Page images
PDF
EPUB

father, finding him one day so belabouring his chair, told him he should have a better instrument by and by.

I have since recollected Mr. Kelway's words, ' It is of the utmost importance to a learner, to hear the best music;' and, “If any man would learn to play well, let him hear Charles.' Sam had this double advantage from his birth. As his brother employed the evenings in Handel's Oratorios, Sam was always at his elbow, listening, and joining with his voice. Nay, he would sometimes presume to find fault with his brother's play, when we thought he could know nothing of the matter.

“He was between four and five years old when he got hold of the Oratorio of Samson, and hy that alone taught himself to read. Soon after he taught himself to write. From this time he sprung up like a mushroom; and when turned of five could read perfectly well; and had all the airs, recitations, and choruses of Samson and the Messiah, both words and notes, by heart.

“Whenever he heard his brother begin to play, he would tell us whose music it was, whether Handel, Corelli, Scarlatti, or any other, and what part of what lesson, sonata, over

ture, &c.

His

“Before he could write he composed much music. custom was to lay the words of an Oratorio before him, and sing them all over. Thus he set (extempore for the most part) Ruth, Gideon, Manasses, or the Death of Abel. We observed when he repeated the same words, it was always to the same tunes. The airs of Ruth, in particular, he made before he was six years old ; laid them up in his memory till he was eight; and then wrote them down.

“I have seen him open the Prayer-book, and sing the Te Deum, or an anthem from some psalm, to his own music, accompanying it with the harpsichord. This he often did, after he had learned his notes, which Mr. Williams, a young organist of Bristol, taught him betwixt six and seven.

“ How or when he learned counterpoint I can hardly tell : but without being ever taught it, he soon wrote in parts. “He was full eight years old when Dr. Boyce came to see

and accosted me with, Sir, I hear you have got an English Mozart in your house. Young Linley tells me wonderful things of him.' I called Sam to answer for himself. He had by this time scrawled down his Oratorio of Ruth. The Doctor looked over it very carefully, and seemed highly pleased with the performance. Some of his words were, · These airs are some of the prettiest I have seen.

us,

1

This boy writes by nature as true a bass, as I by rule and study. There is no man in England has two such sons as you. He bade us let him run on ad libitum, without any check of rules or masters.

“ After this, whenever the Doctor visited us, Sam ran to him with his song, sonata, or anthem, and the Doctor examined them with astonishing patience and delight.

“ As soon as Sam had quite finished his Oratorio, he sent it as a present to the Doctor, who immediately honoured him with the following note :-' Dr. Boyce's compliments and thanks to his very ingenious brother-composer, Mr. Samuel Wesley, and is very much pleased and obliged by the possession of the Oratorio of Ruth, which he shall preserve with the utmost care, as the most curious product of his musical library.

“For the short time that Sam continued under Mr. Williams, it was hard to say which was the master, and which the scholar. Sam chose what music he would learn; made his master learn the violoncello, to accompany him; and often broke out into extempore play, his master wisely letting him do as he pleased.

During this time he taught himself the fiddle. A sol. dier assisted him about six weeks, and, some time after, Mr. Kingsbury gave him twenty lessons. His favourite instrument was the organ.

“He spent a month at Bath, while we were in Wales; served the Abbey on Sundays; gave them several voluntaries; and played the first fiddle in several private concerts.

“He returned with us to London, greatly improved in his play. There I allowed him a month for learning all Handel's Overtures. He got and played them over to me in three days. Handel's Concertos he mastered with equal ease, and some of his lessons, and Scarlatti's. Like Charles, he learned the hardest music without any pains or difficulty.

“ He borrowed his Ruth to transcribe for Mr. Madan. Parts of it he played at Lord Le Despencer's, who rewarded him with some of Handel's Oratorios.

“Mr. Madan now began carrying him about to his musical friends. He played several times at Mr. Wilmot’s, to the nobility, and some eminent masters and judges of music. They gave him music to play, and subjects to pursue, which he had never seen. Mr. Burton, Mr. Bates, &c., expressed their approbation in the strongest terms. His extempore fugues, they said, were just and regular ; but they could not believe that he knew nothing of the rules of composition.

“ Several companies he entertained for hours together with his own music. As quick as his invention suggested, his hand executed it. The learned were astonished. Sir John Hawkins cried out, ‘Inspiration! inspiration !' Dr. Ccandidly acknowledged, 'He has got that which we are searching after.' An old musical gentleman, hearing him, could not refrain from tears.

“ Dr. Burney was greatly pleased with his extempore play, and pursuing the subjects and fugues which he gave him ; but insisted, like the rest, that he must have been taught the rules. Mr. Stanley and Mr. Burney expressed the same surprise and satisfaction. An organist gave him a sonata he had just written, not easy, or very legible. Sam played it with the greatest readiness and propriety, and better (as the composer owned to Mr. Madan) than he could himself.

