Saint Cecilia's Hall in the Niddry Wynd Chapter VI Various Accounts of the Old Edinburgh Concerts
We shall now search
chronologically through contemporary and recent literature for
allusions more or less direct to these old concerts, both those in
St. Marys Chapel and those in St. Cecilias Hall.
I. Allan Ramsay in The City of Edinburghs Address to the Country
(1716) thus alludes to the Musical Club:
And others can with music make you gay,
With sweetest sounds Corellis art display,
While they around in suftest measures sing,
Or beat melodious solos from the string.
Allan Ramsay has a poem, To the Music
Club (1721), which contains the following lines:
While vocal tubes and comfort strings
To speak the dialect of the Golden Age,
Then you, whose symphony of souls proclaim
Your kin to heavn, add to your countrys fame,
And show that music may have as good fate
In Albions Glen as Umbrias green retreat,
And with Corellis soft Italian song,
Mix Cowdcnknowes and Winter nights are long.
Nor should the martial Pibroch be despised:
Ownd and refind by you, these shall the more be prized,
Each ravished ear extols your heavenly art
Which soothes our care and elevates the heart.
The following; poem is full of local
allusions, and is attributed to Allan Ramsay:
AN EPISTLE TO JAMES OSWALD ON HIS LEAVING EDINBURGH
(From the Scots Magazine, October 1741.)
Dear Oswald, could my verse as sweetly
As notes thou softly touchest with the bow,
When all the circling fair attentive hing
On ilk vibration of thy trembling string,
Id sing how thou wouldst melt our souls away
By solemn notes, or cheer us with the gay,
In verse as lasting as thy tune shall be,
As soft as thy new polishd Danton me.
But wha can sing that feels wi sae great pain
The loss for which Edina sighs in vain?
Our concert now nae mair the ladies mind,
Theyve a forgot the gate to Nidderys Wynd;
Nae mair the Braes of Ballandine can charm,
Nae mair can Forthas Bank our bosom warm,
Nae mair the Northern Lass attention draw,
Nor Pinky-house gi place to Alloa.
Alas! no more shall thy gay tunes delight,
No more thy notes sadness or joy excite,
No more thy solemn basss awful sound
Shall from the Chapels vaulted roof rebound.
London, alas ! which aye has been our bane,
To which our very loss is certain gain,
If they thy value know as well as we,
Perhaps our vanished gold may flow to thee.
II. Mackay in his Journey through
Scotland3 writes of the concert, and says he was at several1
consorts in Edinburgh, and declares that he had never seen in any
country an assembly of greater beauties. This journey was made in
Mackay was, apparently, a better judge of good looks than of good
music, but he could have been no judge at all of spelling.
III. Maitlands Account of the Origin of the Musical Society of
Maitland is talking of St. Marys Chapel in the Niddry Wynd:
At present it is the hall belonging to the Wrights and Masons, and
the upper part is employed by the Musical Society, who hold their
weekly concerts therein, of which erection I shall subjoin the
Certain gentlemen of this city having in the year 1728 proposed to
erect a Musical Society in Edinburgh for the diversion of themselves
and friends, the motion was so well approved of that it was readily
agreed to by a number of lovers of harmony, who, forming themselves
into a fraternity, met and agreed on the following regulations for
their better government.
At Edinburgh, the 29th March 1728, we, the members of the Musical
Society held weekly in Marys Chapel in Niddrys Wynd, either now
subscribing or who shall subscribe on or before the second Wednesday
of June next, being resolved for our mutual diversion and
entertainment to continue the same and to render it perpetual, have
agreed and do hereby agree to assemble ourselves weekly in the said
place for the performance of concerts of music as we have already
done for these twelve months past, under the following articles and
regulations which are hereby declared to be the fundamental laws of
the Society to which we do respectfully submit:
(1) That the Society shall consist of a number of members not
exceeding seventy, unless it shall afterwards appear necessary in a
general meeting to increase the number.
