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Records of the Scottish Musical Society

Identifier: Coll-1385

Scope and Contents

  1. Records of foundation and dissolution
  2. Minutes of meetings
  3. Membership records
  4. Financial records
  5. Correspondence
  6. Papers relating to the Scottish Universities Commission
  7. Newspapers relating to the society


  • Creation: 1879-1900


Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

The Scottish Musical Society was established in Edinburgh in 1879 at a meeting “of gentlemen present” on 22 October to discuss “Dr Donaldson’s scheme for the formation of a Society for Musical Education”. The objects of the Society were “to foster, encourage and aid musical ability in the attainment of high vocal or instrumental excellence, and of eminence in musical composition”. “Scotland has no means of giving the highest musical education, and Scotland has no resident orchestra”. On these two facts was based the necessity for an Association such as the Scottish Musical Society. The Society “will endeavour in every possible way to encourage the study of music and to render the profession of music dignified and honourable”. A number of Scottish noblemen became Vice-Presidents of the Society and Professor Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley, Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh was a Vice-President, ex-officio. The Council of the Society comprised Advocates, Lawyers and Sheriffs, University Professors, Merchants, Manufacturers, Writers and Stockbrokers from Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee. The objects of the Society were seen to be of “great national importance” and the Council were confident of “that support which is necessary to render its operations a complete success”. The President of the Society, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and the Chairman of the Council, The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Rosebery, each promised an initial donation of £500, however, this was just a promise and the money never actually changed hands.

The ambitions of the Society were to raise £3000, to found an Academy of Music in Edinburgh, to offer a musical education for Scottish students. They were keen to establish an orchestra of local musicians and that pupils from the new Academy would be drafted into it to encourage and train native musicians in the great masterpieces of orchestral music. Sufficient funds were never achieved.

In 1887 the suggestion was made that the Society should consider the “advisability of linking themselves and their academy … to the system of musical graduation … in the University of Edinburgh”. The opportunity for this link came in 1890 with the proposed reforms in the administration of the Reid Chair of Music at the University of Edinburgh being reviewed by the Scottish Universities Commission. At a meeting on 10 February 1890, it was resolved that the Society should formulate a scheme for musical education, to be submitted to the commissioners, which would more adequately reflect “the intentions of General Reid and the musical conditions of the time”. The Academy of Music for Scotland as envisaged by the founders of the Society never opened and despite attracting interest from across Europe for a conductor for a resident orchestra in Scotland this ambition was overtaken by events and the establishment in 1891 of the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow.

In 1900, “having accomplished all that is possible with the means at its disposal” the Society was would up by voluntary liquidation. The committee advised that, “the balance in the hands of the liquidator” be expended in the purchase of books for presentation to the University of Edinburgh for the purposes of the Music Class Room library in connection with the Reid Chair of Music.

The three important legacies of the Society were the raising of awareness of the lack of facilities for music education in Scotland, their contributions to the reorganisation of the Reid Chair of Music and the establishment of the Faculty of Music in 1893-94 and the purchase of books and scores for the Reid Music Library, in the University of Edinburgh.


9 boxes

Custodial History

Thought to have been in the custody of the Faculty of Music since the dissolution of the society and physically held at the Reid Concert Hall basement. It is believed that the bound items (E.2012.18) were probably shelved separately from the remainder (E.2012.19), which was in a metal deed box. It is also assumed that the move of the Reid Library from the Reid basement to Alison House, and subsequently to the Main Library, accounts for the temporary separation of the two parts of this collection which were brought back together in June 2012 but accessioned separately.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Minute books, account books and membership ledger E.2012.18; remainder E.2012.19.

Processing Information

Collection catalogued by Fiona Donaldson, June-October 2012 . This entry keyed into xml by Grant Buttars 17 Nov 2012. Series-level description created by Aline Brodin based on Fiona Donaldson's catalogue, May and October 2017.

Records of the Scottish Musical Society
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379