John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Samuel Wesley 1766-1837. An appraisal of his organ music Part I.

Reviewed by John Collins

Volumes 1-6, Edited by Geoffrey Atkinson and published by Fagus Music at £15, £15, £12, £10, £8 and £8 respectively.

This year is the 250th anniversary of the birth in Bristol of Samuel Wesley, who was acclaimed as a child prodigy and later acclaimed as England's finest extempore organist. The son of Charles Wesley and nephew of John Wesley, the founders of Methodism, he is best known today for his musical compositions and for his promotion of the music of J. S. Bach from 1806, including organising a subscription issue of the 48 preludes and Fugues in four parts between 1810-13. He left many compositions in different genres, including choral works for both Catholic and Anglican services, chamber music, hymn tunes, sacred and secular songs, overtures, concertos and symphonies. His keyboard works for harpsichord or fortepiano include many sonatas, airs and variations which still await evaluation and reprinting in a critical modern edition. The Source Book (see Bibilography) lists some 560 different works some of which are multiple collections. Wesley’s large corpus of organ works comprising voluntaries and miscellaneous pieces has been carefully examined and prepared by Geoffrey Atkinson in a modern edition covering some 12 volumes, of which the final one contains three Duets. Exceeding the quantity of pieces composed by his fairly close contemporaries William Russell, Thomas Adams and William Crotch, with a good number of pieces not being as demanding technically as the published Voluntaries by these three (Russell and Adams’ pieces are also edited by Geoffrey Atkinson), Wesley’s Voluntaries tend to eschew the movements for solo stops, which were by this time falling into disuse as such, and he also kept away from arranging pieces from chamber and choral works, as practised by John Marsh in his six volumes from ca. 1809 onwards, Robert Broderip in his posthumously published anthology The Organist’s Journal, and his older brother Charles, who left relatively few compositions for organ, but whose Six Voluntaries each introduce material found in Handel’s operas.

Each volume in this series of Wesley’s organ music contains information about the composer’s life, career and achievements, and since more detailed information is readily available through articles in encyclopaedias such as The New Groves, as well as in the excellent scholarly books listed in the short bibliography at the end of this article, I shall concentrate on a discussion of the music contained in the first six volumes in these series.

Volumes one and two contain the 12 Voluntaries KO621 published individually by William Hodsoll as Opus 6 (nos. 1-6 and 11, 12) and by Robert Birchall ,(nos. 7-9) from 1802-17, and re-issued by various publishers well into the 19th century including in various arrangements, and which rank alongside William Russell’s 24 Voluntaries as among the best pieces for organ by an English composer during the opening decade of the century. Each volume of this modern edition contains six Voluntaries. Voluntary no. one has three movements all in D major, opening with an Adagio in C time for the Diapasons, in four voices with quaver movement over long notes in the bass, it is at some remove from the three-voice Corellian style introductions of Stanley but more closely resembles the opening movements of Voluntaries of the late 18th century, closing on the dominant via a pedal point of seven bars above which some dissonant writing unfolds. It leads into an Allegro Moderato in 3 /4 for the Diapasons, Principal and Fifteenth on the Great, with passages on the Choir; rhythmically varied, there are passages of semiquavers over held chords or faster motion, with interspersed chordal sections. The closing movement, in C time for the Full Organ and marked Spiritoso, is a fugue, the subject of which lasts four and a half bars of mainly quavers after the opening crotchets, and covers a tenth. Two thirds of the way through the piece semiquaver passages are introduced, and after a cadence on the dominant seventh the piece concludes with ten bars of semibreve chords marked Adagio. Voluntary no. 2 is one of just two Voluntaries to contain four movements (the other being no. 10), the first, second and closing movement being in C major. The opening movement is in 6/8, marked Larghetto, with right hand on Swell and left hand on Diapason bass, with the right hand in quavers in thirds or sixths over a varied bass rhythm. There is a short passage for Diapasons in both hands towards the middle of the movement before the right hand returns to the Swell for semiquaver passages over a slow bass. A close on the dominant leads into an Allegro Moderato in ¾ for the Great Organ, opening with octaves before an imitative movement develops; there is a brief interlude for two upper voices on Swell Treble over Diap. Bass before a return to Full. An interrupted cadence into A minor is followed by a short passage marked Swell (although as the left hand descends to tenor D it would have been played on the Choir) before a final appearance of the subject in the tenor with a tonic pedal in the bass. The third movement, in A minor and in binary form, is in 2/4 and marked Larghetto, with the right hand for the Swell over Diaps in the bass. Only 18 bars in length, the quite florid right hand is predominantly in two voices with trills in the upper one over a slower single-note bass. The final movement is an Allegro Moderato in binary form for the Great Organ in 2/4, with two upper voices mainly in quavers over semiquaver passagework throughout in the bass until the coda when a fourth voice appears, the bass subsides to quavers followed by crotchets closing with tonic pedal. Voluntary no. three contains only two movements, both in C minor. The first movement is in 3/ 4, for the Great Organ and is marked Largo. A majestic movement with alternations of p and f and crotchet passages alternating with semiquaver runs, there is much use of octaves in the left hand in both quavers and crotchets. A close in the dominant leads into a fugal movement in C time, the subject in semibreves covering a fifth with chromatic notes between E♭ and G. A secondary subject in crotchets and quavers appearing in bar three is also treated during the piece, which closes with a brief coda including a dominant pedal in both treble and bass.