(2) That for the preservation of order and the management of the
affairs of the Society there shall be a governor, deputy-governor,
treasurer, and five directors elected in a general meeting of the
subscribers hereby appointed to be held upon the second Wednesday of
June next ensuing at five oclock in the afternoon, in the hall, and
afterwards to be annually elected in general meetings of the Society
hereby appointed to be held at the same place and at the same hour
upon every second Wednesday of June yearly thereafter, and that the
said election shall proceed by way of ballot.
(3) That upon the second Wednesday of June ensuing, in the said
first general meeting and every general meeting yearly thereafter,
before proceeding to the election of the said officers of the
Society, every member shall pay a guinea into the hands of Mr.
Robert Lumisden, our present cashier, or into the hands of the
treasurer for the time being, towards defraying the annual charge of
the Society and the augmenting its stock.
(4) That a book shall be kept wherein shall be recorded the minutes
of procedure in the said general meetings, and likewise the matters
which shall occur in the ordinary course of administration of the
governor and directors, which, being fairly entered into the said
book, shall be duly signed by the governor or deputy-governor, and
four of the directors hereby appointed to be a quorum.
(5) That the Society, being thus regularly constituted with a
governor and directors, shall after the said first general meeting
proceed to consider the requests of those who desire to be received
and admitted as members of the Society, and that the question
Admit or not shall be determined in a meeting consisting of the
governor or deputy-governor and quorum of directors and fifteen
members, by the majority of voices declared after the manner of
ballot. That the member admitted shall pay into the hands of the
treasurer a guinea to serve as his contribution for that year
wherein he enters, and that a record of such admission and payment
shall be duly entered :ito the book of the Society, and signed as
(6) And to the end that the yearly contribution of the members may
be paid regularly and without trouble to the treasurer, every member
neglecting to pay the same as directed by the third article, shall
eo ipso not only forfeit all right in the Society, and be no longer
deemed a member thereof, but is hereby declared to be :ncapable of
being again received as a member upon any after application, unless
he shall justify such a cause of admission as excuses him from the
apparent contempt, and may induce the Society to admit him anew,
according to the fifth article, upon payment of such additional
contribution as to the meeting assembled for his re-admission shall
(7) That a concert of musick shall be performed every Friday during
the time of session, which shall begin precisely at six oclock in
the afternoon in summer, and at half an hour after five in the
(8) That there shall be no dividend made of any money arising from
the yearly contributions or otherwise, without the consent of the
governor and directors and two thirds of the members.
(9) That it shall belong to the governor and directors to appoint
concerts for the entertainment of the ladies at such times as they
shall think proper; that the tickets by which the ladies are to be
admitted shall be issued by the treasurer, not exceeding the number
of sixty (except on the Feast of St. Cecilia), to be purchased from
the treasurer by the members of the Society alone, at the rate of
half a crown each, upon the Wednesday immediately preceding the
concert, and if any are to be returned it shall only be on the
day-following, before one oclock in the afternoon.
(10) That the management of every matter and thing, whether
touching the performance of musick or the execution of the rules and
orders of the Society contained either in these articles, or found
afterwards convenient to be agreed to for the better government of
the Society, shall be the province of the governor and directors.
(11) That the treasurer shall fit his accompts yearly with the
governor and directors some time in the month of March.
(12) That the governor, deputy-governor, and directors shall have
the privilege of inviting one or two of their acquaintances to share
of the musick performed in the said concerts other than those to
which ladies happen to be invited, to which none but members are to
be admitted, unless in some very particular case it shall appear
reasonable to the governor and directors to allow of the same.
