How do we distil over 100 years of music into this page?
It is said that Andrew Usher sparked the idea of a ‘concert hall for Edinburgh’ whilst chatting away over the counter of his jewellers in Rose Street. His ‘desire and intention’ was that this Hall ‘should become and remain a centre and attraction to musical artistes and performers and to the citizens of Edinburgh and others who may desire to hear good music...’
On 23 June 1896 it was formally announced that Andrew Usher had gifted £100,000 to The City of Edinburgh. The purpose of the money was to provide a City Hall, to be used for concerts, recitals, or other entertainments or performances of a musical nature, and for civic functions, or such other performances as the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council saw fit. Above all it was to be about the music. Edinburgh was very much lacking a hall for such musical and civic purposes, as stated in the Scotsman the following day; ‘The necessity for a great hall in Edinburgh under city management has been pressed upon the attention of the public for many years.’
Sadly Andrew Usher died before his dream was realised.
19 July 1911 saw the state visit of King George and Queen Mary and one of their duties while in the city was to lay two memorial stones. Within the foundation stone is a lead casket containing all the coins of the realm, a copy of the City Chamberlain’s accounts, a copy of The Scotsman the Edinburgh Evening News, a list of city officials, a list of the Town Council, and a copy of Andrew Usher’s deed of gift.
The building was officially opened by Andrew Usher’s widow on 6 March 1914. Three celebratory concerts took place featuring music from Handel, Bach, MacCunn, Wagner and Beethoven.
'It is not too much to say that those present, who saw the hall for the first time, were greatly struck with its dignified proportions, its open and airy aspect, and the character of its decorative detail'. The Scotsman (7 March 1914)
Today, the much praised acoustics make it one of the best concert halls in Europe with many of the world's finest musicians performing here. The Usher Hall is the city's key venue for visiting national and international orchestras and has been the main venue for the Edinburgh International Festival since 1947. The venue is a centre of excellence embracing the widest range of music and events, including rock, pop, jazz, world, blues, comedy, talks, school concerts, conferences, sponsorship events, ceremonies, lectures and recording sessions.
The Usher Hall’s organ is one of its chief glories. It was designed to be the focal point of the Hall, not just visually but musically. By 1912, the city was ready to find the best candidate to build the organ and after extensive investigation, Norman Beard of London was awarded the contract. The original organ, installed late in 1913 was of outstanding quality and design, constructed on the grandest scale with a Spanish mahogany case built by Adam Currie of Edinburgh.
The organ is used regularly in concerts today.