Voluntary no. four is in three movements, opening with a Largo Molto in 3/2 for the Diapasons, with the right hand being assigned to the Swell in bar three when it enters the treble. The texture is primarily three voices, opening with two treble over a single note in bass, this changing round in bar 15 for a few bars before switching back. Three-part chords appear in the left hand, and the re is a brief appearance of a second voice in the treble before the piece closes in the dominant with two treble voices over a single bass note. The rhythmic variety includes quaver triplets. The fugal second movement is in G major, in cut C on Non nobis Domine, and proceeds in minims and semibreves, a secondary subject entering in the treble in bar seven. The piece closes with a descending octave in the treble (with the flattened leading note) over a tonic pedal and internal harmonies. The closing movement is also in G major, in C time, in binary form, marked Spiritoso and for the Trumpet, with passages for the Swell in the right hand over the Diapason. It makes much use of dotted rhythms. Voluntary no. five is in four movements, all in D major. The opening movement is in C time and marked Largo; short sections with registration varying between the opening for Swell, then adding a bass for Diapasons, and passages for Full Organ including octaves in left hand. A close on the dominant seventh leads to a movement in C time marked Poco Allegro in which passages for Full organ alternate with Swell in the right hand over Diapasons, some passages are for both hands on either Choir or Swell. There is textural variety from two voices to four, and also a good rhythmic variety including passages in crotchets, and semiquavers against repeated quaver octaves. A three-bar coda on the Swell leads into a Grave in cut C, the theme being based on a melody of the late Mr. S. Parsons. It is to be played twice, first time on soft organ, the second time on the Full Organ. This is followed by an Andante Allegretto on the same theme, with semiquaver passagework in the right hand for Flute or Dulceana over a slow bass on the Stop Diapason. The final section is marked Full and has four-voice writing, featuring long notes in the bass beneath tenor and alto quavers in quavers and primarily minims in the treble. Voluntary no. six contains just two movements, both in C major. The opening movement, in C time, is marked Largo e Maestoso and apart from two bars in the middle of piece for the Choir is to be played on the Full Organ. It opens with the bass in octaves and quickly moves into an alternation of the opening motif with thicker-textured chordal passages, sometimes including dotted rhythms before the left hand includes some demisemiquaver scales leading into further sharply dotted chords for both hands, the left hand notes being repeated, with just the two bars for Choir Organ providing relief. The movement closes on the dominant. The second movement, also in C time, is marked Andante Larghetto and opens with an Aria-like passage, the treble opening with an octave arpeggio of the tonic chord. Each part is repeated on the Swell over a Diapason Bass. After this a fugue on the full organ is developed, the subject, which contains a chromatic ascent, being announced in the bass in octaves. This is interrupted by a return to the Aria-like theme on the Swell, this alternating with the fugal element until after an interrupted cadence and a rest the 2nd part of the Aria inverted is presented, after four bars closing in the dominant. This followed by a short passage on Full Organ, the movement closing with a variant on the Swell, with decrescendos marked, the movement closing pp.

