History of ABRSM
‘The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music’ was founded in 1889 as the outcome of a proposition by Sir Alexander MacKenzie, principal of the Royal Academy of Music, to Sir George Grove, director of the Royal College of Music, that their two pre-eminent musical training institutions unite to create an examining body ‘inspired by disinterested motives for the benefit of musical education... which would genuinely provide a stimulus and an objective for a high standard of achievement’. The new body was designed to provide an impartial and authoritative alternative to privately owned examining institutions that were widely perceived to be motivated more powerfully by mercenary concerns than by the Board’s desire to promote high standards of musical education and assessment.
The first Board that governed under MacKenzie and Grove and the chairmanship of Lord Charles Bruce consisted of such luminaries as Sir Arthur Sullivan (a prolific composer most famous for his comic operatic collaborations with librettist W. S. Gilbert), Sir John Stainer, Sir Walter Parratt, Sir Charles Stanford and Sir Hubert Parry, a leading choral composer best known for his setting of William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was an actively involved president and held annual meetings of the new examining body at his home, Marlborough House.
Sir Hubert Parry himself outlined the founding principles and aims of the Board: “For the most part the objects which approve themselves to us are not so much the award of well-deserved certificates… but to give people something definite to work for; to counteract the tendency to sipping and sampling which so often defeats the aspirations of gifted beings, and also to give people… opportunities to be intimately acquainted with the finest kinds of musical art, and to maintain standards of interpretation and an attitude of thoroughness in connection with music which will enable it to be most fruitful of good.”