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Exhibit reveals lives of Wesley family Susan Scheib, Mar 29, 2007
REPORTER PHOTO BY HOWARD SCHEIB
DALLAS - Carlton Young, curator of Sacred Harmony: The Musical Wesley Family, points out a large wall sign showing John Wesley's ideas on how to sing music.
By Susan Scheib Special Contributor
United Methodists who want a 'big picture' view of John and Charles Wesley as musicians -- and as theologians -- have a unique chance to get to know Methodism's founders this year in an exhibit of printed music, books and artifacts on view for most of 2007 at three United Methodist seminaries.
The exhibit marks the first time the Wesleys, their ancestors and descendents, have been presented as whole people, says Carlton Young, UM Hymnal editor and the exhibit's curator. Theologians have studied the Wesleys as writers, and musicologists have studied them -- especially Charles Wesley, his sons and grandson -- as musicians, but those scholars have tended to keep their focus narrow. Multiple aspects of the Wesleys' personalities, and their influence on the culture around them, "have never been examined together," Dr. Young says.
"So much of Methodist history and studies starts with John and Charles Wesley in isolation. This shows them as part of a cultural tradition and part of a musical family -- and how they contributed to cultural life," said Oxford Brookes University's Peter Forsaith, British secretary of the Charles Wesley Society.
"Sacred Harmony: The Musical Wesley Family," is on view at Perkins School of Theology's Bridwell Library until April 28, where it opened on Feb. 1 during a celebration of Charles Wesley's 300th birthday. The exhibit opens at Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C., on June 15 and stays there through Aug. 1, then travels to the United Methodist Archives at Drew University, Madison, N.J., where it will be on display from Sept. 15 through Nov. 15.
The exhibit focuses on four generations of the Wesley family -- starting with Charles and John Wesley's parents, Samuel Wesley (1662-1735) and Susanna Annesley (1669-1742) and ending with Charles Wesley's grandson, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). Visitors can learn about the Wesleys through their personal correspondence, hymnbooks and tune books, portraits, engravings, illustrations and manuscripts of sacred and secular music.
Music printing tools are also on display, as are musical instruments of the period. There's a detailed family tree on one wall, with oval portraits of each family member.
To show how distressed some 17th-century Anglicans were (including dissenters like Samuel Wesley Sr.) at the way church music was being sung, there's an entertaining ceramic sculpture of a stiff song leader and a sleeping vicar.
Visitors can also listen to at least 35 audio tracks of music by the Wesleys on headphones available at several "listening posts" distributed around the exhibit.
Wesley family history
Here is a brief history of the Wesley family, taken from exhibit placards at "Sacred Harmony: The Musical Wesley Family," the exhibit's catalog and a running commentary by curator Carlton Young:
-- Samuel Wesley Sr. (John and Charles' father), a reform-minded Anglican priest who liked to write opinion-filled letters to royalty and the church authorities, was eventually sent to a remote rural parish in Epworth, Lincolnshire. In his marriage to Susanna Annesley (who survived 18 or 19 births and home-schooled her surviving seven children), Samuel Sr.'s "impulsiveness, inflexibility, stubbornness, independence, and financial ineptness were balanced by Susanna's creative, reflective, disciplined life and Puritan work ethic," Dr. Young writes in the catalog.
-- John Wesley, while an Anglican missionary priest to the Georgia Colony, published A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737), the first hymnal published in the colonies meant to be used in Anglican worship. He translated German hymns and published Charles Wesley's hymns in 64 collections, publications and hymnbooks. He is considered Methodism's first music editor, and his opinions on musical subjects are scattered through his writings, many of which are on display.
-- Charles Wesley wrote some 6,500 hymns, which is why he is considered Methodism's "lyrical theologian." Some of his famous hymns include "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." Charles apparently collaborated with John F. Lampe (1703-1751), a successful composer of popular songs, to produce a book of festival hymns. He parodied folk and theater music in writing some of his hymns. And his poems and epigrams about music reveal a significant acquaintance with London's musical elite in the mid- to late 18th century. "One thing this exhibit tries to do is put John and Charles in the context of the great musicians of their time," Dr. Young says.
-- Some Methodists of the time objected, but Charles Wesley and his wife Sarah Gwynne (1726-1822) persisted in the musical education of their sons Charles Jr. and Samuel, both of whom were child prodigies who eventually had professional musical careers. The exhibit includes a copy of a song composed by Charles Jr., at age 6 and an audio track of a sonata he wrote. Charles and Sarah supported their sons' emerging careers by holding nine seasons of London home concerts (with adult musicians) featuring their music and the works of other composers, including George Frederick Handel. Charles Jr., an organist, harpsichordist and composer, was the more conservative of the two musical sons. He eventually inherited considerable family responsibilities.
-- Samuel (1766-1837) suffered a declining relationship with the Wesley family. He converted to Roman Catholicism, became romantically involved with Charlotte Louisa Martin, whom he later married, then became involved with his housekeeper Sarah Suter, which ended the marriage. "Samuel was probably bipolar," Dr. Young says. Despite his personal troubles, and occasional hospitalization for mental illness, Samuel was in demand as an organist and was a prominent figure in the revival of Johann Sebastian Bach's music in England during the early 19th century. "Samuel remains the most talented, sophisticated, multi-faceted, articulate and knowledgeable British musician of his time," Dr. Young writes in the catalog.
-- Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), the first of Samuel Wesley and Sarah Suter's seven children, was widely acclaimed as Victorian England's greatest organist and improviser. He had a 44-year career as a cathedral organist and was named the first professor of organ at London's Royal Academy of Music. He was also a skilled composer, especially of large-scale choir anthems, and was in great demand as a conductor of church and provincial choral festivals and church and public organ concerts. An avid fisherman, Samuel Sebastian often chose his cathedral appointments with regard to the local angling opportunities.