Volume two opens with Voluntary no. seven, which has three movements, opening with a Largo in E♭ in 3/2 for the Diapasons; much of it is in minims in both hands, with occasional occurrences of short motifs in crotchets, and in the closing bars a few quavers make their appearance. The second movement is an Andante quasi Allegretto in C minor in 3/ 4, marked Mixture, changing halfway through to Diapasons when the texture thickens. Aria-like, there is sufficient combination of quavers, semiquavers and crotchets to maintain the interest. The closing movement is a moderato in E♭ in C time for the Great organ without the Trumpet, and is almost entirely in quavers; after a short fugal opening, flowing passages in three voices predominate. Voluntary no. eight is in two movements, both in D major, which follow one another immediately in the score but which, in practice, can have a cursory break between them. The opening movement is an Andante Maestoso in 3/ 4, the opening section being for the Great organ firstly in single notes marked "with the Trumpet" followed by chordal segments marked "without Trumpet". There follow interspersed episodes for the Swell and a longer section marked Great Organ without the Trumpet which displays quaver octaves in left hand beneath right hand writing in semiquavers ranging from single voice to full repeated chords in a dactylic rhythm, before a return to the opening ideas with and without the Trumpet. A bar of quavers on the Swell brings the movement to a full close, followed immediately by the second movement in cut C time is marked Spiritoso, and is a Fugue the subject of which is in crotchets after the opening minim and in disjunct motion. Texturally varied, ranging four voices to single-note quaver runs, there are octaves in the left hand before a coda of block chords and rests. Voluntary no. nine has three movements, each in a different key, and opens with a Larghetto for the Diapasons in 3/ 4 for the Diapasons. The first part is Aria-like, firstly in three voices distributed as two upper voices against one lower, in the bass, with a second bass voice joining in after ten bars, the section closing on the dominant via a Neapolitan sixth. The second section sees the left hand on the Stop Diapason with the right hand assigned to the Swell, with rather more semiquaver movement before a close in B♭, with a very brief coda for the Diapasons. The second movement (with the same time signature implied) opens in B♭ and is marked Great Organ but lacks a tempo indication. There is an improvisatory feel to the movement with its flurries of demisemiquaver triplets and demisemiquaver passagework interrupted by dotted rhythm chords. Also noteworthy is the use of demisemiquavers in one voice against quaver chords or even semiquavers in another voice. After a diminished seventh in contrary motion in quavers with internal demisemiquavers closes with dotted rhythms leading to a chord of E♭ there is a closing section for Diapasons in quavers including arpeggio patterns in up to four voices closing in D The closing movement, in G major, is another robust fugue in C time marked Moderato. The subject covers an octave in its two bars, combining quavers and semiquavers. The texture is quite loose, with voices appearing and dropping out at will, the piece reaching a pause on a chord of the dominant seventh of the supertonic in the first inversion, implying a brief cadenza before the closing quaver chords bring the fugue to a close in the tonic.

