Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Horsley, William
HORSLEY, WILLIAM (1774–1858), musical composer, the descendant of an old Northumbrian family, whose castle still stands near Morpeth, was born on 15 Nov. 1774. He very early displayed an aptitude for music, and at the age of sixteen definitely chose it as his profession. After some training from Gardiner, a pupil of Pepusch, he was articled for five years to the pianist, Theodore Smith. Smith gave him scanty instruction and treated him harshly. More profitable was the acquaintance he contracted with the three brothers Pring and John Wall Callcott [q. v.] By them he was encouraged to attempt glee-writing, the branch of art in which he afterwards established his reputation. A number of glees, canons, and rounds were the outcome of this period, besides several anthems and cathedral services.
In 1794 Horsley was elected to the post of organist of Ely Chapel, Holborn, and three years later, on 15 June 1797, was admitted a member of the Royal Society of Musicians. In the following year, with the co-operation of Dr. Callcott, he founded the ‘Concentores Sodales,’ a club for the encouragement of glee and canon writing, which flourished, with varying fortunes, until 1847. About the same time he was appointed assistant-organist to Dr. Callcott at the Asylum for Female Orphans, and in consequence resigned his post at Ely Chapel. On 8 June 1800 he took the degree of Mus. Bac. at Oxford, his exercise being an anthem, ‘When Israel came out of Egypt.’ In the course of the next year the Vocal Concerts were revived, and Horsley wrote for them several glees and songs, as well as some instrumental pieces, including three symphonies. In 1802 he succeeded Dr. Callcott as organist to the Asylum, and held the appointment until 1854. In 1813 he joined Clementi, Bishop, Smart, Attwood, Cramer, and others in founding the Philharmonic Society. From 1812 to 1837 Horsley also fulfilled the duties of organist at the new Belgrave Chapel in Halkin Street. In 1838 he exchanged this post for that of organist to the Charterhouse. Horsley was from 1834 to 1839 a member of the Society of British Musicians, was elected member of the Royal Academy of Music at Stockholm in 1847, was a member of the Catch Club, and a frequent visitor at the meetings of the Madrigal Society. He died, 12 June 1858, in Kensington. His wife, Elizabeth Hutchins Callcott, daughter of his early friend, whom he married 12 Jan. 1813, survived him till 20 Jan. 1875. His eldest son, John Callcott Horsley, R.A., is well known as an artist; another son, Charles Edward [q. v.], is separately noticed.
Although his compositions were various, Horsley's reputation as a composer rests chiefly upon his glees, in which form of writing he has had few equals. These compositions are remarkable alike for refinement of taste and the suitability of the music to the words employed. A very high opinion of them was entertained by Mendelssohn, whose intimacy with Horsley dates from his first visit to England in 1829. ‘He carried off copies of many of the glees,’ writes Mr. J. C. Horsley, R.A., ‘for the Sing-Verein at Leipsic; and wrote afterwards to his English friend of the fact that in his absence from Leipsic the choir there had sung “By Celia's Arbour” and other of the glees with forty voices to a part!—a misunderstanding which Mendelssohn soon corrected.’ Perhaps the most popular of Horsley's glees are ‘By Celia's Arbour’ (published in 1807, the words by T. Moore), ‘See the Chariot at Hand,’ ‘Mine be a Cot,’ ‘Cold is Cadwallo's Tongue,’ and ‘Oh, Nightingale!’
Horsley's compositions, which are numerous, include: 1. Five collections of glees, dating from 1801 to 1827, and a further collection published by his son, C. E. Horsley, in 1873, besides several contributed to Clementi's ‘Vocal Harmony,’ of which work he edited the second edition in 1830. 2. ‘A Collection of Hymns and Psalm Tunes in use at the Asylum for Female Orphans,’ London, 1820. 3. ‘An Explanation of Musical Intervals and of the Major and Minor Scales,’ London, 1825. 4. ‘Introduction to the Study of Practical Harmony and Modulation,’ London, 1847. 5. ‘The Musical Treasury’ (psalm and hymn tunes, &c.), London, 1853; and several detached songs, glees, and pianoforte pieces.
He edited the third edition of Dr. Callcott's ‘Musical Grammar,’ London, 1817; ‘A Collection of Dr. Callcott's Glees, with a Memoir of the Composer and Analysis of his Works,’ 1824; and Book i. of Byrd's ‘Cantiones Sacræ’ for the Musical Antiquarian Society.
[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 753; Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 333; Fétis' Biog. Univ. des Musiciens, iii. 370; Gent. Mag. 1st ser. lxxxiii. 82, 3rd ser. v. 94; Bemrose's Choir Chant Book, App. p. xx; information from Mr. J. C. Horsley, R.A.; Roy. Soc. Mus. Records; Madrigal Soc. Records; Cat. of music in Brit. Mus.]