Musical Instrument Museums | Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

Brief History of the Reid Concert Hall and the John Donaldson Collection

The Collection originated around 1850 when the University's professor of music, John Donaldson (1789-1865), established a museum and bought old and unusual instruments, and some not so old at the time but which are now certainly museum pieces. As well as founding the Collection, Donaldson built a fine hall as his music classroom with adjoining museum gallery, opened in 1859. The hall is now the Reid Concert Hall and the museum gallery is still the home of some of the University's historic musical instrument collection. This is believed to be the earliest surviving purpose-built musical museum in the world.

Portrait of John Donaldson, Reid Professor of Music 1845-1865

John Donaldson, Reid Professor of Music 1845-1865
Portrait by William Smellie Watson, RSA

Donaldson wrote in 1851 about his plans for the Museum: "A room of this description must be furnished to keep the instruments in, and must be very spacious, because it is a known fact that museums which are open to the public often have private collections incorporated into them; and I am firmly convinced that we would receive many very valuable donations of musical instruments and acoustical apparatus from various countries if we had space to store and exhibit them.

"Such a museum would be of great benefit to archaeologists, musicians and historians in their researches, presenting them with the opportunity to pursue their scholarly studies advantageously, and to publish the results of their efforts and diligence to the world."

The Museum, circa 1870

The Museum, circa 1870

For its first century, the Collection grew slowly and by 1968, it amounted to some one hundred instruments. In 1968 the Galpin Society held its 21st Anniversary Exhibition in this gallery and in the following year the Galpin Society Permanent Collection was established in conjunction with the University, under the honorary curatorship of Graham Melville-Mason. Under the aegis of the Galpin Society, the Collection came to number some six hundred instruments, including the hundred instruments of the Reid Collection, the Geoffrey Rendall Collection, and other gifts and loans.

In 1980 an agreement was reached whereby the title to the instruments owned by the Galpin Society and to the Rendall Collection was transferred to the University, with the University undertaking to provide appropriate accommodation for storing and displaying the instruments, to appoint a curator, to insure the Collection and to use it for promoting the study of instruments. At this time the Collection was given its present name and an Honorary Curator was appointed by the University.

Important acquisitions have been made since 1980 with the help of the National Fund for Acquisitions (formerly the Government's Local Museums Purchase Fund), the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art-Collections Fund, The National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, the University's General Council Trust, the Hope Scott Trust and other benefactors.

These acquisitions include the Glen Collection of wind, string and percussion instruments, the collection of the celebrated percussionist James Blades (1901-1999), a sackbut (trombone), dated 1594, by Anton Schnitzer of Nürnberg, an important Viola da Gamba by Mathias and Augustus Kaiser, an early 17th-century Italian lute by Matheus Buchenberg, a rare early 19th-century trombone by François Riedlocker, an ivory tenor recorder from the renaissance period (16th or early 17th century), possibly by the Bassano family of Venice and London, and eight saxophones from the workshop of the inventor, Adolphe Sax.

A major component is the C.H. Brackenbury Memorial Collection, which was placed on loan by the collector's grandson in 1980, and was allocated to the University following its acceptance by the State in lieu of death duties in 1991.

A most significant acquisition was the bequest of the Sir Nicholas Shackleton Collection of clarinets and other instruments, from 2006 housed at the Reid Concert Hall. This had been the finest collection of clarinet family instruments in private hands and is a resource of international significance, assembled by the late Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton over his lifetime. An endowment for the upkeep of the collection forms part of the bequest.

Convergence with the Raymond Russell Collection, St Cecilia's Hall

In January 2004 the decision was made by the Director of University Collections in consultation with the Director of Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments that the instruments museums at the Reid Concert Hall and St Cecilia's Hall should be operated by a unified management team. This reorganisation was triggered by the early retirement of the Director and Curator of the Russell Collection, Dr Grant O'Brien. The new structure necessitated changes to the naming, and the opportunity was taken to adopt a stronger branding of the two museums, projecting a clearer image. In March 2004 the University's Museums and Galleries Office agreed the names:

Reid Concert Hall Museum of Instruments (the John Donaldson Collection of Musical Instruments)
St Cecilia's Hall Museum of Instruments (the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments)
The name "Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments" being used for the Collection and for use when the two museums are considered jointly.

