The Hardie Press

Music publishers and distributors of music books, Edinburgh

Earl of Kelly (1732-1781)

Thomas Alexander Erskine, the sixth Earl of Kelly, born in Fife and educated in Edinburgh, was Scotland's major composer during the early Classical period. Beginning violin at an early age with Samuel Thom, Kelly was then taught by the Edinburgh violinist, William McGibbon from whom he received lessons in violin and composition. In his late teens he was admitted to the Edinburgh Musical Society's orchestra as a playing member. At the age of 19 he went abroad on the Grand Tour and spent most of his time in Mannheim where he was under the direct tutelage of Johann Stamitz. He returned home to Scotland after his father's death in 1756, but the Mannheim style was a continuing influence in his music as is demonstrated in his first set of symphonies published in 1761-2 by Robert Bremner in Edinburgh and London, and these Six Overtures op. 1 became widely performed and acclaimed.

Much of Kelly’s music is lost - only perhaps a sixth of his output was published in his lifetime (10 overtures, 6 trios, 1 song and about 20 minuets). With the discovery in 1989 of the Kilravock Manuscript made for the Rose family of Kilravock Castle, near Inverness (containing several substantial chamber works for strings) the picture of him as a composer has filled out greatly. Kelly was a serious artist, who set himself to solve the basic problems of language, gesture and form in the new musical style that emerged as Viennese Classicism.