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About SIUK

The Schubert Institute UK – Celebrating 30 years

By Paul Reid


As SIUK approaches its 30th anniversary in 2021, it seems appropriate to record its genesis and early history. It became clear to me during the 2019 Zoom AGM that knowledge of SIUK’s early days is patchy among many of our more recent members – understandably so, as some of the younger committee members would have been babes-in-arms when SIUK was inaugurated in 1991. Hopefully this account will be of particular interest to them, while also evoking nostalgic reminiscences among those of us who were there at the start. Inevitably a number of those mentioned here have died during the intervening years and it is important that their contribution to SIUK is remembered. 


The Schubert Institute (UK) was formally inaugurated in April 1991. It had been intended to name the new body ‘The Schubert Society’, but it was discovered that such a society already existed and so Schubert Institute it became. There was always some concern that ‘Institute’ sounds rather too businesslike and scientific, but one reason that this title was favoured was our affiliation with the International Franz Schubert Institute (IFSI) in Vienna. 


IFSI had been inaugurated four years previously, in May 1987, with the clear aim of promoting serious Schubert scholarship. IFSI’s General Secretary Ernst Hilmar, who spoke at the SIUK inauguration ceremony, actively encouraged the setting up of national Schubert societies in other countries, and both he and Elizabeth Norman McKay (an IFSI committee member) welcomed the creation of SIUK and its new name. Of the many national Schubert institutes set up around this time, SIUK is one of the few which has survived and flourished. Indeed, IFSI itself was dissolved in 2003. At the time the link between SIUK and IFSI was very real and I was one of several members who took advantage of the dual membership deal (then only £10 for SIUK membership or £15 for membership of both institutes).


The first Chairman of SIUK was John Reed whose reputation as a Schubert scholar had recently been further enhanced by the publication of his Schubert Song Companion. John was an ideal choice, an enthusiastic amateur who through tireless study had become a Schubert scholar of international repute. Elizabeth Norman McKay acted as Honorary Secretary, with Ewan West as her assistant and Treasurer, while Patricia Troop took on the role of Membership Secretary. Elizabeth also edited the twice-yearly SIUK Newsletter – a modest forerunner of the current Schubertian. 


The first Schubert Study Day was held in Oxford in October 1991. Although the format was the academic one of four presentations, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly throughout and set the tone for future SIUK events. Another aspect which has continued was the inclusion of live music: in this case, a rough-and-ready rendition of Schubert part songs led by Judith Blezzard and ably accompanied by Jennifer Partridge. It was clear at once that SIUK is a forum for the meeting of like-minded enthusiasts and even at this first meeting new acquaintances were formed which grew in many instances into closer friendships. The second Study Day took place in Leeds the following year and further days followed in Oxford again, Cambridge and Manchester. The committee soon decided to drop ‘Study’ and refer simply to ‘Schubert Days’, as the academic input was only part of a very enjoyable shared experience. So they remain.


This is not the place to list the many topics covered by knowledgeable speakers, nor the great variety of venues. Members will find a summary of Schubert Days, speakers and performers from 1991 until 2005 in The Schubertian No. 50. It was never intended that SIUK should become a concert promoter, but over the years we have heard many fine performances of Schubert works, including numerous songs, piano works (solo and duet) and chamber works. Performers have included established artists as well as gifted students.


SIUK experienced an early crisis early in 1993 when Elizabeth McKay resigned from the committee, leaving the positions of secretary and editor vacant at a stroke. There had been some disagreement as to the character and aims of SIUK. Elizabeth had always regarded SIUK as a forum for Schubert research at the highest level, while John Reed stressed its inclusivity and insisted that SIUK must welcome all Schubertians, whether academics, performers or plain enthusiasts. It is this inclusivity which has been such a marked feature of SIUK’s success, vitality and comparative longevity and which continues today. 


To fill the immediate void left by Elizabeth’s departure, Patricia Troop stepped in as Honorary Secretary and I took over the editorship of the newsletter, which became The Schubertian during my tenure. After some short tenures, the post of Membership Secretary was ably filled by Dieter Pevsner. Our Treasurer was Robin Jessel.


In the early days of SIUK our finances were in a fragile state; the shoe string was fraying. We cadged premises for our Schubert Days and for committee meetings, and there was no question of fees for speakers or travel expenses for committee members. Our very survival at this time is due to the generosity of Robin Jessel; he had access to a family trust fund and was prepared to donate from this on more than one occasion to keep SIUK alive. Robin also organised, at his own expense, the drawing up of the SIUK constitution by his solicitors. Later we were to find in John Fraser a Treasurer of similar generosity, who donated £5000 to help us buy the Maurice Brown Nachlass which forms the nucleus of our Research Centre collection in Leeds.


After a three-year tenure, John Reed stepped down as Chairman, as he had always intended to, being by then in his eighties. He was succeeded by Professor Brian Newbould in 1994. During his time in office much was achieved, including a very successful residential weekend in Ripon in 1997 (to mark Schubert’s bicentenary) and the international Schubert Conference held in Leeds in 2000. The latter event comprised talks by some leading international scholars, including such luminaries as Walther Dürr and Charles Rosen, and a programme of concerts at Leeds University and Harewood.


In May 1997 one of our chief educational aims was achieved with the official inauguration of the Schubert Institute Research Centre (SIRC) within the Special Collections department of Leeds University library. The books and papers of the Schubert scholar Maurice Brown form the nucleus of the collection and these include a voluminous correspondence between Brown and Otto Erich Deutsch, It was fitting then that the daughters of these two scholars attended the inauguration ceremony. The SIRC was officially opened by the Earl of Harewood.


We had quickly realised that many of our members found attendance at Schubert Days difficult and our journal The Schubertian was, if not exactly a lifeline, the organ which kept members in touch and informed. I found that editing the journal was hard, but enjoyable work and learned much about proofreading from John Reed and much about desk-top publishing from an IT school colleague. When Richard Morris - a self-proclaimed ‘fan’ and great collector - took over as Editor in September 1997, with the assistance of Andrew Shackleton in layout and production, the journal continued to thrive and acquired a more professional aspect. The growth of The Schubertian from a ‘house’ newsletter (with occasional articles borrowed from IFSI) into the respected journal we have today reflects the growth of SIUK and the increasing diversity of our membership. 


This covers in outline the early years of SIUK. I regret the fact that some key figures in the life of SIUK will not find their names here, as their contribution is of more recent date. I hope they will forgive the omission. I make one exception: tribute must be paid to Crawford Howie who succeeded me as Chairman in 2007, after editing The Schubertian for several years prior to this. During his long tenure as Chairman he continued to edit our journal and even acted as Treasurer for a while when committee officers were in short supply. It is due to him that SIUK has survived and flourished. 


Finally I am delighted to report that we have recently welcomed new blood and new ideas to the committee and with their input we look forward to a secure and vibrant future, continuing to provide - as envisaged by our founding chairman John Reed - an inclusive forum for all Schubertians.

This article also appears in the January 2021 edition of The Schubertian

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