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An Itinerant Singing Teacher in Newcastle in the 1840s

Paul Gailiunas

Joseph Mainzer was born in Trier in 1801, and was ordained in 1826, becoming the singing master in the seminary in Trier two years later. He attracted the attention of the police by circulating pamphlets in support of the miners and had to leave, arriving in Paris in 1834. He started free singing classes for workers in 1835, but the authorities banned them in 1839 amid growing fears of insurrection. He moved to London, and started classes there in May 1841, four months after John Hullah, who had started his classes inspired by Mainzer's work in Paris. He moved to Edinburgh in November 1841.

Mainzer and Hullah both used similar methods based on the fixed sol-fa system (doh = C, and so on), but attendance at Hullah's classes was quite small, and he charged quite high fees. Mainzer kept his fees to the minimum.

Mainzer came to Newcastle in April 1842, “in Compliance with a Requisition from several Gentlemen in the Two Boroughs”, and delivered a lecture on 21st on “the Mainzerian System of Teaching Singing, so successfully carried out at Paris, and taught in London, Brighton, &c. &c.” Mainzer was strongly in favour of temperance, and believed that encouraging people to sing would give them an alternative to drink. It is possible that it was this that persuaded the gentlemen of Newcastle and Gateshead to invite him. The advertisement in the local press continues:

    Tickets of Admission, including 32 Pages of Music, 6d., to be had at the Door of the Lecture Room.
    Doors to be opened at Half-past 7; Lecture to commence at 8 o'Clock.
    N.B. The following Classes, under the Superintendence of Mr Durrant, one of Mr Mainzer's Professors, will be immediately established, viz.:-
    A Class on Monday Evenings, at Half-past 7 o'Clock, at 6d. the Monthly Course, which is 1½d. per Lesson.
    A Class on Monday Mornings at 12 o'Clock, at 2s. the Monthly Course, which is 6d. per Lesson.
    A Normal School will also be speedily organized.
    In a Course of Sixteen Lessons or Lectures, Persons are enabled to read and sing Simple Music at Sight.

It seems clear that there would be two classes of pupil: workers, at Mainzer's usual rate of 1½d. per lesson, in the evenings after work, and others, probably young women from more well-to-do families, during the day.

The Newcastle Courant carried two quite extensive accounts of Mainzer's lectures, as well as reprinting the description of his methods from Chamber's Edinburgh Journal. Although it might well have been submitted by Mr Durrant, and so not be impartial, some idea of his impact in the town can be gathered from the second account. “The interest excited by the beautiful introductory lecture, which we noticed last week, has been most enthusiastically sustained at those given since – in fact the Nelson Street Lecture Room, which is calculated to contain fully a thousand persons, has been crowded almost to suffocation each night, and it has even then been found necessary to refuse admittance to hundreds more who would gladly have availed themselves of the opportunity of joining the elementary classes...”

“...terminated the third lecture by enabling the audience to perform an excellent Congregational air, in two parts, adapted to Dr. Watts's well-known words – “Sweet is the work my God and King.” At the close of the lectures, an address, couched in very complimentary terms, was presented by the Committee to Mr M., and adopted by acclamation.”

Durrant's classes were mentioned again on 6th and 20th May, and he seems to have taken every opportunity to maintain the public awareness of the Mainzerian method, since there are frequent reports in the Courant. On July 1st there was an account of the singers in the Mainzerian classes in London taking a boat trip to Gravesend, and on September 9th there was reprint of an article from the Cork Examiner, describing Mainzer's lecture in Cork .

On 30th September there is a report of Mr Durrant delivering two lectures in the Athenaeum, at Carlisle, which were well received by large audiences. He had stated that he was too busy in and around Newcastle to run classes in Carlisle, but Mr Ford, the cathedral organist, would run them.

There is mention on 27th January of classes in Berwick introduced by Rev. R.G. Mason, and two lectures that he gave at Belford. On 3rd February Durrant is reported having lectured and started classes in Hexham, and on 17th February in Hartlepool. This is the last time he appears in the Courant.

In the eighteenth century there are many well-documented cases of singing teachers moving around the country (on both sides of the Atlantic), teaching for a few weeks, often selling copies of their own tune book, before moving on. Something similar seems to have been happening in the mid-nineteenth century, but there are important differences. Travel had become much easier, and Mainzer, like Curwen a few years later, was able to cover greater distances, spending just a few days in one place, and relying on assistants to continue the teaching programme. It was not until 1845 that Mainzer published a tune book, although he started Mainzer's Musical Times (taken over by Novello in 1844), shortly after his arrival in London, and we can assume that he was selling his manual, Singing for the Million, at his lectures.

Durrant seems to be closer to the traditional pattern, remaining in Newcastle for perhaps a year. Unfortunately there are no local directories for this period, although he does not appear in the 1844 directory. In fact he seems to have left no trace in the town, apart from the newspaper reports, and a tune book (to be discussed later). There is probably a natural process of market saturation, particularly if classes are large, as they would need to be if fees were kept low. When the market dried up in earlier times the singing teacher moved on, but by now railways were changing traditional patterns of behaviour, especially in the towns, and provided some new opportunities. The Newcastle to Carlisle railway had been finished a few years earlier, and it is not surprising to find Durrant looking further afield when the course of sixteen lessons was over, probably sometime in September. We can imagine that he would want to maintain the impression of high demand, which is stressed in the 30 Sept. report. He might have found the journey to Carlisle too long to make on a weekly basis, which would explain why he seems happy to leave things to Mr Ford. By the beginning of 1843 the situation was probably becoming more serious. It was not so easy to travel to the north of the county, and in any case Rev. Mason had already established classes there, but Hexham was within easy reach by rail, and he is reported as continuing his popular classes there. The press report is quite cursory, and the popularity of the classes is mentioned only incidentally, and even then probably means “of the people”, rather than “well-attended”.

