Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, William (1777-1813)

RUSSELL, WILLIAM (1777–1813), organist and composer, son of William Russell, organ-builder, was born in London on 6 Oct. 1777. From his eighth year Russell's instructors were the organists Cope, Shrubsole, and Groombridge. Between 1789 and 1793 he was deputy to his father, who was organist to St. Mary's, Aldermanbury. In 1793 Russell was appointed organist to the Great Queen Street chapel; cathedral services were performed there until 1798, when the chapel became a Wesleyan meeting-house. On 2 Sept. 1798 he was elected organist at St. Anne's, Limehouse. In 1801 he was elected to a similar post at the Foundling Hospital. About the same time he resumed his musical studies under Dr. Samuel Arnold [q. v.], through whose influence he obtained employment as composer and accompanist at theatres. In 1808 he graduated Mus. Bac. at Oxford. He died on 21 Nov. 1813 at Cobham Row, Coldbath-fields.

Russell was a clever, even powerful, executant, and a facile if not very original writer of scores. His organ voluntaries, in suite form, ‘generally contain a melodious fugue, with clever modulation and climax’ (Grove). Besides many songs, Russell wrote overtures or incidental music for theatrical entertainments. For Sadler's Wells he composed an overture to the ‘Highland Camp’ (1800); music to ‘Old Sadler's Ghost,’ to the ‘Great Devil’ (with Broad), to ‘Harlequin Greenlander,’ to ‘St. George,’ to ‘Zoa,’ and to ‘Wizard's Wake’ in 1802. For Covent Garden he wrote a dance in Busby's ‘Rugantino’ (1805), a new overture to ‘Wild Islanders,’ and music for ‘Adrian and Orilla’ (1806). For the Royal Circus he prepared music for pieces entitled respectively ‘Harlequin and Time’ and ‘False Friend’ (1806). He also composed music to Christopher Smart's ‘Ode on St. Cecilia's Day’ (1800) and the ‘Redemption of Israel,’ both of which were probably performed by the Cecilian Society, of which he was a member. A volume of psalms, hymns, and anthems was compiled for the Foundling Chapel in 1809. He further published ‘Twelve Voluntaries for the Organ or Pianoforte’ (1807?), and a ‘Second Book’ (1812), while ‘Job,’ an oratorio adapted for organ or pianoforte, by Wesley, was issued in 1826.

[Dictionary of Music, 1827, ii. 401; Grove's Dictionary, iii. 205, iv. 339; Baptie's Handbook; Abdy Williams's Musical Degrees, pp. 99, 100; Husk's Celebrations, p. 80; Gent. Mag. 1813, ii. 625; Collection relating to Sadler's Wells, vol. iii. passim.]

L. M. M.