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He studied in Germany under Hauptmann and Mendelssohn, and on his return to England composed several oratorios and other pieces, none of which had permanent success. In 1860 he was appointed to arrange the music for the 1862 International Exhibition. In the following year he emigrated to Australia, where he worked as a choral and orchestral conductor, and in 1872 went to America. Three weeks after landing in America, he was appointed organist of St John's Chapel, New York at a salary of £500 a year, which position he filled to the day of his death. His wife, Georgina, to carry out his wishes, placed him to rest near and with his own people in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
His works include a string quartet in C major, the manuscript of which is dated March 1861, shortly after his arrival in Australia; this is probably the first work for this combination to have been written on Australian soil. In 1870 Horsley was commissioned to compose a cantata Euterpe to a poem by Henry Kendall, performed at the Melbourne Town Hall opening in 1876.
In the United States he wrote sentimental and patriotic songs, which continued to appear until the last year of his life.
The world première of his Mendelssohnian violin concerto op. 29 (1849) has been performed on October 11, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas by violinist Selim Giray and University of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Robert K. Mueller.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Horsley, William". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 740.