Voluntary no. ten consists of four movements, and opens with an Andante Larghetto in C time in F major, the first four bars being in two voices for the Diapasons with demisemiquaver figures in the right hand against quavers before a short section in three voices marked Swell, although the left hand does descend below the limits of the Swell compass of the time. The interlocking writing and necessity of crossing hands for the left hand leads to the suggestion that only the two upper voices were intended for the Swell. A return to the Diapasons for both hands in C minor, which gives way to another short section on the Swell; again, the writing for the left hand falls below the compass and the texture is variable. The movement closes with a return to the Diapasons on the Great Organ, the pervading improvisatory mood closing in the dominant. The second movement is in 3/8 for the Diapasons, Principal and Fifteenth, and is in F major, the writing consisting of flowing semiquaver passages with extended arpeggios in either hand, mainly in two voices, with the occasional appearance of a second voice in the treble. The short Lento for the Diapasons is marked in C time, although it is barred as 4/2 and is an Aria –like piece moving mainly in minims and crotchets with crotchet triplets or sextuplets. The first section, which opens in D minor and finishes on the dominant, is repeated, the second section is followed by the first section, and the piece concludes with a coda closing in C major after which a Fugue in F major in 3/ 4 marked Allegretto provides a fine closing movement. The subject contains short sequences which introduce chromatic twists. Quite loose texturally, with much of the piece in three voices, a fourth voice appears at will and there are passages for just two voices. The penultimate Voluntary no. eleven consists of just two movements, both in A major. The opening movement in C time is marked Larghetto Maestoso and is for the Full Organ. It is a further example of Wesley’s improvisatory style, with aria-like passages intersperses with passages in sharply dotted rhythms, passages in equal semiquavers, upbeat demisemiquaver groups, and a short interlude for the Swell and the Diapason bass. The sharply dotted rhythms bring the movement to a close in the dominant, which is followed by a fine fugue in cut C time marked Allegro Commodo for Full Organ. The subject opens with three minims A, C♯, D of a rising third and falling seventh, and after a quaver rest the four and a half bars of quavers complete the subject. The fugue closes with a coda with a chord of the tonic as a pedal in the right hand over left hand quavers and semiquavers leading to an A♯ in the bass with sequential semiquvers in the right hand leading to a chord of the supertonic, before a final chordal flourish. Voluntary no. twelve, which closes the set is in three movements, all in F major. The first movement is in C time, marked Slow, opening on the Diapasons, followed by two bars marked Swell (with the left hand obviously on the Choir or Great), a return to the Diapasons for four bars and a final section marked Swell which closes in the dominant. The writing is in three voices, with one lower voice, and the piece moves mainly in semiquavers against quavers, with semiquavers in the lowest voice throughout the second section on the Diapasons. The second movement, headed "With spirit but not quick" is in C time for the Full organ without Trumpet and consists of a Fugue preceded by seven and a half bars of a chordal prelude in dotted crotchet-quaver rhythm closing in the dominant. The subject, contrasting with previous fugues in the set, is in crotchets and minims, with quavers in the counter-subject. The opening preludial passage appears several times interposed into the fugue. There is more markedly homophonic writing with octaves in the bass before a pause on the dominant seventh, followed by a brief chordal coda with the Trumpet. The closing movement is a surprise, consisting of a short ternary-form piece in 3/8 marked moderately slow, for the Dulceana (sic) or Cremona Treble over the Diap. Bass. In the first section the treble is mainly single voice semiquavers over a quaver bass, in the second section a second voice appears in the treble, frequently in thirds, against running semiquavers.

The whole collection offers so much of interest as a comparison to the frequently much less inspired writing of the previous generation of composers, and shows an attention to expanding formal content in fewer movements and an interest in the art of the fugue inspired particularly by his exploring the fugues of J.S.Bach in the 48, so well known to Wesley, Adams and William Crotch. The latter’s comments in his Elements of Musical Composition of 1812, disdaining the solo stop tradition in favour of the prelude and fugue, are also quite widely adhered to by Wesley. In the two-movement Voluntaries which take the form of Prelude and Fugue we can glimpse the spirit of the "Second Voluntary" from the previous 100 years, albeit in a somewhat expanded form. There is a wide ranging variety of textural writing.

Volume three contains three Voluntaries, the Voluntary in B♭ is dedicated to Thomas Attwood (1765-1838), the other two in C minor and G are dedicated to the younger composer Thomas Adams (1785-1858), whose prolific, and rather more difficult, output for organ has been edited by Geoffrey Atkinson in 10 volumes. The Voluntary in B♭ KO622 was published ca. 1830 and is in three movements, the first two being in C time. It opens with a movement for Diapasons with two short interjections on the Swell; marked Moderately Slow, it moves primarily in quavers with four bars of semiquaver passage work before the return to quavers for the closing bars, and an elementary pedal part is indicated. The second movement, marked Lively, is for Diapason, principal and Fifteenth with a short interlude for the right hand on Swell Trumpet over a Diapason bass, perhaps intended for the Choir Diapason in bars 32-39 and 61-3 before a close in crotchets for Diapasons and pedals. The writing is almost entirely in three voices throughout and passages occur in either semiquavers and quavers or both together. The piece closes with a Fuga of some 160 bars in 3/ 4, lacking a tempo indication, with the pedals required, usually at the editor’s suggestion to obviate doublings of the left hand especially where the sequence continues below the present-day compass. Most of the fugue is for Full organ, with an interlude for the right hand on the Swell over Diapasons and a brief passage for both hands on the Swell before the coda in dotted minims returns to the full organ and pedals. The subject opens in crotchets before a quaver scale of an octave and a half, the fugue proceeding mainly in quaver movement in three voices, with some passages for two. Apart from a few passages in thirds in the right hand the writing falls neatly beneath the hands.

