William Ayrton FRS FSA (22 February 1777 – 8 May 1858) was an English opera manager and music critic.
Ayrton was the younger son of Dr. Edmund Ayrton, and was born in London. In 1816 he went abroad to engage singers for the Italian opera at the King’s Theatre, of which he undertook the direction in the following year, producing for the first time in England Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and introducing to English audiences such great artists as Giuditta Pasta, Violante Camporese, Gaetano Crivelli and Giuseppe Ambrogietti. In spite of a successful season Ayrton was obliged by the disputes of the company to retire from the direction. In 1821 he again (under the management of John Ebers) took the post of musical director, but owing to opposition he encountered from the committee he was again forced to resign.
For the rest of his life Ayrton concentrated on writing. From 1823 to 1833 he edited and contributed largely to the ‚Harmonicon, a periodical. In 1834-5 he published his Sacred Minstrelsy, and in 1834-5-6 the work known as the Musical Library, an early cheap collection of vocal and instrumental music.
Ayrton was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and one of the original members of the Royal Institution and the Athenæum Club. On 17 May 1803 he had married Marianne, the daughter of the composer Samuel Arnold.
Ayrton died at Bridge Street, Westminster, on 8 March 1858, and is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
The personal papers and correspondence of William Ayrton can be found in the British Library. His son William Scrope Ayrton (1804-1885) annotated the material, with the collection eventually partly sold at auction and partly donated to the British Library by his granddaughter Phylis Alsager Ayrton.
„Ayrton, William“. Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.