“Lord Barrington, Lord Aylsford, Lord Dudley, Sir Watkin Wynne, and other lovers of Handel, were highly delighted with him, and encouraged him to hold fast his veneration for Handel, and the old music. But old or new was all one to Sam, so it was but good. Whatever was presented, he played at sight, and made variations on any tune: and as often as he played it again made new variations. He imitated every author's style, whether Handel, Bachschobert, or Scarlatti himself.

“ One asked him how he liked Mozart's music. He played it over, and said, ' It is very well for one-of his years.'

“ He went and played to Mr. Kelway, whom I afterwards asked what he thought of him. He would not allow him to be comparable to Charles; yet commended him greatly, and told his mother, it was a gift from God to both her sons ; and as for Sam, he never saw so free and degagé a gentleman. Mr. Madan had often said the same, that Sam was everywhere as much admired for his behaviour as for his play.

?!

“ Between eight and nine he was brought through the small-pox, by Mr. Bromfield's assistance, whom he therefore promised to reward with his next Oratorio.

“If he loved anything better than music, it was regularity. Nothing could exceed his punctuality. No company, no persuasion could keep him up beyond his time. He never could be prevailed upon to hear any opera or concert by night. The moment the clock gave warning for eight, away ran Sam in the midst of his most favourite music.

Once he rose up after the first part of the Messiah, with, 'Come, mamma, let us go home; or I sha'nt be in bed by eight.'

“When some talked of carrying him to the Queen, and, to try him, asked if he was willing to go: 'Yes, with all my heart,' he answered; but I won't stay beyond eight.'

“The praises bestowed so lavishly on him did not seem to affect, much less to hurt, him; and whenever he went into the company of his betters, he would much rather have stayed at home. Yet when among them, he was free and easy; so that some remarked, he behaved as one bred up in a court, yet without a courtier's servility.

“On our coming to town this last time, he sent to Dr. Boyce the last anthem he had made. The Doctor thought, from its correctness, that Charles must have helped him in it. But Charles assured him, that he never assisted him otherwise than by telling him, if he asked, whether such or such a passage were good harmony: and the Doctor was so scrupulous, that when Charles showed him an improper note, he would not suffer it to be altered.

“Mr. Madan now carried him to more of the first masters. Mr. Abel wrote him a subject, and declared, “Not three masters in town could have answered it so well.'

“Mr. Cramer took a great liking to him; offered to teach him the fiddle; and played some trios with his brother and him. He sent a man to take measure of him for a fiddle, and is confident a few lessons would set him up for a violinist.

“Sam often played the second fiddle, and sometimes the first, with Mr. Tradway, who declared, ‘Giardini himself could not play with greater exactness.'

“Mr. Madan brought Dr. Nares to my house, who could not believe that a boy should write an Oratorio, play at sight,

and pursue any given subject. He brought two of the King's boys, who sung over several songs and choruses in Ruth. Then he produced two bars of a fugue. Sam worked this very readily and well, adding a movement of his own, and then a voluntary on the organ, which quite removed the Doctor's incredulity.

“At the rehearsal at St. Paul's, Dr. Boyce met his brother Sam; and, showing him to Dr. Howard, told him, “This boy will soon surpass you all.' Shortly after, he came to see us ; took up a Jubilate which Sam had lately written; and commended it as one of Charles's. When we told him whose it was, he declared, he could find no fault in it: adding, there was not another boy upon earth who could have composed it; and concluding with, “I never yet met with that perso who owes so much to nature as Sam. He comes among us, dropped down from heaven!'

“Mr. Smith, who assisted Handel in managing the Oratorios, gave Sam two bars of a fugue, composed for the organ, which Sam, though at the harpsichord, treated as a movement for the organ; and when he had worked it in a masterly manner for some time, fell into a second movement, which so naturally arose out of the former, that Mr. Smith recognised his own notes, adding at the same time, that composers were not, from this instance, to be hastily charged with plagiarism.

“ Some months before this, Mr. Baumgarden gave him the subject of a fugue, which Sam pursued a considerable time on the organ. Mr. Baumgarden declared it was almost note for note the same with a fugue which he had written, and never showed to any one. He inferred from hence, that his train of ideas and Sam's were very similar. He has since declared that he verily believed there was not in Europe such an extempore player as Sam."

In addition to this narrative, which was written by Mr. Charles Wesley, and may by some persons be suspected of a father's partiality, the following notices concerning the juvenile musician are selected from the account published by the Hon. Daines Barrington. They fully confirm the statements of the father.

“I first had an opportunity of being witness of Master Samuel Wesley's great musical talents at the latter end of 1775, when he was nearly ten years old. To speak of him

« PreviousContinue »