The First Edinburgh Musical Festival of 1815

Two hundred years ago today, at ten o’clock in the morning, musicians from London, Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh gathered together for a first rehearsal to present a musical extravaganza never before heard in Scotland, a musical festival! Edinburgh enjoyed its first ‘Festival Week’.

“From England, and the remotest parts of Scotland, individuals and whole families poured into the city. Every house and every room that could be obtained was occupied by persons of all ranks and ages…” (G. F. Graham, 1816 in his Account of the first Edinburgh Musical Festival).

Concerts sold out very quickly and directors immediately arranged an extra performance.

Newspaper cutting
Announcement of the additional concert in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, 2 November, 1815










The National Library of Scotland is presenting a small display of material from its collections relating to the festival: concert programmes, newspaper articles and music scores. The display opens today and runs until Mon 30 November 2015.

For enquiries email


The festival was announced with some detail in the Edinburgh Evening Courant on 26 October 1815.

Newspaper cutting
of the festival
in the Edinburgh Evening Courant,
26 October, 1815

The first concert took place at Parliament-house the morning of 31 October 1815 showcasing popular sacred music by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) and Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

Title-page of programme
Concert programme of the first concert on 31 October, 1815

The first piece of music played in the festival was the overture to Handel’s oratorio Esther.

Music score
The overture to Handel’s Esther published by John Walsh in 1732


For more information on the extensive collections of music in the National Library of Scotland visit the website, watch an introductory video on YouTube and find free full-text music to enjoy.