Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810–1876) was the illegitimate son of Samuel Wesley (1766–1837) and his housekeeper, Sarah Suter, who bore him several children out of wedlock.
Samuel Sebastian was to become the most important English church composer between Purcell and Stanford.
He was successively organist of Leeds Parish Church, and the cathedrals of Hereford, Exeter, Winchester, and Gloucester.
His musicianship received great praise: 'One great feature relieved the morning performances from dullness – the unequaled organ playing of Dr Wesley'. So wrote one critic after hearing Samuel Sebastian Wesley – 'the greatest organist now living' – perform at the 1843 Birmingham Festival. His reputation reflected not only his skill as a performer, but also his outstanding ability at improvisation. Herein lay the secret of his greatness.
His small output for organ occupy a pivotal position in the history of English organ music, straddling as they do two eras: the final years of the long tradition of organ music for manuals alone, written for an instrument with the idiosyncratic English 'long' compass, and the start of a new era, characterized by obbligato pedal parts and the adoption of the shorter continental 'C' compass. Musically, however, they point more to the future than to the past and remind us not only that Wesley was a contemporary of Mendelssohn, but also that his ears were receptive to everything he heard in the London of his youth.
This absolutely exquisite piece was completely unknown to me, but what a magnificent thing it is! It isn't loud, and may sound easy, but it's far from that.
The opening "Grave" is complex with its dense chords and masterful suspensions. The "Andante" sings with the same voice of melody that Wesley was famous for, and those harmonies - Oh, those harmonies! - just roll in glorious splendor!
A painting of S. S. Wesley, and a photo of Winchester Cathedral are attached below.
See FIRST COMMENT for score information.