Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Webbe, Samuel (1740-1816)

WEBBE, SAMUEL (1740–1816), musical composer, the son of a government officer who died in Minorca about 1740, was born in England in 1740. Owing to poverty, his mother could do nothing better for her son than apprentice him at the age of eleven to a trade. His seven years of cabinet-making over, Webbe applied himself to the study of languages. His mother had died, and, to support himself, he copied music for a dealer, and thus attracted the notice of Barbandt, a musician, who thenceforward gave him lessons. Webbe soon adopted music as his profession. It is likely that he deputised for Barbandt at the chapels of the Portuguese and Bavarian embassies. In 1766 he won the first of his twenty-six prize medals from the Catch Club, of which he was a member from 1771. On the resignation of Warren Home in 1794 Webbe was appointed the club's secretary, and was actively employed in its interests until 1812 (preface to W. Linley's Requiem). On the establishment, in 1787, of the Glee Club, Webbe became the librarian, and he joined the Concentores Sodales soon after the formation of their society in 1798.

Webbe produced about three hundred glees, canons, catches, and part-songs, and upon this work his fame chiefly rests. In the meantime he had become organist to the chapel of the Sardinian embassy near Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was announced in the Laity's Directory' of 1793 to give instrucion gratis every Friday evening at seven o'clock, 'to such young gentlemen as present themselves to learn the church music.' Among his pupils and choir-boys were John Danby [q. v.], Charles Knyvett the younger [see under Knyvett, Charles], 1752–1822)], Charles Dignum [q. v.], and Vincent Novello [q. v.] The chapel of the Spanish embassy, near Manchester Square, also enjoyed his services, probably after Danby's death in 1798 until the younger Webbe's appointment.

Webbe died at his chambers in Gray's Inn on 25 March 1816. His gravestone in Old St. Pancras Gardens (once the churchyard) has disappeared within the last few years, but a granite obelisk was erected in its stead in 1897.

Webbe was ‘the typical glee composer’ (Davey), and is best known by such polished and beautiful pieces as ‘When winds breathe soft,’ ‘Swiftly from the mountain's brow,’ ‘Glorious Apollo,’ ‘Thy voice, O Harmony,’ and ‘Come live with me.’ But his motets are still constantly sung in Roman catholic churches. His hymns include an ‘O Salutaris,’ known in Anglican hymn-books as ‘Melcombe;’ an ‘Alma Redemptoris’ (‘Alma’); a ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ (‘Come, Thou Holy Spirit’), and the popular harmonised version of a Gregorian ‘Stabat Mater.’

Among Webbe's numerous publications are:

  1. In conjunction with his son, nine books of vocal music in parts, 1764–95; afterwards republished in 3 vols. 1812. Many of Webbe's glees are re-edited or republished by Warren, Hullah, Oliphant, Boosey, and Novello.
  2. Songs, of which the best known may have been the simple melody, ‘The Mansion of Peace,’ 1785?
  3. ‘Ode to St. Cecilia,’ six voices, 1790.
  4. ‘A Collection of Sacred Music as used in the Chapel of the King of Sardinia in London, by Samuel Webbe,’ no date, obl. folio. It contains upwards of twenty motets, and masses in D minor for three voices, and G major for four voices, neither published in
  5. ‘A Collection of Masses for Small Choirs,’ 1792 (No. 1 was printed by Skillern in 1791); they are simply written, some for two parts only.
  6. ‘A Collection of Motets and Antiphons,’ 1792, printed by Webbe's permission, although he had no intention of printing them.
  7. ‘Antiphons in six Books of Anthems,’ 1818.
  8. Seven masses rearranged for three and four voices, including two requiem masses in G minor and E minor, never before published, 1864.

All Webbe's church music has been re-edited and republished by Novello.

[Gent. Mag. 1816, i. 569, 643; Quarterly Musical Magazine, 1818 p. 219, 1821 p. 363, passim; Grove's Dictionary, i. 323, 383, iv. 387; Davey's Hist. of English Music, p. 414; Cansick's Epitaphs in St. Pancras, p. 98; Daily News, 26 July 1897; Tablet, 24 July 1897; information from the choirmaster of the Sardinia Street catholic church, where a volume of the rare ‘Collection of Sacred Music’ is preserved; information from Rev. R. B. Sankey, M.A., Mus. Bac. Oxon.; authorities cited.]

L. M. M.