Maitland continues:The above contract and articles are subscribed
by the seventy members aforesaid. This Society was so highly
approved of, that many persons of distinction applied to be admitted
members. But the place of meeting not being capacious enough to
admit a great number, a few years after the erection of the Society,
thirty persons were admitted, whereby the members were increased to
one hundred in number, who continue to meet as aforesaid to divert
themselves and friends in the most agreeable and delightful manner
with both vocal and instrumental musick by a number of the best
Such is Maitlands account of the origin of an essentially amateur
society, destined to wield by its distinguished patronage a most
important influence over Scottish music to the end of the eighteenth
By the kindness of Mr. R. A. Marr, C-A., the well-known historian of
the rise of choral societies in Scotland, we are enabled to publish
a complete list of the members of the Musical Society of Edinburgh
at a time when its constitution may be taken as quite typical
Mr. Marr, in sending us this very rare pamphlet, w.ites:The list
as a record of names prominent in Edinburgh society of that period
is a very complete and useful one.
We reproduce it as Appendix No. III.
IV. Dr. Tobias Smollett on the Edinburgh Concert (1756).
There is, indeed, no elaborate reference in Humphry Clinker to the
Musical Society of Edinburgh, but a quite unequivocal allusion to it
occurring in one of the letters from Edinburgh is interesting.
It is dated Edinburgh, August 8th, and 1756 is, as we know from
other sources, the date of Smolletts visit:-it is addressed to Sir
Watkin Phillips, Bart., of Jesus College, Oxon, and contains the
following: All the diversions of London we enjoy at Edinburgh in
a small compass. Here is a well-conducted Concert, in which several
gentlemen perform on different instru ments. The Scots are all
musicians. Every man you meet plays on the flute, the violin, or the
violoncello, and there is one nobleman whose compositions are
Our company of actors is very tolerable, and a subscription is now
afoot for building a theatre, but their assemblies please me above
all other public exhibitions.
V. The Account in Defoe's Tour Through Great Britain'
Daniel Defoe, sent to Scotland by Godolphin to further secretly or
by any means in his power the union between England and Scotland,
resided in Edinburgh on several occasions between 1706 and 1712.
Defoe died in London on the 26th of April 1731, thirty-one years
before St. Cecilias Hall was built, and yet there is an allusion to
it in a work associated with Defoes name, the title of which is A
Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, originally begun by
the celebrated Daniel Defoe, continued by the late Mr. Richardson,
author of Clarissa, and brought down to the present time by a
gentleman of eminence in the literary world. Four volumes, London,
Leslie Stephen in his life of Defoe 2 gives the date of Defoes
Tour as 1724 to 1726, so that it is quite clear the description of
the hall is not by Defoe, but probably by the gentleman of eminence
in the literary world. It occurs ir. a letter dated 1768, and is as
The new concert-hall (built about three years ago) is an elegant
room of an elliptical form, with a concave ceiling and a large
skylight in the centre. From the ceiling depend seven handsome
branches filled with wax lights. It is most commodiously fitted up
with seats rising gradually above each other, and seems (upon the
whole) one of the best calculated rooms for music that is (perhaps)
to be met with in Britain. The roof, however, is thought to be
rather too low, and the room is more warm than is agreeable in
VI. Captain Topham's Account.
The following is from the Letters from Edinburgh of a Captain Topham,
an Englishman who resided in Edinburgh in 1774 and 1775 for a period
of six months. He writes :
One of the principal entertainments in Edinburgh is a concert which
is sapported by subscription, and under the direction of a governor,
deputy-governor, treasurer, and five directors, who procure some of
the best performers from other countries, and have a weekly concert
in an elegant room which they have built for that purpose, and which
is styled St. Cecilias Hall. It is rather too confined, but in
every other respect the best accommodated to music of any room I
ever was in. The figure of it is elliptical, and the roof is
vaulted, and a single instrument is heard in it with the greatest
possible advantage. The managers of the concert have a certain
number of tickets to distribute to their friends, so that none are
admitted but the people of fashion.
Though the band is a good one in general, yet I cannot say much of
the vocal performers. The natives of this country are not remarkable
for their abilities in singing, and except in a few of the real
Scotch tunes, I have never met with a voice that had either compass
or an agreeable tone. But in order to make up this defiri-ency in
their own countrymen, the managers take care to have some of the
best singers from London and Italy.
