Music, cultural history and the Wesleys (University of Bristol, UK, 9-11 July 2007)
Conference hosted by Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth (CHOMBEC)
This conference will bring together scholars from five or more disciplines--musicology, English literature, history, history of art, theology. Music was central to the life and legacy of Charles Wesley (1707-88). His 9,000 hymns, many still in constant use, were fitted with or to tunes by composers including Handel and Mendelssohn and sung throughout the anglophone world, far beyond their immediate spiritual efficacy and denominational background. One scholar traces the origins of the blues to a single Wesley hymn. And Charles’s evangelicalism was no enemy to secular culture. He showcased his musical prodigy sons, Charles junior and Samuel, in a nine-year series of concerts at the family home in London. Both became professional musicians; Samuel and his own son, Samuel Sebastian, were Britain’s finest composers of their respective generations. Yet Samuel swung towards Roman Catholicism, while Samuel Sebastian became the deeply conflicted genius of the Anglican cathedral close.
Answers will be sought to questions such as the following: What, in the long view, is the cultural legacy of Charles and his family? Do the family conflicts provide an unlooked-for touchstone of English romanticism? Was their centrality to music and religion across a 150-year swathe of British history exceptional or symptomatic of certain mindsets, horizons of expectations, models of relationships between regional, metropolitan and overseas activity? Were the worlds of art and evangelical religion as antithetical as brother John wanted them? How did the Wesleys handle the relationships, between art and religion, and national and continental culture, by comparison with the Moravians? What long-term effects has the cultivation of the evangelical hymn had on music, culture, and intellectual life in and beyond Britain? Such questions have too seldom been framed or discussed. With new scholarly biographies of Samuel and Samuel Sebastian and the definitive work on the poetry of the English hymn now available, and work on Charles gathering momentum, here is the perfect moment for doing so. Bristol, Charles’s home for 25 years, is the perfect place.
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