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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s

Culture and Leisure


By John Purser

The formation of a University Choral Society, followed in 1928 by a University Chapel Choir for which Rachmaninov composed a work, and the creation of a Chair of music in 1929 established classical music at an academic level although at first the Professor also acted as Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. The bequest made to the University by the composer Sir John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) enabled a series of commissions and concerts of Scottish chamber music to be sustained until recently. The University was also home to Henry George Farmer (1882-1965), an outstanding musicologist and the first true historian of Scottish music.

The BBC Orchestra, founded in 1935 and transferred to Glasgow in 1939 was Scotland's first full time professional orchestra. Its association with Ian Whyte (1901-1960), also a distinguished composer, established its credentials in the performance of contemporary music. Seminal figures were the composers Francis George Scott (1880-1958) and Erik Chisholm (1904-1965). The latter set up the Active Society for Contemporary Music in 1929 and brought Casella, Hindemith, Sorabji and Bartok to Glasgow. It was in Glasgow under Chisholm's baton that the first complete performance of Berlioz's The Trojans was given.

Although the number of choral societies dropped dramatically, the Glasgow Orpheus Choir under Hugh Roberton (1874-1952) acquired a world-wide reputation. Music hall declined, but much of its character was retained in pantomime with Glasgow's own Alec Finlay (1906-1984) outstanding.

The 1950s were marked by a folk music revival and by the growth of Rock and Pop. Lonnie Donegan (1931-1992) and Alex Harvey (1935-1982) led the field.

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