At present they have some tolerably good ones, who are not quite so
admired as a Gabrielli or a Tenducci would be, the latter of whom,
before he fled from Great Britain, resided here a considerable time,
and was one cause of introducing that rage for Italian music which
is now so predominant.
Indeed, the degree of attachment which is shown to music in general
:n this country exceeds belief. It is not only the principal
entertainment, but the constant topic of every conversation ; and it
is necessary not only to be a lover of it, but to be possessed of a
knowledge of the science, to make yourself agreeable to society. In
ain may a man of letters, whose want of natural faculties has
prevented him from understanding an art from which he could derive
no pleasure, endeavour to introduce other matters of discourse,
however entertaining in their nature : everything must give place to
Music alone engrosses every idea. In religion a Scotchman is grave
and abstracted, in politics serious and deliberate : it is in the
power of harmony alone to make him an enthusiast. What a misfortune,
it is to the country, and how trifling does it appear to a stranger,
to find so many philosophers, professors of science, and respectable
characters disputing on the merits of an Italian fiddle and the
preciseness of a demi-quaver, while poetry, painting, architecture,
and theatrical amusements, whose province it is to instruct as well
as to amuse, here couch beneath the dominion of an air or a ballad,
which at best were only invented to pass away a vacant hour or ease
the mind from more important duties.
VII. Hugo Arnofs Account.*
We give it in full:
Oftht Concert.The Musical Society of Edinburgh, whose weekly
concerts form one of the most elegant entertainments of that
metropolis, -was first instituted in the year 1728.
Before that time several gentlemen, performers on the harpsichord
and violin, had formed a weekly club at the Cross Keys tavern (kept
by one Steil, a great lover of musick and a good singer of Scots
songs), where the common entertainment consisted in playing the
concertos and sonatas of Corelli, then just published, and the
overtures of Handel.
That meeting becoming numerous, they instituted in March 1728 a
society of seventy members, for the purpose of holding a weekly
concert. A governor, deputy-governor, treasurer, and five directors
are annually chosen by the members for regulating the affairs of
this Society. Its meetings have been con tinued since that period
much on the same plan, only the place where they are held has been
changed from St. Marys Chapel to their own hall. These meetings are
only interrupted during three or four weeks of the vacation, in the
months of September and October.
The present concert-hall, which is situated in a centrical part of
the town, was built a.d. 1762. Tne plan was drawn by Sir Robert
Mylne, architect of Blackfriars-bridge, after the model of the great
opera-theatre at Parma, but on a smaller scale, and the expense was
defrayed by voluntary subscription among the members.
The musical room is reckoned uncommonly elegant. It is of an oval
form, the ceiling a concave elliptical dome, lighted solely from the
top by a lanihorn. Its construction is excellently adapted for
music; and the seats ranged in the room in the form of an
amphitheatre, besides leaving a large area in the middle of the
room, are capable of containing a company of about five hundred
persons. The orchestre is at the upper end, which is handsomely
terminated by an elegant organ.
The band consists of a maestro di capella, an organist, two
violins, two tenors, six or eight rifitnos, a double or contra base,
and harpsichord; and occasionally two French horns, besides
kettledrums, flutes, and clarinets. There is always one good singer,
and there are sometimes two, upon the establishment.
A few years ago the celebrated Tenducci was at the head of this
company. The principal foreign masters at present in the service of
the Musical Society are: first violin, Signor Puppo; second, Signor
Corri; violoncello, Schetky; singers, Signor and Signora Corri. All
of these are excellent in their different apartments. They have
salaries from the Society according to their respective merits.
Besides an ordinary concert, in honour of St. Cecilia, the
patroness of music, there are usually performed in the course of the
year two or three of Handels oratorios. That great master gave this
Society the privilege of having full copies made for them of all his
An occasional concert is sometimes given upon the death of a
governor or director. This is conducted in the manner of a concerto
spirituals. The pieces are of sacred music, the symphonies
accompanied with the full organ, French horns, clarinets,
kettledrums. Upon these occasions the audience is in deep mourning,
whch, added to the pathetic solemnity of the music, has a noble and
striking effect upon the mind. (One of these funeral concertswhich
have certainly no present day equivalentwe have alluded to on p.
