Charles Kennedy Scott: Fifty Years On

“His ideals were of the highest, he lived and breathed music, and his life and work will remain a continual inspiration” Harold Rutland

Charles Kennedy Scott, by unknown artist, owned by Trinity Laban

Charles Kennedy Scott, by unknown artist, from the collections of Trinity Laban (via BBC Your Paintings)

Our latest exhibition, now on display in the library, celebrates the life and career of Charles Kennedy Scott (1876-1965), a former member of staff at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban), who died 50 years ago. Described by Sir Thomas Beecham as ‘the greatest choir-trainer in the world,’ Scott was a hugely influential musician, music director, writer and educator. Over a long career he made important contributions to the revival of early music, and to the promotion of contemporary choral composition. This exhibition showcases material from our Charles Kennedy Scott archive including some of Scott’s personal papers and unpublished music manuscripts, along with material relating to his choirs and his involvement with Trinity.

The Oriana Madrigal Society, founded in 1904, was perhaps Scott’s greatest project. His chief object was to perform English madrigals from their Elizabethan heyday and in so doing made an important contribution to the early music revival. The choir was initially comprised of amateur singers, who were expected to pay a subscription fee, but Scott nevertheless demanded high standards and the choir quickly gained respect and prominence. His book Madrigal Singing was written as a kind of manual designed especially for his singers’ private study. He also published the Elizabethan repertoire they sang in the Euterpe series which ran from 1905 until 1914.

Programme for the Oriana Madrigal Society’s first concert on 4 July 1904

Programme for the Oriana Madrigal Society’s first concert on 4 July 1904 at the Portman Rooms

“The Oriana Madrigal Society under its conductor Mr Charles Kennedy Scott gave a concert of exceptional interest at Wigmore Hall on Tuesday evening” The Times, 7 July 1947

Although always staying true to their madrigal-singing origins, Scott soon allowed the repertoire of the Oriana Madrigal Society to diversify and they became important proponents of new vocal music. They were invited to sing, for instance, at Balfour Gardiner’s series of concerts in 1912 which promoted contemporary English composers. Over the years Bax, Delius, Holst and Vaughan Williams all wrote works for the choir. Scott continued to conduct until 1961 when he retired at the age of 85 after a concert at the Wigmore Hall which was attended by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Alongside the long-running Oriana Madrigal Society, Scott was busily engaged with several other projects. In 1919 he founded the Philharmonic Choir and with them gave, among other significant performances, the première of Delius’ Requiem. The choir was disbanded in 1939 at the onset of the Second World War but its singers reformed in 1946 to become what is now the London Philharmonic Choir. In 1926, in a move towards historical performance practice, Scott set up the Bach Cantata Club. At that time it was usual to perform Bach’s work with huge forces; instead Scott wanted to perform the works as Bach intended, on a smaller scale. The Phoebus Singers, another group set up by Scott, was notable for performing concerts during the Second World War, often at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) which continued operating throughout the war.

Programme for Phoebus Singers concert, 14 February 1945, Trinity College of Music

Programme for Phoebus Singers concert, 14 February 1945, Trinity College of Music

As a member of staff at Trinity from 1929 until 1965, Scott was an influential figure. He conducted the college choir, taught singing, examined for the college and was a member of the corporation and board. Lectures in plainsong and a choir devoted to singing plainsong were both innovations of his, and contributed towards making the college renowned for its early music teaching. Scott was known for his somewhat strict manner in classes and rehearsals, but was nevertheless remembered with great respect.

“Singing plainsong with CKS was a remarkable experience … his own passion for the music flowed from his hands, hardly moving, as he conducted us”. Barrie Wyse (former student)

Several of Scott’s students went on to enjoy high-profile musical careers, including Dame Margaret Price (soprano) and James Gaddarn (conductor). After his death in 1965 Charles Kennedy Scott’s legacy lived on at Trinity with a centenary concert in 1976 and through the annual Kennedy Scott Prize.

In conjunction with this exhibition we have catalogued our Charles Kennedy Scott Archive in full. You can see the full catalogue here on the Archives Hub. If you wish to view any of the material from the archive please get in touch with us to make an appointment.

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