175th anniversary of the first Reid Concert at the University of Edinburgh

Friday 12 February 2016 is the 175th anniversary of the first annual concert presented by the University in memory of General John Reid, founder of the Chair of Music and the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh.

175 years ago, on Friday 12 February 1841 John Thomson, the first Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, organised and directed the inaugural annual "College" concert in accordance with the wishes of General Reid, detailed in the terms of his bequest to the University, that the Professor of Music ‘shall cause a concert to be given annually’ in memory of General Reid.  The concert took place in the Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh, two years before the Music Hall extension was built, in the room now known as the Ballroom.

Professor Thomson had ambitious plans and in December 1839 soon after his appointment, he wrote to the University authorities outlining his proposals for this first concert:

“Considering as I do that the establishment of that concert will … be of essential importance to the cause of music in Scotland, and … be regarded by the public as a standard exhibition of classical music in every style both sacred and secular by which they may regulate and improve their taste, and be led to the more credulous study of the works of the best Masters. But as the inspired language of scripture employed in the sacred style would be incompatible in juxtaposition with the usual sentiments of the ballad and other species of vocal music, I propose to separate the concert into two grand divisions. The one I would make a morning performance to be devoted entirely to the anthem and oratorio style: the other an evening performance to the remaining styles of the Opera chamber and concert-room both vocal and instrumental.”

It was not possible for Thomson to achieve all the necessary permissions from the University Senatus in time to put in place arrangements for a concert in February 1940 so the first concert was planned for February 1841. While Thomson was able to include most of the ideas put forward in his letter of December 1839, there was in February 1841 just one long programme, not two as he had proposed and it was divided into three clearly defined sections, featuring different styles of music.  This first programme was devised along the lines of the concerts presented in Leipzig, London, and Oxford in the 1830s with which Thomson would have been familiar.  It took the form of a grand miscellaneous concert with choral works, orchestral pieces and solo items featuring Thomson’s choice of local musicians, including members of the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, and distinguished artists from London making the 23-hour coach journey to Edinburgh.

The programme included two items composed by Thomson’s friend, Felix Mendelssohn, two items composed by Thomson himself and a work composed by General Reid, arranged for performance by full military band.  The 1841 printed concert programme is notable as it has been credited as being the first in the United Kingdom to include formal analytical programme notes.  Described as "Words of the Airs, Concerted Pieces, and Choruses: with Brief Notices of the Music by Professor Thomson", many of the notes included detail of the time signature for the work.  The concert commenced at 7 pm with carriages at 11 pm, offering over 200 minutes of music and was repeated the following morning, to accommodate all those who wished to attend.   The performances attracted capacity audiences and were well received, but sadly Thomson was not able to build on his success as he passed away in May 1841, at the age of only 35.

175 years after the first concert the annual Reid Memorial Concert is still an important feature of the University concert series in February.  The 2016 concert takes place on Friday 12 February at 1.10 pm in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh.  It is on a much smaller scale than the first concert in 1841 but is a programme of music that would have been enjoyed by General Reid and, as is tradition, includes one of his own compositions.

Reid Memorial Concert 2016.
Annemarie Klein (recorder) and John Kitchen (harpsichord).
GENERAL REID Solo IV from Six Solos for a German Flute, Book 1.
HOTTETERRE Premiere Suitte from Premier livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière et autres instruments.   
TELEMANN Sonata Quarta TWV 41:D3 from 12 Sonate Metodiche.  
ALESSANDRO SCARLATTI  Toccata decima.
Admission Free