154. This was the one in memory of Lord Drummore, given on the 27th
of June 1755, the whole company being dressed in the deepest
mourning. By the kindness of Mr. Marr we have been enabled to
reproduce the title-page of the programme, or, as we would now say,
book of words,issued for this funeral concert, which precious
relic is part of Mr. Marrs valuable musical collection.)
The music generally performed is a proper mixture of the modern and
ancient style. The former, although agreeable to the prevailing
taste, is not allowed to debar the amusement of those who find more
pleasure in the old compositions. In every plan there are one or tw
o pieces of Corelli, Handel, or Geminiani.
Among the number of members, which is now increased to two hundred,
there are many excellent performers who take their parts in the
orchestra especially in extraordinary concerts, where sometimes
Performed by The GENTLEMEN of
On the DEATH of
The Lord DRUMMORE,
27th JUNE, MDCCLV.
a whole act is performed solely by the
Formerly some of the members of this Society instituted a
catch-club which met after the concert. On the great concert in
honour of St. Cecilia the governor and directors were in use to
invite a few of their friends and strangers of fashion to an
entertainment of this kind after the concert, where select pieces of
vocal music were performed intermingled with Scots songs, duets,
catches, and glees. There were many excellent voices in the
catch-club who sung each their part at sight, and the easy
cheerfulness which reigned in this select society rendered their
When the Prince of Hesse was in Scotland in 174546, his Highness
and several of the nobility were elegantly entertained by Lord
Drummore, then Governor of the Musical Society, and the gentlemen of
the catch-club. The prince was not only a dilettante, but a good
performer on the violoncello. The Scots songs and English catches
were to him a new and an agreeable entertainment.
The selection of company which for some years gave high spirit and
repute to this joyous and convivial club by degrees relaxed: it of
course became numerous and expensive, and at last broke up.
Company are admitted to the entertainments of the concert by
special tickets which are not transferable, which serve for the
night only upon which they are granted; and in the admission, which
is always gratis, except at the benefit concerts given for the
emolument of performers, a preference is constantly shown to
By a uniform adherence to the spirit and rules of the Society, and
strict economy in the management of their funds, the Musical Society
has subsisted these fifty years with great honour and reputation,
and at present it is esteemed one of the most elegant and genteel
entertainments conducted upon the most moderate expense of any in
In the appendix to his History, Arnot says that in 1763 the concert
began at six oclock in the evening, and in 1783 at seven oclock:
finally a compromise was made, and 6.30 was the hour fixed on. Arnot
writes:"The barbarous custom of saving the ladies, as it was
called, after St. Cecilia's concerts, by the gentlemen drinking
immoderately to save his favourite lady, is now given upindeed
they got no thanks for their absurdity.
Chambers describes this custom. It was merely a particular form of
toast-drinking in which a man, challenged as to the charms of his
lady, dranK deeper to her in the next toast, and so saved her
(by damning himself, as our friends the teetotalers would tell us).
VIII. Kincaids Account of the Hall.
Kincaid, the well known Edinburgh printer of Bibles as printer to
the King in Scotlandhas left us a brief, but not wholly accurate,
account of St. Cecilias. He wrote in 1787, and his words are :
Concert Hall.This, otherwise called St. Cecilias Hall, was built
in 1762 under the direction of Sir Robert Mylne, architect of
Blackfriars Bridge, after the model of the opera theatre of Parma.
The building stands on the east side of Niddrys Wynd, near the
Cowgate, and will now be close by the same side of the South Bridge.
The room is excellently adapted for music, being oval, having a
concave ceiling of the same form; the seats are ranged round the
room in such a manner as to leave a large area in the middle. The
orchestre is at one end, and has an elegant organ. tively small
oval light in the centre of the oval ceiling, like the single eye of
The amount of light introduced into the room by this one vertical
light, like the Pantheon at Rome, is remarkable. It is impossible to
contemplate this room without concluding that he was an artistic and
original man who designed it.
