The College Anthem: iv - Historical Notes

Felice de Giardini, a flamboyant Italian solo violinist of French descent, was born at Turin on 12 April 1716. After beginning his career on the continent, Giardini moved to London in 1750 where he made a flashy career as a musical teacher to the aristocracy, and as a composer and performer of violin and opera music. He returned to Italy in 1784, and subsequently died in Moscow on 8 June 1796., on a come-back performance tour.

Although it bears the nameplace of his demise, the melody "Moscow" was probably written earlier while Giardini was still at the height of his London career.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born in London, on 14 August, 1810 and died at Gloucester, 19 April, 1876. He was the son of a nephew of the famous John Wesley, methodist reformer, and became the greatest composer and exponent of English cathedral music between Purcell and Stanford. His father (Samuel) and uncle (Charles) were also luminaries in this field.

"Our" Wesley was the cathedral organist at Leeds from 1832 to 1839; and at Winchester Cathedral from 1849 to 1865. His musical output was considerable, and of historical interest. The tune "Moscow" written about 80 years earlier by Giardini was produced by Wesley as an Anglican hymn, along with many others, almost as a personal creative diversion. It was published in the volume "Psalms and Hymns" in 1864, (which means, incidentally, that it was almost certainly played by Wesley many times in Winchester Cathedral). Presumably the words written by John Marriott in 1813 had already become united with the melody before Wesley published it.

(Interesting to reflect that not far away John Keats was writing at the peak of his creativity a few years earlier. ("Poems of 1820") So was Jane Austen. Jane Austen's novels were published between 1811 and 1817. She died in 1817 at the age of 42 and was buried in the same Winchester Cathedral. In fact, you kind of run into her casket as you walk up one of the aisles.).

Wesley acquired considerable reputation and professional standing during his career, a sort of contemporaneous Wordsworth of the Anglican church. Personally, he was an imposing, if somewhat prickly figure. He turned down an offer of a knighthood several times. He was a commanding and memorable organist. A minor poet of the time (the lively T. E. Brown) eulogized him thus:

"I heard the mighty bars
Of thunder-gusts, that shook heaven's dome
And moved the balanced stars..."

The Grove Dictionary of Music (1980), which is the source of this information, states:

"Able in the handling of harmonic style as in other aspects of composition, Wesley could, when inspired by devotional text, rise beyond influence or imitation to the level of genius."

All in all, Samuel Wesley was clearly our kind of cat, a guy you would've liked to have known - except he wouldn't have let you.