Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley (1830-1903)

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Reid Professor of Music, 1865-1891

Early Life

Herbert Stanley Oakeley was born in Ealing on 22nd July 1830; second son of Sir Herbert Oakeley, 3rd Baronet. Educated at Rugby School, where his musical gifts as a talented pianist and organist attracted early attention, he continued his studies at Christ Church, Oxford from where he graduated with a B.A. Oxf. in 1853 and an M.A. in 1856; He studied harmony and theory of music under Stephen Elvey and in 1855 travelled to Leipzig where he attended classes given by Moscheles, Papperitz and Plaidy at the Conservatorium founded by Mendelssohn. At this time he made the acquaintance of Clara Schumann, Hauptmann, David Rontgen and performed in Berlin to Paul Mendelssohn, brother of Felix Mendelssohn, and met and interviewed Meyerbeer.

In 1863 he made a return visit to Germany working in Dresden with the famous organist, Johann Gottleib Schneider, met Franz Lachner in Munich, and travelled on to Vienna and Rome where he had a meeting with Liszt with whom he discussed some of his own compositions. Across Europe he became known as a popular composer of songs and anthems and continued to build his reputation as an organist and composer, with exceptional skills in improvisation, and as a writer on music. From 1858 to 1866 he was the music critic of the Manchester Guardian and this work brought him into contact with many leading musicians of the day.


In 1865 he was appointed, to the Reid Chair of Theory of Music at the University of Edinburgh, a position he was to retain until his retirement in 1891. His Inaugural Address was delivered in the Music Class-room and included the words "I shall deem it my duty to take anxious care that the benefits contemplated in this magnificent foundation shall never be lost through any fault or remissness of mine." He considered his role to be to develop thoroughness in musical training and looked forward to the day when Edinburgh would offer degrees and graduation in Music. Also of importance was the widening of the basis of understanding and appreciation of and regard for the treasures to be found in orchestral and chamber music.

Development of Music

He started by raising the profile of the annual Reid Concert, bringing together orchestral musicians from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London alongside internationally celebrated conductors and soloists including Teresa Tietjens, Alfredo Piatti, Clara Schumann, August Manns and Charles Halle. From 1869 to 1891 Professor Oakeley engaged Sir Charles Halle and his orchestra for the annual Reid Concert, offering high quality orchestral concerts and introducing a range of exciting instrumental and vocal works to the Edinburgh audiences.

At the same time Oakeley himself spread his love of organ music by performing eight fortnightly organ recitals each session on the organ built in 1861 by Hill and Son of London in the Reid Music Class-room. In, 1866/67, along the lines of the Musical Society he had known during his student days in Oxford, he established the Edinburgh University Musical Society with whom he worked to present an orchestral concert each year in March: Professor Oakeley was the conductor and president, senior University professors were vice-presidents, the University Librarian was the Treasurer and patron of the Musical Society was, from 1874, H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh. He also served as ex-officio Vice President of the Scottish Musical Society


Queen Victoria visited Edinburgh in 1876 to unveil a monument to the late Prince Consort at a ceremony which Professor Oakeley wrote and directed the music, and later, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Professor Oakeley was awarded the honour of a knighthood. Some years later in 1881 he was appointed Composer of Music to Her Majesty in Scotland. Many universities conferred upon him Honorary Degrees including Mus.D.(Camb. 1871, Lambeth 1871, Oxf. 1879, Dublin 1887, St. And. 1878, Adelaide 1895, Edin. 1899); D.C.L. Trinity Coll. Toronto 1876; LL.D. (Aberd. 1881, Edin. 1891, Glasg. 1901). During his time in Edinburgh he served as Director of Music at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. After twenty-five years in post he petitioned in October 1890 the University Court for, and was granted, permission to retire on medical grounds that he was unable to discharge the duties of office. In April 1891, Professor Kirkpatrick, in presenting him for the Honorary Degree of LL.D. said "This University owes him cordial gratitude, and she grieves to be about to part from a most distinguished member, and a beloved friend." In 1899 he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Mus.D.

Later Years

Oakley retired to London in May 1891 much to the regret of the University authorities. He died at Eastbourne on 26th Oct. 1903.

Notable Works

These include:

  • Anthems, songs and hymn tunes: Abends and Edina and other hyms
  • The morning & evening service together with the office of the Holy Communion set to music in the key of E flat
  • National melodies (Scottish) for male voices
  • Evening & morning : ("Comes, at times", &c) ; quartett & chorus
  • Twenty songs: with English, French, German, or Italian words
  • Jubilee Cantata written for the Cheltenham Festival in 1887
  • Student songs
  • Orchestral and Instrumental: Edinburgh March
  • Funeral March
  • Suite in Olden Style
  • Romance and Rondo capriccioso
  • Piano sonata
  • Three romances for pianoforte, op. 33
  • Preludes and fugues for organ.