X. In a work published in 1829, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott,
Bart., and possessed of the following ponderous titleModern
Athens, displayed in a Series of Views: or Edinburgh in the
Nineteenth Century, exhibiting the whole of the modern improvements,
antiquities, and picturesque scenery of the Scottish Metropolis and
its Environs, from original drawings by Mr. Thomas H. Shepherd, with
historical, topographical, and critical illustrations11St.
Cecilias Hall is thus briefly alluded to :
In 1728 a Musical Society was instituted in Edinburgh for weekly
concerts, and this not only gave encouragement to the science, but
created amateurs and professors. At first this Society assembled in
St. Marys Chapel, but increasing in number and property, The
Gentlemans Concert, as then called, built a hall in 1762 in
imitation of the opera-theatre at Paris. Mr. Robert Mylne, the
architect of Blackfriars Bridge, 1 London: Jones and Co., Finsbury
London, was engaged to design the building. The great music-room was
of an oval shape, lighted from the centre of a concave elliptical
dome, and the seats were arranged amphitheatrically to accommodate
an auditory of about five hundred persons. For some years this was a
strictly private society, and visitors were admitted by
complimentary tickets. (It would be charitable to believe that
Paris is a misprint for Parma: Peebles would have been quite as
near the truth.)
XI. Lord Cockburn on St. Cecilia's Hall
For example, St. Cecilias Hall was the only public resort of the
musical, and besides being our most selectly fashionable place of
amusement, was the best and most beautiful concert-room I have ever
yet seen, and there have I myself seen most of our literary and
fashionable gentlemen predominating with their side-curls and frills
and ruffles and silver buckles; and our stately matrons stiffened in
hoops and gorgeous satin, and our beauties with high-heeled shoes,
powdered and pomatomed hair, and lofty and composite head-dresses,
all this in the Cowgate, the last retreat nowadays of destitution
and disease. The building still stands, though raised and changed,
and is looked down upon from the South Bridge, over the eastern side
of the 1 Memorials of My Time, p. 29.
Cowgate arch. When I last saw it, it seemed to be partly an old
clothesmans shop and partly a braziers. In the Journal} when
enumerating the places of entertainment in Edinburgh in the end of
last century, Lord Cockburn says :St. Cecilias Hall, the
concert-room in the Cowgate, which, when it was built in 1762,
deserved the praise of Arnot for being situated in a centrical
part of the town, etc. etc.
In Grants Old and New Edinburgh the description is substantially
that by Arnot and by George Thomson: the former we have quoted
verbatim, and the latter we now proceed similarly to reproduce.
XII. George Thomson thus describes the scene of many of his happiest
The concerts of St. Cecilias Hall formed one of the most liberal
and attractive amusements that any city in Europe could boast of.
The hall was built on purpose at the foot of Niddrys Wynd by a
number of public-spirited noblemen and gentlemen, and the expense of
the concerts was defrayed by about two hundred subscribers paying
two or three guineas each annually; and so respectable was the
institution considered, that upon the death of a member there were
generally several applications for the vacancy, as is now ihe case
with the Caledonian Hunt. The concerts were managed by a governor
and a set of six or more directors, who engaged the performersthe
principal ones from Italy, one or two from Germany, and the rest of
the orchestra was made up of English and native artists.
The concerts were given weekly during most of the time that I
attended, the instrumental music consisting chiefly of the concertos
of Corelli and Handel and the overtures of Bach, Abel, Stamitz,
Vanhall, and latterly of Haydn and Pleyel; for at that time, and
till a good many years after, the magnificent symphonies of Haydn,
Mozart, and Beethoven, which now form the most attractive portions
of all public concerts, had not reached this country. Those truly
grand symphonies do not seem likely to be superseded by any similar
compositions for a century to come, transcending so immensely as
they do all the orchestral compositions that ever before appeared.
