Ayrton, Edmund, English organist and composer, father of William Ayrton; b. Ripon (baptized), Nov. 19, 1734; d. London, May 22, 1808. He became organist, rector chori, and “singing-man” at Southwell Collegiate Church or Minister in 1755. In 1756 he pursued training with James Nares. In 1764 he settled in London as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He also served as a vicar-choral at St. Paul’s Cathedral (from 1764), as lay vicar at Westminster Abbey (from 1780), and as Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal (1780–1805). In 1784 he obtained his Mus.D. from Cambridge. He composed 2 services, anthems, and secular vocal pieces. His best known work was the anthem Begin unto my God for 4 Soloists, Chorus, 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, Timpani, and Strings, which was first heard at the thanksgiving service for the end of the War of American Independence at St. Paul’s Cathedral on June 29, 1784. Samuel Wesley described Ayrton as “one of the most egregious blockheads under the sun,” but this judgment seems unduly severe.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
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