Life and career
Forbes came from a Boston Brahmin family; his father was the director of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum. He attended Harvard, receiving a BA in 1941 and an MA in 1947, both in music; he studied with Walter Piston, and while he was a graduate student, he was assistant conductor of the Harvard Glee Club. From 1947-58, he taught at Princeton University, but in 1958 he returned to Harvard and remained there for the rest of his life as Fanny Peabody Professor of Music (and, after 1984, Professor Emeritus.)
He was the chief conductor of the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society from 1958-1970; his students included Isaiah Jackson, now director of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, and William Christie, founder and director of the European baroque ensemble Les Arts Florissants. While conductor, he led both groups on a tour around the world in 1967.
Aside from conducting, his scholarly work focused on the life and work of Beethoven, particularly his choral music. His edition of Thayer's Life of Beethoven (1964) has been called "a substantial contribution to Beethoven scholarship." He also wrote two notable volumes of the history of music at Harvard, and edited the Harvard-Radcliffe Choral Music Series. He was on the boards of the New England Conservatory, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, whose piano is dedicated in his honor.
He received Harvard's Alumni Medal in 1991 and an honorary doctorate in 2003. Right up to his death, he remained an unflagging supporter of undergraduate performers, frequently attending events at which he was the only faculty member present.
- A Neglected Work in Beethoven's Choral Music: the Funeral Cantata, Essays on Music in Honor of Archibald Thompson Davison (Cambridge, MA, 1957), 253–61
- Ed.: Thayer's Life of Beethoven (Princeton, NJ, 1964, 2/1967)
- The Choral Music of Beethoven, American Choral Review, xi/3 (1968–9) [whole issue]
- Beethoven as a Choral Composer, PRMA, xcvii (1970–71), 69–82
- Beethoven's Choral Music: a Reappraisal, American Choral Review, xxiv/2–3 (1982), 67–82
- A History of Music at Harvard (Cambridge, MA, 1988–93)
- Mark, Feeney; Edgar J. Driscoll Jr. (2006-01-13). "Elliot Forbes, 88; professor had led Harvard Glee Club". The Boston Globe (Globe Newspaper Company). Retrieved 2006-12-22.
- Kreger, Dr. Bernard. "Harvard Glee Club (Men's Choir)". Bach Cantatas society online. Accessed 22 December 2006. Available here.
- Morgan, Paula. "Elliot Forbes." Grove Music Online. Ed. L. Macy. Accessed 22 December 2006. www.grovemusic.com.