Recent Activities at the Reid Concert Hall Museum of Instruments

The interest in historic musical instruments has greatly increased in recent years, as the re-discovered sounds of "early" music played on appropriate instruments has come to be widely appreciated. Reference collections are not only of interest to music lovers, but of great value to instrument makers who wish to study and copy original instruments. A specialist museum such as the University Collection is best placed to interpret and promote the study of instruments.

At present, the principal users of the Collection are:

  1. Members of the museum-going public who visit the Collection, including school pupils
  2. Students at the University studying areas of the Collection as an integral part of their academic courses
  3. Specialists such as instrument makers and musicians concentrating on historically informed performance practice

The Collection has acted as a focus for several meetings, symposia and colloquia on musical instrument history.

The display policy is to show as large a part of the Collection as is feasible consistent with conservation requirements and with effective communication. In the existing premises, about one quarter of the Collection is kept on display with like instruments shown together.

EUCHMI Publications Describing the Collection

See John Donaldson and the Reid Concert Hall and Sidney Newman Remembered 1906-1971: a centenary collection of personal reminiscences by Edinburgh colleagues and Other Books in the

Other Publications

Catherine Frew and Arnold Myers, 'Sir Samuel Hellier's "Musicall Instruments"'. Galpin Society Journal, 2003, LVI pp.6-26.

Christopher D.S. Field, 'A Musical Apparatus of Somewhat Complex and Intricate Mechanism: Organs in Professor John Donaldson's Classroom at the University of Edinburgh, 1845-65.' Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies, 2000, 24, ISSN 0141-4992, pp.509-520.

D. Murray Campbell, Arnold Myers, Maarten van Walstijn and Howard Wright, 'Devices for Musical Acoustics Learning in a Museum Environment.' In Actes du 5e Congrès Français d'Acoustique = Proceedings of the 5th French Congress on Acoustics, Lausanne, 3-6 September 2000, Lausanne: Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes, 2000, ISBN 2 88074 470 9, pp.257-259.

Christopher D.S. Field, 'John Donaldson and 19th-century Acoustics Teaching in the University of Edinburgh' In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Musical Acoustics, Edinburgh, 19-22 August 1997: Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, 1997, 19 (5), ISBN 1 901656 04 7, pp.509-520.

Anne Macaulay, 'Scottish Research Collection of Guitars and Lutes'. Lute Society of America Newsletter, August 1986, XXI (3) pp.5-7.

Arnold Myers, 'The Macaulay Collection of Musical Instruments, Edinburgh'. Glareana (Nachrichten der Gesellschaft der Freunde alter Musikinstrumente), 1986, 35 (2) pp 12-14.

Arnold Myers, 'The Glen and Ross collections of musical instruments', paper read at a meeting of the Galpin Society, Edinburgh, 12-13 November 1983. The Galpin Society Journal, 1985, XXVIII pp.4-8.

Maurice Checker and Arnold Myers, 'Woodwind instruments from Kilravock Castle'. Galpin Society Journal, 1984, XXXVII pp.119-121.

Arnold Myers, 'The Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments'. Galpin Society Journal, 1982, XXXV pp.151-153.

Arnold Myers, 'Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments'. University of Edinburgh Journal, December 1981, XXX (2) 2pp.

Arnold Myers, 'Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments'. Newsletter of the International Committee of Musical Instrument Collections, 1981, IX pp.67-68.

Arnold Myers, 'Rendall Acquisition Increases almost unique Historic Collection to 1,000 Instruments' University of Edinburgh Bulletin, March 1981, 17 (3) p.13.


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