The Formative Years: 1867 – 1941
In 1867 the Edinburgh University Musical Society was founded.
In 1867 Herbert Oakeley, the then Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, conducted the 27th Reid Memorial Concert. This concert was given by an orchestra consisting primarily of students of the university, and later that year the group was formally constitutionalised as the Edinburgh University Musical Society. In his time at the University of Edinburgh he continued to expand the society and used his connections with other composers and players to arrange larger and more extravagant performances, most being held within what is now known as the Assembly Rooms on George Street. His legacy as our founder remains with us, and even now we still possess pieces that he arranged and composed in his time with us.
Oakeley was born on the 22nd of July 1830 in Ealing, London. Having spent much of his youth in Rugby, he went on to study at Oxford University, later spending time in the renowned German conservatoires in Leipzig, Dresden and Bonn. He moved to Scotland in the late 1850s, and gained the University of Edinburgh’s Reid Chair of Music in 1865. He progressed music within the university significantly, holding the Chair until 1891. During this time he arranged and composed many musical works, and exerted a strong influence on music across the United Kingdom. In 1871 Scottish Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Tait awarded him a doctorate of music, and in 1876 he was presented with a knighthood from Queen Victoria.
He had written several pieces for Victoria personally and these had been “warmly received”; he continued to write pieces for events where she was to be received until her death in 1901 (some of these have in fact recently surfaced in our own archives), having gained the position of Composer of Music to Queen Victoria in Scotland in 1881.
Oakeley died in Eastbourne on the 26th of October, 1903 at the ripe old age of 73. His legacy lives on in his music, the advances that were made within the Reid School of Music during his tenure as Professor of Music at the university and in our society, the EUMS, still going from strength to strength two centuries on from when he lifted up his conductors baton all the way back in 1867…