesley

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Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (14 August 1810 – 19 April 1876) was an English organist and composer.


Born in London, he was the eldest child in the composer Samuel Wesley's second family, which he formed with Sarah Suter having separated from his wife Charlotte.[1] Samuel Sebastian was the grandson of Charles Wesley. His middle name derived from his father's lifelong admiration for the music of Bach.

Memorial in Exeter Cathedral

After singing in the choir of the Chapel Royal as a boy, Samuel Sebastian embarked on a career as a musician, and was appointed organist at Hereford Cathedral in 1832. He moved to Exeter Cathedral three years later, and subsequently held appointments at Leeds Parish Church (from 1842), Winchester Cathedral (from 1849) and Gloucester Cathedral (1865-1876).[2] In 1839 he received both his Bachelor of Music degree and a Doctorate of Music degree from Oxford. He became a Professor of Organ at the Royal Academy of Music in 1850. He died at his home in Gloucester on 19 April 1876 aged 65. He is buried next to his daughter in St. Bartholomew's Cemetery in Exeter by the old City Wall.[3]

Famous in his lifetime as one of his country's leading organists and choirmasters, he composed almost exclusively for the Church of England, which continues to cherish his memory. His better-known anthems include Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace and Wash me throughly. He also wrote several rather late examples of verse anthems, which contrast unison and contrapuntal sections with smaller, more intimate passages for solo voice or voices. Blessed be the God and Father, The Wilderness and Ascribe unto the Lord are of considerable length, as is his Service in E.

The popular short anthem Lead me, Lord is an extract from Praise the Lord, O my soul. Several of his compositions for solo organ have enduring value and continue to be played in recitals.

One notable feature of his career is his aversion to equal temperament, an aversion he kept for decades after this tuning method had been accepted on the Continent and even in most of England.

Musical works[edit]

Selected works include the following:[4][5]


  • The Wilderness (1832)
  • Blessed be the God and Father (1833/34)
  • Let us lift up our heart (c. 1836)
  • O Lord, thou art my God (c. 1836)
  • To my request and earnest cry (c. 1836)
  • Wash me throughly (c. 1840)
  • Cast me not away (1848)
  • The face of the Lord (1848)
  • Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace (c. 1850)
  • Ascribe unto the Lord (1851)
  • I am thine, O save me (1857)
  • Praise the Lord, O my soul (1861), includes:
    • Lead me, Lord


  • Morning and Evening Service in E (1845)
  • Short Full Service in F (c. 1865)

Hymn tunes[edit]

  • "Aurelia"
  • "Bowden"
  • "Harewood"
  • "Hereford"
  • "Winscott"


  • Variations and Fugue on "God Save the King" (1831)
  • Introduction and Fugue in C sharp minor (?1835)
  • Larghetto in F minor (c. 1835)
  • Three Pieces for a Chamber Organ, book 1 (1842), includes:
    • Choral Song
  • Three Pieces for a Chamber Organ, book 2 (1843), includes:
    • Larghetto in F sharp minor

Literary works[edit]

  • A Few Words on Cathedral Music and the Musical System of the Church, with a Plan of Reform (1849)

Bicentenary celebrations[edit]

Celebrations in Leeds for the 200th anniversary of Wesley's birth began with Festal Evensong at Leeds Parish Church on Sunday 4 July 2010 followed by a gala choral recital. Worship on Sunday 15 August was broadcast on BBC Radio Four. Dr Lindley gave a commemorative recital of Wesley's organ music in the evening and a commemorative recital of music by Wesley at Leeds Town Hall on 13 September.


  1. ^ Hunt, Donald (1990). Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Seren Books. p. 15. ISBN 1-85411-036-5. 
  2. ^ Scholes, Percy (1970) The Oxford Companion to Music; 10th edition. Oxford University Press; p. 1115
  3. ^ Gilberthorpe, H. T. (1922) Samuel Sebastian Wesley's Tomb; The Musical Times; Vol. 63, No. 950, April 1922
  4. ^ Temperley, Nicholas; Horton, Peter (2001). "Samuel Sebastian Wesley (b. London 14 August 1810 d. Gloucester 19 April 1876)". In Sadie, Stanley. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 27. London: Macmillan. pp. 312–318. ISBN 0-333-60800-3. 
  5. ^ Hunt, Donald (1990). Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Seren Books. pp. 128–131. ISBN 1-85411-036-5. 

External links[edit]