When my eyes haven’t been tearing from this miserable flu, I’ve been reading Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The title of this post is from the contemporary English parody names for the current months of the French Revolutionary Calendar. I’m not sure which one we’re in right now, but, everything considered, they’ll do. Burke mostly wrote his Reflections in 1790, two years before Year I and all the fun with new months.
Burke has a reputation as a fine writer, especially among those who haven’t read him. Those who do frequently discover everything has the color of a well-considered, adamant speech in Parilament, intent on elegantly demolishing opponents in lengthy detail. No wonder Johnson considered him the most formidable man he knew. But looking at his page, I’d rather hear the speech. The 18th century needn’t have been that long-winded. Addison, for instance, knew how to end a sentence, as well as to make a withering argument the most polite, humane thing you’re ever read.
In any case, considering England during the Regency, and having the musical bent I do, I couldn’t help but remember Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), the “English Mozart.” Samuel Wesley was John Wesley’s nephew, and the son of the Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer Charles Wesley. There were so many clergymen among the remarkable Wesleys, it is not easy to sort them out. The main thing, I suppose, is that John Wesley (1703-1791) was the most remarkable of the bunch, founding Methodism and living the long life he did.
Young Samuel showed great musical talent, composing prodigiously from age 15 until 21, when he got a knock on the head from which he never quite recovered. He did, however, write a small number of very good pieces after that, the Symphony in Bb Major (1802) among them.
Wesley converted to Roman Catholicism in 1784, rather like Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian (aka “John” after his move to England). Unlike Bach’s son, who was far too trendy for Dad’s old, wiggy stuff, Wesley was a proponent of the music of J.S. Bach. Among other efforts, he introduced the young Mendelssohn to it.
Bach’s influence is obvious in the fugal texture of this beautiful and sober 1st movement from the Symphony in Bb. So are other influences from the “Classical” world of Haydn and Mozart, plus a great deal of originality. It is one of the minor tragedies in the history of music that Samuel Wesley found his faculties impaired at such a young age, and we never got what we should from such a talent.