Thomas Erskine -The 6th Earl of Kellie

At an early age the young Thomas developed a passion for music and began to learn violin probably under the tutelage of Thomas Pinto who regarded the budding violinist as not very good at this early stage.
Musical activities and composition benefited from the more stable social and economic situation during 18th century Britain resulting in the widespread founding of musical societies and promotion of concerts. At the same time, Scotsman John Broadwood introduced his modern pianos which were to become fixtures in many of the wealthier family households into the early 19th century.
Many major cities saw the influx of foreign musicians; Handel, Mozart then Haydn were all resident in Britain at some point during the 18th century. Edinburgh was no different and also attracted foreign musicians, especially Italians like Francesco Barsanti and Domenico Corri.
Edinburgh Musical Society was founded in 1728 and provided musical concerts throughout the 18th century to its' members. Thomas Erskine joined the Edinburgh Musical Society aged 17 as Lord Pittenweem, continuing his violin and general musical studies. He closely studied contemporary orchestral composition, works by Barsanti in particular. Although Thomas Pinto appears to be his first violin teacher, it is thought that he studied violin under William McGibbon, the Scottish composer and violinist.
Having eagerly followed musical developments and advances in Europe, Erskine set out in 1752 on the Grand Tour where his intention was to take advantage of any situation to develop his musical skills. He visited Mannheim, where the court orchestra practiced revolutionary orchestral techniques and resident composers wrote music which would be played by the orchestra. The young Erskine was energetically enthused by what he had discovered and on meeting the Bohemian (Czechoslovakian) composer and violinist, Johann Stamitz he began a few years of intensive musical enlightenment both instrumentally and in the art of composition, embracing the Mannheim techniques such as sudden whole orchestra crescendos and the separate treatment of the wind section. He shut himself away to master his violin playing and soaked in as much as he could from Stamitz. Stamitz, who contributed greatly to the development of Sonata Form, was to later greatly influence both Mozart and Haydn. It was a great tribute to Erskine that Stamitz published his 'Six Grand Orchestra Trios Opus 1' in August 1755, dedicated to "The Right Honourable Lord Pittenweem".
Erskine's concentrated musical advancement during four years at Mannheim and also probably a year in Paris with Stamitz was to come to an abrupt end when his father died in 1756, causing him to return to Scotland to assume the title 6th Earl of Kellie. The new Earl brought with him his enthusiasm for the Mannheim tradition which is evident in his own 'Opus 1', six overtures (symphonies) which are written in the style of Stamitz comprising of three movements and published by Robert Bremner of Edinburgh & London in 1761. Written for strings, oboes and horns with a figured bass for harpsichord they featured fast first and third movements with a slower second movement which would become the symphonic standard. The 'Opus 1' overtures were probably the first written in the modern symphonic style by a British composer and the British public were unaccustomed to hearing these techniques which were soon to become an embedded feature of symphonic music.
In November 1763 Bremner published a collection of "six symphonies in four parts proper for great or small concerts, composed by Signor Stamitz, his pupil the Right Honourable Earl of Kelly and others." In 1763 there was a pasticcio opera, 'Il Giacatore' produced in Edinburgh with an overture composed by Kellie and two years later a very popular comic opera 'The Maid of the Mill' was produced at Covent Garden with an overture composed by Kellie, the remainder of the music was written by Samuel Arnold. A young Mozart and his family arrived in London in 1778 and 'The Maid of the Mill' was one of the outstanding successes of that particular season with its' exciting rhythmic energy and soaring crescendos. Whether young Mozart heard a performance is unknown, although, Kellie's use of contrasting motifs was later to become a feature of Mozart's compositions, but J.C. Bach borrowed heavily for his 'Symphony in B Flat Opus 9' from Kellie's first movement of that piece. Kellie's 'Opus 2' was published in 1769. Six sonata for two violins and a bass which reverted to an older musical form.
In the years following his death, how often his works were performed is uncertain. Certainly from the Edinburgh Musical Society's performance plan books between 1782 and 1786, there were seventy performances of his overtures or symphonies, the most popular being his 'Periodical Overture No. 13' and his 'Overture No. 4', but all the chamber works seemed to be lost.
It is estimated that only around one sixth of his music was published in his lifetime.One reason why a great part of his work is lost stems from the character of the man. Renowned for his ability to compose very quickly often taking a few hours to compose an elaborate piece of music, Thomas Robertson was quoted "Being always remarkably fond of wind instruments, whenever he met with a good band of them, he was seized with the fit of composition and wrote pieces in the moment, which he gave away to the performers, and never saw again; and these, in his own judgment, were the best he ever composed."

A further advancement in the appreciation of Kellie's work was made in 1989 when Kilravock Castle, near Inverness was sold. A manuscript was found made for the Rose family around 1770. The manuscript contained nineteen works attributed to the Earl of Kellie, sixteen of which were assumed lost. Six string quartets, nine trio sonatas and a sonata for two violins. This has allowed further discussion of Kellie's work.
The discovery has enabled the recording of some of the assumed lost work of the earl of Kellie along with known surviving music and a CD is available on Hyperion Records by Concerto Caledonia called Fiddler Tam -The Music of Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie. An encouraging sign in the recognition of Kellie achieving his just position in musical history is the increased instances and appreciation of his work available on YouTube, many recordings made by international musicians.

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