A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Curwen, John

CURWEN, John, the founder of the 'Tonic Sol-fa' method of teaching singing, was born Nov. 14, 1816, at Heckmondwike, Yorkshire. For an account of the main work of his life, see Tonic Sol-Fa and Tonic Sol-fa College. He came from an old Cumberland family, and was educated (at University College, London) for the profession of his father, a Nonconformist minister. It was at a conference of Sunday-school teachers held in Hull in 1841 that he was commissioned to make enquiry as to the best and simplest way of teaching to sing by note, and the investigations thus begun led him to make the spreading of music among the people the great object of his life. In 1843 his 'Grammar of Vocal Music' appeared. In 1853 he founded the 'Tonic Sol-fa Association,' and in 1879 the 'Tonic Sol-fa College.' In 1864 he gave up ministerial work, and devoted his whole time 'to the direction of the large organisation' which had grown up under his care. He died at Manchester June 26, 1880. A biography published in 1882 by his son, John Spencer Curwen (Principal of the Tonic Sol-fa College), under the title of 'Memorials of John Curwen,' gives a picture of a very full and useful life, as well as of a signally fine character. Since the article Tonic Sol-Fa was written, the method has been more and more widely adopted, and it is now the most generally accepted means, in England and the Colonies, of teaching the elements of music for sight-singing purposes.

The following is a list of Mr. Curwen's educational works, omitting the large number of smaller instruction-books, etc., prepared for the use of classes of different kinds:—

'The Standard Course of Lessons and Exercises on the Tonic Sol-fa Method.' (First edition, 1801; issued in a new form, 1872, as the 'New Standard Course,' the most complete class book of the method for general use, includes Harmony, Musical Form, Composition, etc.).

'The Teacher's Manual of the Art of Teaching in General, and especially as applied to Music,' 1875. (A book designed for the teaching of teachers, with full explanations and discussions of theoretical points, hints on the management of classes, and on the art of teaching generally. This book superseded an earlier book of a similar character—'Singing for Schools and Congregations,' 1843).

'How to observe Harmony.' First edition 1861; reissued in a new form 1872. ('The text book used for teaching Harmony on the T. S. F. method. The musical illustrations are printed in both notations).

'A Tonic Sol-fa Primer' (No. 18 of the series of Primers edited by Dr. Stainer, and published by Messrs. Novello). (Written 'to explain the letter T. S. F. notation and method of teaching to those already familiar with the established mode of writing music by means of the Staff.')

'Musical Theory,' 1879. (Mr. Curwen's latest work. Musical examples given in the two notations. In five main divisions, Common Scale and Time, Minor Mode and Transition, Musical Form, Expression, and Harmony).

'Musical Statics: an attempt to show the bearing of the recent discoveries in Acoustics on Chords, Discords Transitions, Modulations, and Tuning, as used by modern musicians.' 1874.

'Tonic Sol-fa Reporter.' Published monthly (1d.). Begun 1851: nearly 900 numbers since issued: each number gives articles and essays, together with some pages of part music, choruses, part songs, madrigals, etc., by old and living composers. The list of pieces thus published shows about 3000 titles.

Various Hymn and Tune Books, Collections of Part Music, School Songs, etc., including 'Modern Part Songs' in 96 numbers (by contemporary composers, Sullivan, Macfarren, Pinsuti, Smart, Barnby, and others.

Mr. Curwen also edited in Sol-fa a large number of classical works (oratorios and other compositions by Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, etc.), and works by modern composers (Macfarren, Mendelssohn, and others). [See also vol. ii. 428 a.]

[ R. B. L. ]