William Wolstenholme was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on 24 February 1865. He was blind from birth and was was educated at the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen. He showed considerable promise as a musician and impressed Henry Smart who agreed to take him as a pupil. Alas, Smart died before lessons began. He studied the violin under Edward Elgar. In 1887 he went up to Oxford University where he later graduated as a Bachelor of Music.
In 1888 he was appointed organist and choirmaster of St Paul’s Church, Blackburn and began to consolidate his position as a teacher, recitalist and improviser. Fourteen years later he accepted the post of organist at All Saint’s Church Norfolk Square, Paddington and afterwards at All Saints, St. John’s Wood. In 1908 he undertook a major concert tour of the United States. This secured his ‘international’ reputation. William Wolstenholme died in 1931.
Stylistically, he has been referred to as the ‘English Cesar Franck’ and although this may be unfair to both composers it is a reasonable rule of thumb and gives the listener a good idea of the kind and quality of music to expect. It is also possible that he can be bracketed with Alfred Hollins and Basil Harwood.
"A Lenten Meditation" was published by Alfred Legnick in 1903. It is striking for its solemnity and beauty of expression.
Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the season of Lent. It is the day when we think about our sins and our own mortality.
The traditional sentence reminds us of this during the Imposition of Ashes: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”
Wolstenholme's meditation has the elements of a "funeral march" about it, but it goes beyond this to something deeply poignant and personal.
It's the kind of piece that, if sensitively played, could hush a room into deep silence.
The score, is attached below, as well as some photos of Wolstenholme, his family home, several of the churches at which he served as organist.