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In 1806, a Chair in Music was created. General John Reid had made a 'generous' provision in his will for a 'Professorship of Music in the College and University of Edinburgh'. However, it was not until 1839 that John Thomson was appointed as the Reid Professor of Music. This meant that Edinburgh was the first British university (after Oxford and Cambridge) to have a permanent Chair in the subject.

Thomson died shortly after taking up the post and was succeeeded by Henry Rowley Bishop. Next came John Donaldson (1789-1865) and it was on Donaldson's watch that major development of the subject area began to take place, including, in 1860, the Reid School of Music in Teviot Place, built as a classroom and concert hall. Donaldson was succeeded by Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley (1830-1903) in 1865. In 1891, Frederick Niecks (1845-1924) was appointed to succeed Oakeley.

In 1891, new Ordinances provided for 'Regulations for Degrees in Music. In 1894, this was approved by Parliament and the Faculty of Music now exisited in its own right. Previously Music came under the aegis of the Faculty of Arts.

Niecks was succeeded, in 1914, by Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940). Tovey founded the Reid Orchestra. Thereafter followed Sidney Newman in 1941, Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) in 1970 and Nigel Osborne in 1989. In 1970, a new Tovey Chair was established, with Michael Tilmouth its first incumbent.

Newman oversaw significant expansion of the faculty, the foundation of the Edinburgh Quartet, the acquisition of the Russell Collection and the restoration of St. Cecilia’s Hall as its home.

In 1967, the Faculty moved to Alison House in Nicolson Square. In 2002, university restructuring led to the replacement of Faculties by Colleges and Schools. The Faculty of Music thus became the Reid School of Music, a constituent part of the School of Arts, Culture and Environment within the College of Humanities and Social Science.

Further restructuring ensued in 2011, when Edinburgh College of Art merged with Edinburgh University. The School of Arts, Culture, and Environment was subsumed within an enlarged Edinburgh College of Art (which became a new school of the College of Humanities and Social Science). The Reid School of Music retains its distinctive identity within the Edinburgh College of Art.