Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825–1889) is one of the most neglected, but most fascinating characters in nineteenth-century church music. As a child, his musical precocity was said to be rivalled only by that of Mozart. ‘Only think,’ he exclaimed as a child of five, ‘papa blows his nose in G!’ At the age of eight he is supposed to have written his opera L’Isola disabitata
. His father was ambassador to Persia and Russia and was made a baronet in 1808. Frederick took his names from his father (Gore) and his godfathers, Frederick, Duke of York, and Arthur, Duke of Wellington. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1843, the year before he succeeded to the baronetcy. He was ordained in 1854 and received the degree of DMus in 1854. Ouseley became a curate at St Barnabas’s Church, Pimlico, the scene of considerable unrest in the late 1840s and early 1850s, culminating in riots sparked off by the elaborate Anglo-Catholic rituals at the church engendered by the so-called Oxford Movement. Whilst at Pimlico he presented the organ and paid for the choir’s costs. As a man of considerable wealth, Ouseley was able to found St Michael’s College, Tenbury, in Worcestershire (completed in 1856) and became its first Warden. There, influenced by the Oxford Movement, he developed his notions of the cathedral service which, as Nicholas Temperley has observed, became the model over its rivals to become the standard form of cathedral service.
Ouseley became Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1855 and was an influential scholar in his day, editing the sacred works of Gibbons and making a study of Spanish musical treatises. As a composer he wrote relatively little, although several of his anthems are still regularly performed today. He eschewed secular influences in music at a time when organists ‘inflict upon the congregation long voluntaries, interludes, &c. which consist either of his own vulgar imagination, or selections from the last new opera’ (Sutton). Ouseley commented on the use of secular melodies in Hymn tunes as follows: ‘How can they result in aught but the disgust and discouragement of all musical churchmen, the misleading of the unlearned, the abasement of sacred song, the falsification of public taste, and (last, but not least) the dishonour of our God and his worship?’ Both at Oxford and at St Michael’s College, Tenbury, Ouseley’s musical style and views on liturgy influenced many Victorian church musicians—including Stainer, whom he invited to Tenbury to become organist there in 1857.
from notes by William McVicker © 2002