The Voluntary in C minor KO606 was published ca. 1835/7 with the Voluntary in G and entitled "Preludes and Fugues for the Organ intended as exercises for the improvement of the hands and suitable as Voluntaries for the Service of the Church". It is also in three movements, all in C time. It opens with a Preludium marked Maestoso, with voices moving together in a dotted rhythm with just three bars of crotchet chords, mainly written with one voice in the left hand beneath two or three in the right hand. This is followed by an Arietta – Allegretto ma non troppo - in binary form, the second section being considerably longer. The right hand contains much use of passages in thirds in quavers, with occasional long held chords, the left hand varying between running quavers and crotchets. The closing Fuga is another lengthy work of some 150 bars in C time and marked Moderato, which, apart from the second bar of its subject which contains two minims, moves in quavers, and in three voices, the subject appearing in minim octaves in the right hand in bar 208 against quavers in thirds for eight bars before a sequential passage from bar 217 leads into quavers in contrary motion and a brief coda. A pedal part in minims and crotchets enters at bar 197, relaxing to held semibreves with occasional minims. The Voluntary in G major KO607, is in two movements, a Preludium marked Allegro Brillante in 3/ 4 with quite varied writing including passages of crotchet chords, dotted minims against either quavers or semiquavers, interjections in semiquavers and the occasional dotted quaver followed by two demisemiquavers in the left hand. A close in the dominant leads to a Fugue of almost 200 bars in cut C marked Moderato con Spirito, its subject opening with two crotchets followed by rests, repeated, before a sequential quaver figure of two bars. The piece is mainly in quavers, with passages in thirds in the right hand, held minims in treble and bass with quaver fill-ins, two-voice passages an octave apart, and with pedals required, including a very rare use of double pedals. Passages in octaves in each hand and a brief five-voice passage make this a demanding piece, with some stretches in the left hand that may defeat smaller hands, and the editor has provided excellent ossias for several passages which are almost unplayable as written. These two Voluntaries provide a stern test to the player, well worthy of their dedicatee, and pose rather more problems that the Attwood Sonata which opens the volume.

Volume four contains four Voluntaries, opening with A Short and Familiar Voluntary in A KO 608 which was published by Hodsoll in 1827. It is in two movements, the opening movement in 6/8 is marked Slow and has both dotted and equal quavers in two voices or flowing single-note semiquavers in the treble over single notes in the bass, for the Swell in the treble and the Diapason in the bass, with a short interlude for both hands on Diapasons. The second movement in C time is marked Lively and alternates Full to the 15th with Soft Organ. A section in the minor is for Soft Organ, followed by Swell Treble before a return to Full with Sesquialtera etc. A lively pedal has been indicated as well in places; textural and rhythmic variety makes this a satisfying piece. A Voluntary for the Organ dedicated to William Drummer KO623 was published by Willis & Co in 1828. It opens with a Largo in 9/8 for Diapasons in D major. This is followed by a Fuga in D minor in 6/8 marked Allegro Moderato, with a notable falling major 7th in the subject which is announced in the bass and some rhythmic ambiguity in its closing two bars. There is a four-bar sequence in the middle of the piece for Sw Treble, returning to Full. There are lengthy two-voice passages either in semiquavers for both hands or for one hand, against quavers. The movement winds up with left-hand octaves beneath three-voice quaver chords. The final movement is a March in D major (an arrangement of an excerpt from the Overture to the Ode to St. Cecilia Begin the noble song) in C time and marked Andante Maestoso, opening on soft stops, which alternates with sections marked Full. Pedals are required. Arranged from the second movement of the Overture to St. Cecilia, there is also textural and rhythmic variety in this movement. Drummond, an amateur musician, was clearly accomplished. The Two Voluntaries for the Organ, no.1 dedicated to W. Linley and no. 2 dedicated to H.J.Gauntlet,KO624/5, were published by Cocks & Co. between 1823 and 1837, but since no copy of the original has been located Geoffrey Atkinson has used the edition published after 1873 by R. Cocks, which appears to have used the same plates. No. 1 has two movements, both in G minor, and opens with a Largo in 3/2 in mainly minims and crotchets, with a pedal part, a close on the dominant leading to a Moderato in cut C, which opens for Gt .full without reeds. The first section is similar to a March, with mainly chordal writing in crotchets with passing quavers. The second section is in the tonic major and in binary form; for the Choir, it is in predominantly three voices with brief chordal sections, the first half having cantabile right hand quavers over minims, the second having more varied writing, moving into three lower voices in the closing bars. The return to the minor is marked Gt., with a broad similarity to the opening, but also including full chords for both hands and octaves in the left hand as well as pedals. The second Voluntary is in G major and is in three movements, of which the first is in 3/ 4 and marked Moderately Slow. It opens with a section for Diapasons and Principal with, after a short chordal introduction, a cantabile quaver line in the right hand over held notes before the right hand moves to the Swell Treble to the end of the movement. Semiquavers and quaver passages in thirds or sixths are in evidence before an editorial cadenza links a dominant seventh to a mediant seventh with sharpened third, the movement closing with quavers, sometimes in contrary motion. The second movement is in 2/4, in ternary form, each section in binary form, and marked Lively. In the first section in G major the left hand on the Diapason Bass moving in minims, crotchets or quavers against semi-and demisemiquaver florid figures for the Cremona or Dulciania, repeated on Flute or Dulciana,and the second half has the right hand on the Oboe, with semiquaver runs in thirds, to be repeated on Cremona, Dulciana or Flute. The second section is in G minor and is for Swell diapason and Principal, with semiquavers in thirds in the treble, and singly in bass. The opening section is to be repeated. The final movement is in cut C for the Full Organ and is marked With Spirit, the opening section being repeated on the Choir. The second part returns to Full organ with a brief interlude on the Swell. Movement is mainly in crotchets, with some passing quavers, finishing with left hand crotchets descending a twelfth in octaves beneath treble crotchets a tenth above, before a coda in minims. These two Voluntaries, lacking fugues, offer some attractive movements which require nimble fingers in places, but which pose fewer challenges technically overall than the Voluntaries in volume three.

