General Reid at 300

2021/22 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of General John Reid.

The Reid concerts were established as a consequence of a legacy from General John Reid that came to the College of Edinburgh in 1838.   Reid was a distinguished military man, keen flautist and composer born in 1721 or 22 who died in London in 1807, leaving a will dated the ‘19th day of April 1803’ and a codicil dated ‘4th day of March 1806’.   His codicil stated:

After the decease of my daughter Susanna Robertson (she dying without issue) I have I left all my property in the funds or in Great Britain to the College of Edinburgh where I had my Education, as will be found more particularly expressed in my will […]

In the early nineteenth century, the College of Edinburgh was administered by the Town Council of Edinburgh and the Senatus Academicus which comprised the Principal and Professors. When Reid died in 1807 his daughter was in her mid-forties with no children, and at that time it seemed probable that the College would become beneficiaries on her death and indeed this was the case. The General’s endowment was specific in its conditions that the funds, on coming to the College after the death of his daughter, be used to establish a Professorship of Music.

 [Although most references to John Reid give the birth year as 1721 Dr Christopher Field’s research identifies that Reid was born probably around 2 February 1722 and baptized four days later on 6 February and suggests that the 11-day difference between 2 February and 13 February may be related to the change in the system of calendars in 1752. Field notes that in accepting the year 1721 instead of 1722 the Professors and others were following a tradition that can be traced from Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum of 1813 to recent editions of New Grove].

The following excerpt from Reid’s will outlines the wishes of the testator and the expected role of the Principal and Professors in carrying out these wishes:

[…] concerning all […] my said personal estate in the Kingdom of Great Britain […] my will and meaning is that my said trustees shall stand possessed thereof, upon trust, in the first instance for establishing and endowing a Professorship of Music in the College and University of Edinburgh, where I had my education, and passed the pleasantest part of my youth. And in the next place […] in making additions to the Library of the said University or otherwise in promoting the general interest and advantage of the University […] in such a way as will most effectively establish and perpetually secure a fund for the endowment of a Professorship of Music and the maintenance in all time thereafter in the said University of a Professor of the Theory of Music—an art and science in which the Scots stand unrivalled by all the neighbouring nations in pastoral melody and sweet combination of sounds […]

In anticipation of this income the Senatus raised funds against the bequest to spend in accordance with Reid’s wishes, for the benefit of the College but there is no evidence that the Senatus made provision for the appointment of a Professor of Music prior to 1838. Instead, their focus was on the reputation of the College with regards to the provision of education in Medicine, Law and Theology. Music was a subject about which the Senatus members knew little and about which they had to acquaint themselves on receipt of a letter notifying them of the death of the General’s daughter. The following extract is from a letter addressed to Principal Baird from a firm of solicitors in London, sent on behalf of the executors of the will, which arrived in June 1838:

I beg to acquaint you that I have this morning received a letter from Paris, […] informing me of the death of Mrs Robertson, daughter of the late General John Reid under whose will I was appointed an executor and by whom you are no doubt aware a bequest was made to the College of Edinburgh […]

In 1838 this Reid bequest amounted to £73,590 and the portion which came to the College, was £68,876 18s 3d: a figure equivalent today [2018] to over £5.7 million, and it remains one of the most valuable ever received by the University of Edinburgh. For the College and the Town Council this bequest was a most welcome boost to their income which at the time was limited to class fees and donations. During the 1830s the Town Council had spent considerable sums of money on the College Buildings on South Bridge (now known as Old College) and by 1838 it was almost bankrupt and struggling to meet its financial obligations. This injection of capital attached to the endowment for the Professorship of Music, for the library and the promotion of the general interest of the University, was interpreted by the Town Council and the Senatus for use in ways more favourable to the second part of the bequest than to the first part. The money was used ‘in making additions to the Library of the said University or otherwise in promoting the general interest and advantage of the University’; they considered this more important than the setting up of a Professorship of Music with the attached responsibility to present an annual concert in memory of General Reid. The requirement for a commemoration concert to be given each year in February was detailed in the codicil attached to Reid’s will:

[…] and as I leave all my music books (particularly those of my own composition) to the Professor of Music in that College it is my wish that in every year after his appointment he will cause a concert of music to be performed on the 13th of February, being my birth-day, in which shall be introduced one Solo for the German flute, hautboi or clarionet, also one march and one minuet with accompaniments by a select Band, in order to shew the taste of music about the middle of the last century when they were by me composed, and with a view also to keep my memory in remembrance; the expense attending the concert to be defrayed from the general fund left by me to the College, and not from the salary to be paid to the Professor of Music from which there is to be no diminution.

Reid’s provision of a bequest to set up, and support in perpetuity, a Professorship of the Theory of Music in the College of Edinburgh and an annual concert, ensured that his name would not be forgotten in the University of Edinburgh. The concerts took the name ‘Reid Concert’ in 1867, the first Dean of the new Faculty of Music was given the title ‘Reid Professor of Music’ in 1893, and Tovey founded the ‘Reid Orchestra’ in 1916. Funds from the bequest were also used in 1858 to build a School of the Theory of Music that became known as the University Music Class Room, the Reid Music Class Room and most recently, the Reid Concert Hall. The University’s Music Department is now known as the Reid School of Music. In 2020 Reid concerts were still being offered to the city’s concertgoers under the heading ‘Concerts in the University of Edinburgh’, and the annual commemoration concert, still a feature of the University concert series, is now known as the ‘Reid Memorial Concert’. In 1841 there was an expectation that the concerts would continue and, notwithstanding changes to the structure of Music teaching in the University, that expectation has been fulfilled thanks to Reid’s generosity.

This text is extracted and adapted from the PhD thesis ‘Reid Concerts at the University of Edinburgh: 1841–1941’ by Fiona M Donaldson)