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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 24 x 16.5 x 4.3 cm
TITLE Samuel Wesley (1766-1837): A Source Book by Michael Kassler and Philip Olleson.
PUBL. DETAILS Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2001. xxiii+765p. Hard back. Price: £65.
ISBN 1-85928-357-8
TO ORDER Ashgate Publishing Limited, Gower House, Croft Road, Aldershot, Hants GU11 3HR, UK.
DESCRIPTION A comprehensive reference book on Samuel Wesley's life and works.
WORKS COVERED 227, 232, 525-530, 538, 552, 633-4, 654, 664, 676, 680, 691, 706, 711, 846-893, 898, 988, 1001-1006, 1014-19, Anh.III 167.
READERSHIP Scholars specialized in the reception history of Bach's works in England in the early 19th century.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Very significant in this field of the English Bach movement in 1806-1837.

I n Bach studies, Samuel Wesley is well known as one of the most important figures in the scene of the Bach revival movement in England in the first decade of the 19th century. He was certainly not the initiator of the movement but the central figure who actively promoted Bach’s works by performing, lecturing and editing them.

Scholars have been aware that a serious study in this area was long overdue. While researchers specialized in other prominent figures at that time (e.g. Charles Burney and Christian Ignatius Latrobe) rediscovered quite a few hitherto-unknown facts in a similar context, Wesley scholars are likewise expected to reveal a substantial quantity of new information that would contribute significantly to our better understanding of how the Bach movement took its shape.

1. Prelude
Wesley's Family
Wesley's Homes and Addresses
2. Chronology
Significant Events in Wesley's Life
3. Calendar of Correspondence
New Information Arising from the Correspondence
Calendar of Dated Correspondence
Calendar of Undated Correspondence
Calendar of Doubtful Correspondence
4. Musical Works
History of the Music Manuscripts
Sacred Vocal Works
Secular Vocal Works
Orchestral Music
Chamber Music
Organ Music
Harpsichord and Pianoforte Music
Wesley's Editions and Arrangements
5. Literary Works
Printed Works
Manuscript Works
6 Portraits
Verbal Portraits
7 Bibliography
Wesley's Library
Publications about Wesley
Index to the Calendar of Correspondence
Containing significant body of new information
Up to now, the main source of information used by Bach scholars was Letters of Samuel Wesley to Mr. Jacobs, organist of Surrey Chapel, relating to the introduction into this country of the works of John Sebastian Bach (London, 1875), edited by his daughter, Eliza Wesley. She selected twenty-four letters that appeared to her, at the time, to be of interest to the general public. 

Now, the situation has changed completely, thanks to the work by Kassler and Olleson: they dug up, compiled and summarised herein 1,100 documents that are mostly letters written by and to Samuel Wesley. Among these are ninety-one documents containing references to Wesley’s views and activities to do with the works of J. S. Bach : they are the main focus of this review.

As can be anticipated some letters do not bear dates or the names of the recipient; in many instances, however, Kassler and Olleson find solutions by sifting systematically through various pieces of internal and external evidence. One of these is Eliza Wesley’s letter (XVII): they conclude that it was a letter to Charles Frederic Horn, and not to Benjamin Jacob. On numerous occasions I am impressed by their rigour and care with which each source is assessed, and drawing conclusions.

Although I find the manner in which the editors summarize each letter easy to follow, it may take some time to get used to their system of abbreviations as they are so numerous and wide ranging. They keep the summary short, which is excellent; both supplementary information and the justification of their interpretation are given in footnotes, which are usually adequate, but still there are some obscure references to Bach's works that are unexplained what they refer to, e.g. "the old boy's fugues" (18/5/1813), "exquisite solos" (1/7/1814) and "some tunes of the old wig" (25/9/1825).

In my view their most significant contribution to Bach studies is this: we can now see with greater clarity the context in which Wesley’s interest in Bach’s works grew and found his own role in the Bach movement in the musical world he lived and worked. This book certainly contains a significant quantity of new information for Bach studies, even though the current body of information---91 document consisting of 78 letters written by Wesley, 10 letters to Wesley, and three non-letters---seems biased, suggesting that this could grow considerably larger in the future.

As a reference book of this scope and importance, it has to be said that the index is a little disappointing. The entry on ‘Bach, Johann [John] Sebastian’ (p. 744), for example, merely gives the page numbers where any information relating to "Bach" is found, without further hints as to what a reader may find there. It would be enormously helpful if the index also includes information about musical works (e.g. BWV) and/or classified activities / events such as publication of his editions, public performance, and so on. The addition of entries on the places of principal events (e.g. Savoy Church where Bach's works are said to be performed often) is another to be considered in the revised edition.

Published on-line on 2 December 2001

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