Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

William Scheide ’36’s passion for music began at an early age. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

May 12, 2004:

Bach, bibles, and books
William Scheide ’36 continues to contribute to the world of music and books

When William H. Scheide ’36 was a toddler, sitting on his mother’s lap listening to a piano trio in an Atlantic City hotel, he wailed when the music ended. “I yelled until my breath ran out,” he says. When his parents asked young William why, he says, he answered, “Because they stopped playing.”

At age 90, Scheide’s passion for music hasn’t diminished. A Bach scholar who majored in history at Princeton because there was no music department and earned an M.A. in music at Columbia, he still contributes articles to Bach Jahrbuch, a journal of Bach scholarship — and was the first American to be published in it. He’s currently working on a study of Bach’s goal of writing a cantata for each Sunday and feast day of the church year. In 1946 Scheide founded and directed the Bach Aria Group, a vocal and instrumental ensemble that performed and recorded for almost 40 years. His aim with the group was to highlight the cantatas, which he believes are underappreciated and underperformed. “Everyone knows the B-minor Mass, and the Brandenburg concerti. But, in the cantatas, there is another huge body of music as beautiful as anything you could ever hear,” says Scheide, who still plays the piano regularly.

His ties to Princeton’s music department run deep — he has endowed a professorship of music history and made possible the construction of the Arthur Mendel Music Library in Woolworth, named in honor of the late Princeton professor.

A philanthropist who has served on numerous boards, he’s also a humanitarian, committed to social causes. He’s a senior director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund and was on the board of Princeton’s Joint Commission on Civil Rights.

Then, of course, there’s his love of books. Owner of the Scheide Library, now housed in Firestone Library, he revels in the books and manuscripts his grandfather, William T. Scheide; his father, John H. Scheide 1896; and he acquired. The Scheide Library holds copies of the first four Bibles ever printed; materials on the invention and history of printing; books and manuscripts on the early voyages to the Americas; and musical manuscripts of J. S. Bach and Beethoven, among other items. Scholars from all over the world use the library’s resources.

Ten years ago, the University awarded Scheide an honorary doctorate of humanities, recognizing him as an “advocate, scholar, student, benefactor, and friend.”

Despite all he has done and contributed to Princeton and other causes, Scheide is a “supremely modest man,” wrote President Tilghman in a recently published booklet honoring his 90th birthday and his library collection. “He would rather discuss his books and manuscripts” and J. S. Bach than bask in tributes to himself.

Scheide, who played the piano at his wedding last year to Judith McCartin Scheide h’36, practices on the Bösendorfer piano and Holtkamp organ in his living room in Princeton. Watching over him is a portrait of J. S. Bach, painted during the composer’s lifetime.

By Caroline Moseley

Caroline Moseley is a freelance writer in Princeton, New Jersey.