Volume five contains the set of Six Fugues with Introductions for Young Organists KO612, which are in an autograph MS at the Royal College of Music; it is doubtful that they were ever published. Keys used are D, B♭, F, F, E♭ and C. Apart from no. 6 which is in three movements, each piece consists of a slow introduction followed by a lively fugato movement, somewhat loose in style; none of the movements carries a tempo indication. The introductions are in 3/2 (nos. 1, 3-5), or C time (nos. 2 and 6), and are predominantly chordal, moving in minims; only in no. 6 is there a more rapid movement including dotted quaver-semiquaver arpeggios. The Fugues in C time (nos. 1,3-5) 2/4 (no. 2) or 3/2 (no. 6) are in three voices with lengthy stretches of two-voice writing. Only in no. 2 do semiquavers feature prominently, with passages in thirds in the right hand appearing occasionally. The final movement of no. 6 is untitled, but is an aria-like piece in C time in ternary form, the central section being in the tonic minor. Much of the piece consists of right hand quavers over minims or crotchets, with the first half of the opening being more chordal. This set offers much tuneful music and has only a few tricky passages in which fingering will need to be thought about carefully. Only one note, in the introduction of no. 2, descends below the modern compass.

Volume 6 contains the set of Six Organ Voluntaries for the use of Young Organists OP. 36 KO613 published ca. 1831 by Dean. Keys used are F, A, G, B♭, D and C. Nos. 2 and 3 are in three movements, the others are in two movements. No. 1 opens with a binary-form movement in 6/8 marked moderately slow, starting on Diapasons before a passage for the Swell Treble which closes with thirds. The second half opens on the Diapasons before more passagework in thirds for the right hand on the swell, over a long held octave C in the left hand, with a couple of bars on the Great returning to the Swell via a trill. The texture varies between one and two voices in the treble, frequently in quaver or semiquaver thirds, and also one or two voices in quavers in the bass. The second movement is in C time, marked lively, and Full. Also in binary form, it varies between two and three voices, and also has long notes in the pedals, moving mainly in crotchets or quavers. No. 2 opens with a binary form movement in 2/4 marked moderately slow, opening on the Diapasons. The right hand moves to the Swell in the second half of the first half of the movement, the bass remaining on Diapasons. The second half opens with both hands on Diapasons, the right hand moving to the Swell after four bars. Much of the movement is in single notes for each hand, with semiquavers over quavers, and semiquaver passages in thirds or quaver passages in sixths in the right hand for the sections on the Swell. The second movement is in C time and marked slow, and also in binary form; a short Aria in style, the first time of playing is for the Diapasons, the right hand moving to the Swell for the repeat. The texture is predominantly two notes in the right hand over one in the bass, mainly in crotchets and equal quavers, but with a dotted quaver-semiquaver figure featuring in the opening of the second section. The closing movement is in 3/8 and marked lively, with the first part in binary form, leading to a further 40 or so bars without repeats. There are passages in octaves, semiquavers over quavers, interjected chords in right hand, mainly two notes in right hand against one in bass in a movement with some variety in texture and rhythms adding interest. No. 3 opens with a movement in C time marked Lively for Diapasons and Principal, mainly in two voices with quavers against crotchets, but with occasional appearance of a second right hand voice. Closing on the dominant, with repeat signs, it is followed by a movement in 3/8 marked very brisk, with pedals marked. Again, the texture varies