Most travel at this date was by sea, and Mainzer's journeys between London, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Cork will have been by boat. Hartlepool was possibly the most rapidly growing town in the north-east at the time, and it is perhaps not surprising that Durrant should try to introduce singing classes there. Good railway communications had not been established yet, though, and he would have had to go by way of sea. While this would have been acceptable, making a single visit lasting several days, as Mainzer's were, it hardly seems practicable for commuting on a regular weekly basis, particularly remembering the complications caused by the tides. The newspaper report is ambiguous, “The Mainzerian system of singing was last week introduced into Hartlepool, by Mr Durrant, of Newcastle; and a weekly popular class has been organized.” It is not clear who was running the class, but it is difficult to see how it could be Durrant, if he was still living in Newcastle.

Durrant did publish a tune book, but few copies have survived (it is not in COPAC). The title page reads, “A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes Arranged in Four Parts & for Various Metres, wth an Accompaniment for the Organ or Pianoforte by J.Durrant, selected with the approbation of the Rev. R.Clayton, Minister of St.Thomas' Church and recommended by him. Newcastle upon Tyne. To be had of Bruce, Grey St. & Currie & Co. Collingwood St. Engd. & Printed by M. & M.W. Lambert.”

Title Page

Without rehearsing the complications of the clerical disputes of the mid-nineteenth century on Tyneside, it is worth pointing out that Clayton was generally considered to be the leader of the Evangelicals in the area. He is likely to have been sympathetic to the populist approach of Mainzer's lectures, as well as the temperance intent. Since it was built in 1830 St. Thomas's had always had an organ, with a resident organist. There are no indications that Durrant played the organ there.

Bruce and Currie were the main religious booksellers in the town. Currie in particular had a library and reading room that was the headquarters of the "Clerical Club", which had distinct Tractarian leanings. He had been in a partnership that was dissolved on 1st March 1843, and Currie was declared bankrupt on 13th August 1844, which gives us good evidence to date the book. It is very surprising, given the publicity for lectures and courses of lessons, that it is not advertised in the local press, lending support to the conclusion that Durrant left the town sometime in 1843, probably before the book was in the shops.

There are 108 tunes, which are fairly typical for the period, most of them from the standard corpus. They are set with alto and tenor on the upper stave, and alto and air on the middle stave, the right hand of a keyboard reduction. The bass is on the third stave. Two of them, which he attributes to himself, give a clue to Durrant's origins. They are called Worthing and Shoreham, and it seems likely that he became involved with Mainzer during the successful visit to Brighton.

Play MIDI files of: Shoreham and Worthing

Nothing is known about where Durrant went. He could have gone to Edinburgh, and been one of the assistants who remained there when Mainzer moved to Manchester; he could have continued moving around the country, teaching singing using the Mainzerian method, and taking advantage of the rapidly expanding railway system; he could have given up singing teaching altogether; or he could have died.

The second of his tunes, Worthing starts with some very obvious consecutive fifths in the alto/tenor. This will not have gone unnoticed by the many music teachers in the town, and will have significantly damaged his reputation. It probably explains why few copies of the book survive, since few will have been bought, and could have been a factor in his departure.

There is a postscript to the story of the Mainzerian method in Newcastle. On the 20th October, 1843, the Newcastle Courant reported, “On Tuesday evening last, the Parochial Society for the Cultivation of Church Music, under the control and patronage of the clergy and churchwardens of the parish of St. Andrew, and the chapelwardens of St. Peter, held their first meeting in the girls' school room, Percy-street. The exercises were conducted by the Rev. T.W. Shields, who also delivered an able address on sacred music. Such meetings will prove of much advantage by furnishing the means to parishioners of all classes to obtain a correct knowledge of the choral services of the church. The Mainzer system of teaching has been adopted.”

The incumbent of St. Andrew's, Rev. William Dodds, was the leading high-churchman in the town. St. Peter's, then a chapel of ease of St. Andrew's, but to get its own parish the following year was in the forefront of Tractarian innovations. In 1847 The Parish Choir reported that it was “the only parish church in the diocese in which any part of the choir are properly robed, the boys being in surplices. Here too the choir are properly placed.” The Parish Choir was the journal of the Society for Promoting Church Music, founded by Robert Druitt in 1845, with an explicit Tractarian agenda. He proposed that every parish should form a “parochial association for the promotion of church music”. It would be interesting to know whether this idea originated in the meeting in Newcastle, or whether there were other such societies in other parishes around the same time.

It would have been more natural for Hullah's method, rather than Mainzer's, to have been used, since he had been appointed to provide the basic musical training to the students training to be teachers at St. Mark's, Chelsea. This college, which opened in 1841, had Thomas Helmore as vice-principle, and was an important influence in the spread of Tractarian ideas. Since there was little difference between the systems, Hullah's being based on Mainzer's, it seems probable that Mainzer's name was being used to capitalize on the reputation already established in the neighbourhood. It could even be a response to the success of the method with the congregation of the Evangelical Rev. Clayton in St. Thomas's, just up Percy St., and in the parish of St. Andrew's.

The mid-nineteenth century was a critical time for church music, and the demise of West Gallery traditions is generally dated to this period. The changes in the second half of the 1840s have been quite well documented, and the work of Hullah and Curwen teaching sight-singing, and of Frederic Helmore introducing chanting, has been generally recognised. The importance of Mainzer has been largely forgotten, and the detailed information that has survived about his work, and that of one of his assistants, in Newcastle provides some clues about how the popular sight-singing movements might be related to changes in church music.



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