Yet I must not venture to prophesy, when I bear in mind what a
powerful influence fashion and folly exercise upon music as well as
upon other objects of taste.
When the overtures and quartetts of Haydn first found their way
into this country, I well remember with what coldness the former
were received by most of the grave Handelians, while at the theatres
they gave delight.
The vocal department of our concerts consisted chiefly of the songs
of Handel, Arne, Gluck, Sarti, Jornelli, Guglielmi, Paisiello,
Scottish songs, etc.; and every year generally we had an oratorio of
Handel performed with the assistance of a principal bass and a tenor
singer and a few chorus singers from the English Cathedrals,
together with some Edinburgh amateurs who cultivated that sacred and
sublime music, Signor and Signora Domenico Corri, the latter our
prima donna, singing most of the principal songs or most interesting
portion of the music. On such occasions the hall was always crowded
to excess by a splendid assemblage including all the beauty and
fashion of our city.
A supper to the directors and their friends at Fortunes Tavern
generally followed the oratorio, where the names of the chief
beaut'es who had graced the hall were honoured by their healths
being drunk. . . .
The hall, built in 1762 from a design of Mr. Robert Milne after the
model of the great opera-theatre of Parma, was an exact oval, having
a concave elliptical ceiling, and was remarkable for the clear and
perfect conveyance of sounds without responding echoes, as well as
for the judicious manner in which the seating was arranged. In this
last respect, I have seen no concert-room equal to it either in
London or Paris.
The orchestra was erected at the upper end of the hall opposite to
the door of entrance ; a portion of the area in the centre or widest
part was without any seats, and served as a small promenade where
friends could chat together during the interval of performance. The
seats were all fixed down on both sides of the hall, and each side
was raised by a gradual elevation from the level area backward, the
rows of seats behind each other, till they reached a passage a few
feet broad that was carried quite round the hall behind the last of
the elevated seats so that when the audience was seated each half of
it fronted the otheran arrangement much preferable to that commonly
adopted of placing all the seats upon a level behind each other, for
thus the whole company must look one way and see each others backs.
A private staircase at the upper end of the hall, not seen by the
company, admitted the musicians into the orchestra, in the front of
which stood a harpsichord with the singers and the principal
violoncellist, and behind these, on a platform a little elevated,
were the violins and other stringed and wind instruments, just
behind which stood a noble organ. The hall when filled contained an
audience of about four hundred. No money was taken for admission,
tickets being given gratis to the lovers of music and to strangers.
XIII. Sir Daniel Wilson, in the last edition (1891) of his Memorials
of Edinburgh in the Olden Time, thus speaks of St. Cecilias:
Only six years before the commencement of the works beyond the
North Loch, Sir Robert Mylne was employed to furnish the designs for
St. Cecilias Hall in the Cowgate. It was built after the model of
the great Theatre Farnese at Parma, and though now long deserted by
the votaries of St. Cecilia, it was admirably adapted for the
purposes of a concert-room, its oval form and elliptical ceiling, as
well as the skilful arrangement of the seats, uniting to convey
every note clearly and distinctly to the auditors. In this respect
the great Music Hall of the New Town is decidedly inferior,
notwithstanding the lapse of ahove eighty years since the building
of St. Cecilias Hall, and the great attention devoted in the
interval to the practical application of acoustics in architecture.
Such are the descriptions of these bygone concerts; but it must not
be imagined that the old hall was used for no other purpose than for
the concerts of. the * Musical Society of Edinburgh.
A study of old Edinburgh records clearly shows that St. Cecilias
Hall in the Niddry Wynd, although the property of the governors and
directors, was used for the following different kinds of concert or
1. The St. Cecilia Concert of the Musical Society, usually on a
Friday evening at 6 p.m.1 To this concert the public, as such, were
not admitted; the members needed no tickets, they went ex officus,
but each member (and all? the members were mensee Appendix III.)
could obtain ladies tickets by applying for them personally or by
Any member of the Musical Society could intro duce a guest of his
own or some distinguished person visiting the town.
