Samuel Sebastian was named after his father and his father’s love of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Despite the stigma attached to being illegitimate – a very considerable burden at the turn of the nineteenth century – Samuel Sebastian Wesley was to become the most important English church composer between Purcell and Stanford. He was chorister at the Chapel Royal under William Hawes, and held a variety of appointments as an organist, including Leeds Parish Church and Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford and Winchester cathedrals.
Trends in anthem-writing at the end of the eighteenth century had shown a tendency to deteriorating taste; many anthems were multi-sectional, intent on showing off the merits of individual singers. S S Wesley composed using the multi-sectional formats he had inherited, although individual sections show a greater measure of structural integrity and compositional development. The anthem Praise the Lord, my soul dates from 1861, when the composer was organist at Winchester College and Cathedral. It was written for the opening of the organ in Holy Trinity Church in that city. Presumably the startlingly sudden appearance of rapid passagework in the treble solo ‘My voice shalt thou hear betimes, O Lord’ was designed to show off both organ and organist. Kenneth Long has commented that his musical themes often have ‘a characteristic springing vigour with a feeling of grandeur and nobility about them’. This is particularly true of the opening of this anthem, while the final section – ‘Lead me, Lord’ – is surely one of the most simple and beautiful moments in all church music.
from notes by William McVicker © 2005
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