Watson Forbes

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Watson Douglas Buchanan Forbes (16 November 1909 in St Andrews – 25 June 1997 in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire) was a Scottish violist and classical music arranger. From 1964 to 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

St Andrews Town in Fife, Scotland

St Andrews is a town on the east coast of Fife in Scotland, 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Dundee and 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Edinburgh. St Andrews has a recorded population of 16,800 in 2011, making it Fife's fourth largest settlement and 45th most populous settlement in Scotland.

Moreton-in-Marsh Town in Gloucestershire, England

Moreton-in-Marsh is a small market town in the Evenlode Valley, within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Gloucestershire, England.

Viola bowed string instrument

The viola ( vee-OH-lə, alsovy-OH-lə, Italian: [ˈvjɔːla, viˈɔːla]) is a string instrument that is bowed or played with varying techniques. It is slightly larger than a violin and has a lower and deeper sound. Since the 18th century, it has been the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin (which is tuned a perfect fifth above) and the cello (which is tuned an octave below). The strings from low to high are typically tuned to C3, G3, D4, and A4.


Early life

Watson Forbes was born in St Andrews, where his parents kept a jewellers shop. [1] He first learnt the violin from his father, who was a Scottish country[ clarification needed ] fiddler. Showing promise, at the age of 16 he was sent to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied violin and viola. He gradually specialised on the viola, for both musical and pragmatic reasons. In 1930, he went to Pisek in Czechoslovakia to study with Otakar Ševčík, whose intricate system of exercises revolutionised string playing; he felt he had benefited enormously from this period: "Sevcik taught me how to practise and how to tackle difficult passages." Following this concentration on technique, Forbes had lessons from Albert Sammons. "He was marvellous. He taught me how to perform - how to put music across to an audience." [1]

The Royal Academy of Music in London, England, is the oldest conservatoire in the UK, founded in 1822 by John Fane and Nicolas-Charles Bochsa. It received its Royal Charter in 1830 from King George IV with the support of the first Duke of Wellington. It is one of the leading conservatoires in the UK, rated fourth in the Complete University Guide and third in the Guardian University Guide for 2018. Famous Academy alumni include Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Elton John and Annie Lennox.

Otakar Ševčík Czech violinist

Otakar Ševčík was a Czech violinist and influential teacher. He was known as a soloist and an ensemble player, including his occasional performances with Eugène Ysaÿe.


The invitation to join the Stratton Quartet set the direction of his career. The Stratton was Elgar's preferred quartet, and their recordings in 1933, of his String Quartet and Piano Quintet were the music he chose to listen to on his deathbed. Forbes remained with the Stratton for the rest of its existence as such.

The Stratton String Quartet was a well-known British musical ensemble active during the 1930s and 1940s. They were specially associated with the performance of British music, of which they gave numerous premieres, and were a prominent feature in the wartime calendar of concerts at the National Gallery. After the War the group was re-founded as the Aeolian Quartet.

Edward Elgar English composer

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. He was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1924.

The Quintet in A minor for Piano and String Quartet, Op. 84 is a chamber work by Edward Elgar.

At the start of the Second World War, Forbes was joint leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, but from 1940 onwards he joined the RAF Symphony Orchestra which contained a number of small groups of chamber music players. He toured the UK in a piano quintet which included Denis Matthews, Frederick Grinke and James Whitehead. He also made many appearances in Myra Hess's concerts at the National Gallery. After the war he continued with the Stratton quartet, but now, following the departure of George Stratton, renamed the Aeolian Quartet. He also played with other groups, and as a soloist. In 1954 he became professor of viola and chamber music at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In his recitals, he often played on the rare Stradivarius Archinto viola (1696) owned by the Royal Academy.

London Symphony Orchestra oldest symphony orchestra in London

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), founded in 1904, is a British Orchestra and the oldest of London's symphony orchestras. It was set up by a group of players who left Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra because of a new rule requiring players to give the orchestra their exclusive services. The LSO itself later introduced a similar rule for its members. From the outset the LSO was organised on co-operative lines, with all players sharing the profits at the end of each season. This practice continued for the orchestra's first four decades.

Denis Matthews British musician

Denis Matthews was an English pianist and musicologist.

Frederick Grinke CBE was a Canadian born violinist who had an international career as soloist, chamber musician, and teacher. He was known especially for his performances of 20th-century English music.

In 1964 Forbes moved to Glasgow to take up the post of Head of Music for BBC Scotland. There he safeguarded and expanded the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, then under threat, and fostered the Scottish musical culture of the day (including traditional Scottish music, with a fiddle competition in Perth at which Yehudi Menuhin was chief adjudicator).

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. It is the fifth most visited city in the UK.

BBC Scotland Scottish division of the British Broadcasting Corporation

BBC Scotland is a division of the BBC and the main public broadcaster in Scotland.

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Scottish symphony orchestra based in Glasgow

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a Scottish broadcasting symphony orchestra based in Glasgow. One of five full-time orchestras maintained by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), it is the oldest full-time professional radio orchestra in Scotland. The orchestra is based at City Halls in Glasgow.

Throughout his working life, but especially in retirement he worked on one of his most enduring legacies as a musician, namely an extensive series of arrangements to expand the viola repertoire, and a series of educational collections for other instruments.

In 1970 he was made an honorary Doctor of Music by the University of Glasgow and in 1972 was awarded the Cobbett Memorial Prize for services to chamber music.

Doctor of Music academic degree given in music

The Doctor of Music degree is a higher doctorate awarded on the basis of a substantial portfolio of compositions and/or scholarly publications on music. Like other higher doctorates, it is granted by universities in the United Kingdom, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries. Most universities restrict candidature to their own graduates or staff, which is a reversal of the practice in former times, when candidates for the degree were not required to be a Master of Arts.

University of Glasgow University located in Glasgow, Scotland and founded in 1451.

The University of Glasgow is a public research university in Glasgow, Scotland. Founded by papal bull in 1451, it is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Along with the universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews, the university was part of the Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century.

Walter Willson Cobbett British amateur musician

Walter Willson Cobbett CBE was a British businessman and amateur violinist, and editor/author of Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music. He also endowed the Cobbett Medal for services to chamber music.

Personal life

In 1937 Forbes married Mary Hunt (died 1997). They had two sons, Sebastian, who became a composer and Rupert, who became a singer. The marriage was dissolved, and secondly he married Jean Beckwith.

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  1. 1 2 Obituary in The Independent