between two and three voices, with semiquaver passages for each hand, closing with four bars of dotted crotchet chords. The closing movement is in C time and marked Lively. It contains passages in two voices an octave apart and octaves in left hand, with quavers against crotchets and sometimes minims being the main rhythmic thrust before closing with minim chords. No. 4 opens with a movement in binary form, marked Moderately Slow. The first section in in 6/8, with two voices in right hand, including runs in thirds, for the Swell Treble over a single voice in the left hand marked Diapason Bass. The second section is in 2/4, with semiquavers, including runs in thirds, in both hands against crotchets or quavers. The second movement in C time is marked Moderato, with the first section of only four bars in mainly crotchet chordal writing repeated; the second section of 25 bars opens with a quaver passage in octaves followed by mainly two-voice writing in quavers before a bar of crotchets leads to semibreve chord in right hand over quavers subsiding to a coda in semibreve chords. No. 5 opens with a movement in C time in binary form marked Moderately Slow. The first time is marked Diapason and Principal, with the repeat to be played on Diapason and Principal Swell. There is much use of quavers in right hand against crotchets or minims in left hand. The second movement is 3/ 4 and is marked Lively, for Full (ie Great). A varied texture after the opening octaves includes minim chords in right hand over a dotted rhythm in left hand, and the voices reversed and chords in a minim-crotchet rhythm before a close in crotchet chords with octaves in left hand. The final Voluntary opens with a movement in binary form. The first section is is 2/4 and marked Slow for Diapasons with semiquavers against quavers, mainly in one voice per hand, but with a brief passage including three voices in right hand giving way to two over quavers of semiquavers in left hand. The repeat is to be played on the Swell (with left hand presumably on Choir or Great). The second section is in 3/8 and marked Rather Brisker, with passages in semiquavers and quavers mainly in two voices with the occasional addition of a second in the right hand. The original fingering in the left hand is of interest. The second movement is loosely fugal, in C time for the Full. In three voices for most of its 22 bars, the closing four bars are in minim or semiquaver chords with pedals indicated, although the left hand could be played quite readily in octaves. This volume would also make a good introduction to the longer Voluntaries.

Each volume is very clearly printed, and contains an introduction to Wesley’s life and a thorough commentary on each piece in the volume, with special attention to the use of the pedals, and the editor’s extremely helpful suggestions for performance, including registration, which should be read before playing the pieces. Unlike William Russell, Wesley never used a third stave for obligato pedal parts. These volumes offer an excellent edition of the organ works of one our leading composers of the early 19th century whose music deserves to be played far more often. Later this year I shall appraise volumes seven to eleven.


Francis Routh: Early English Organ Music: From the Middle Ages to 1837, Barrie & Jenkins, 1973.
Philip Olleson: Samuel Wesley, the man and his music, Boydell Press, 2003
Michael Kassler and Philip Olleson: Samuel Wesley (1766-1837): A source Book, Routledge, 2001
Philip Olleson (ed): The letters of Samuel Wesley: Professional and Social Correspondence 1797-1837. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Nicholas Temperley and Stephen Banfield: Music and the Wesleys. University of Illinois, 2010
Brown, Geoffrey Ernest, (1977) The organ music of Samuel Wesley. Durham theses, Durham University , available at Durham E-Theses online at

Back to Publications

© John Collins 2016