Such an announcement as the following has reference to this regular
and, as it were, statutory concert of the great amateur society :
Edinburgh Evening Courant, February 13th, 1768.
The gentlemen of the Musical Society have appointed St. Cecilias
Concert to be held on Friday, 19th inst., beginning at six oclock
in the evening. The members will please call for ladies' tickets at
the usual place on Thursday.
2. A concert held on some special occasion either to honour some
individual or in commemoration of some high office-bearer in the
Musical Societyas, for instance, that on St. Cecilias Day,
November 22nd, or a funeral concert.
3. An oratorio, usually of Handels: thus Edinburgh Evening Courant,
July 30th, 1768:The gentlemen of the Musical Society have
appointed an Oratorio to be performed on Friday, 15th August next,
in St. Cecilias Hall. The members will please to call on Thursday
for tickets at the usual place. Each member can only have two
ladies tickets, and none will be given out but to a member himself
or to his signed order.
4. Concerts by order of the governors and directors of the Musical
Societyfor instance, a concert of Tenduecis on February 28th,
1769. These were concerts arranged by some musician, and the other
professional musicians who took part did so as engaged by him, and
not as officially belonging to the orchestra or in the pay of the
5. Benefit concerts for some distinguished professional musician.
These were either by authority or by permission of the
governors and directors of the Musical Society.
6. Concerts by particular desire of several persons of
distinction, who .may or may not have been members of the Musical
Societyfor instance, Tenduccis on May 25th, 1768. This may be
looked on as a St. Cecilia concert to which the public were
7. Concerts got up by some individual and held in St. Cecilias
Hall, in the announcements of which there is no mention whatever of
the Musical Society. The use of the hall, probably rented, must have
been privately arranged for by the musician giving the concert.
As examples of this class of concert:
Edinburgh Evetmig Courant', January 9th, 1768.
On Tuesday, 26th inst., Signor Arrigonis concert will be given in
St. Cecilias Hall, Niddrys Wynd. Tickets 2s. 6d., at Bremners
music-shop. To com mence at 5 p.m.
And the following :
On December 17th, 1768, Mr. Gilsons vocal and instrumental concert
in St. Cecilias Hall is annopnced for December 20th. Tickets 2s.
6d., it Balfours coffee-house and Bremners music-shop.
For concerts of classes three to seven the public could purchase
At some of these concerts many, probably all, the artistes in the
town at the time would contribute something, as at Mr. Thomsons
Concert, advertised on January 4th, 1769, when Tenducci, Madame
Doria, and Mr. Gilson all assisted as vocalists, and when an
overture by Lord Kelly, with clarionets, hautbois, German flutes,
French horns, and kettledrums, was performed.
8. An occasional lecture, it would seem, was given in the old
concert-hall, just as nowadays a conrert-room is sometimes used for
purposes other than musical. The Edinburgh Evening Courant of March
27th, 1769, announces:By particular permission, on Thursday, 30th
March inst., Mr. Stayley will deliver a public lecture on the Art of
Reading, with several pieces of music by the Principle (sic)
performers, at 7 p.m. Tickets 2s. 6d.
9. Meetings of the Ladies Academy : to this the following refers
:Edinburgh Evening Courant, November 21st, 1768:On Monday next
will be the second meeting of the Ladies Academy at St. Cecilias,
and by desire of the governess will begin precisely at 12 oclock.
Subscribers tickets to be got of Mr. Tenducci. The next tickets are
red, and no other tickets will be admitted but of that colour.
Anything relating to the musical instruments of the place we
welcome, especially after so long an interval. The organ mentioned
several times by contemporary writers is thus alluded to by Sir John
Graham Dalzell in his book on music in Scotland :1
There was an organ in the Concert Hall in 1765, whereon, at the
benefit of Doria, that musician was to perform a solo with a
pastorale. An organ reckoned good in its time served many years
there for performances: it was transferred to the Assembly Rooms,
George Street, about the year 1800, and it was finally taken down to
be employed, as far as might be, in other instruments seven or eight
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