John Curwen Manuscripts
John Curwen (1816-1880) was an English congregational minister who, later in life, devoted himself to developing and promulgating the Tonic Sol-fa pedagogical method. This method is based on the relationships between pitch-classes in a diatonic key, and replaces traditional notation with solfege syllables; the syllable "do" is assigned to a piece's tonic, thus the term "moveable do." The John Curwen Manuscripts, part of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Historical Center (previously the Music Educators National Convention (MENC) Historical Center), contains six volumes written by Curwen that date from 1863 to 1868. These manuscripts frequently include pasted-in materials and feature Curwen's preparatory work for future harmony textbooks and exercises completed by students. Supporting materials are also part of the collection, giving biographical information, examples of tonic sol-fa, and a brief history of how the materials were acquired.
Important Information for Users of the Collection
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John Curwen Manuscripts, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1759
Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Contact the curator for an appointment: http://www.lib.umd.edu/scpa/contact
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John Curwen (1816-1880) was an English congregational minister who made an impact on music education through his Tonic Sol-fa pedagogical method. Curwen learned to read music by using a book authored by Sarah Glover that presented her Norwich Sol-fa method for reading notated music. Curwen adapted Glover's method to create his own system, which he referred to as "Tonic Sol-fa." This method replaces traditional musical notation with solfege syllables (do-re-mi-fa...) using "moveable do" (where "do" is always the tonic). In Curwen's notation, the first letter of the proper syllable/pitch to be sung appears and rhythm is indicated through the use of bar lines, half bar lines, and semicolons prefixing strong beats, medium beats, and weak beats respectively in each measure. Subdivisions of beats are marked using a full stop for half divisions and a comma for quarter divisions; continuation of a tone from one beat to the next is shown by a dash.
Curwen's main purpose in creating this system was to facilitate music literacy in a three step process: firstly reading from his sol-fa notation, secondly reading from staff notation in conjunction with sol-fa notation, and finally reading from traditional staff notation alone. Motivated by his belief that music should be the inheritance of all classes and ages, Curwen went to great personal expense to publish his own writings which included a textbook, The Standard Course of Lessons on the Tonic Sol-fa Method of Teaching to Sing, (1858) and a journal, Tonic Sol-fa Reporter and Magazine of Vocal Music for the People. After 1864, Curwen resigned from his position as a minister to devote more time to music education, eventually starting a publishing firm with his son, J. Curwen & Sons, that later added "Tonic Sol-Fa Agency" to its name. In 1869 John Curwen established the Tonic Sol-Fa College which, just over 100 years later, founded the Curwen Institute in London.
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The John Curwen Manuscripts collection covers the period from 1860-2005, with the bulk of the material coming from 1863-1868. The collection contains six volumes. Two volumes are handwritten by Curwen and autographed, containing notes and paste-ins from his published books and articles, and annotated with corrections, additions, and Tonic Sol-fa notation transcriptions. The other four books represent "Constructive Exercises in Composition" completed by students of Curwen's method. These exercises, which include lessons in transposition and two- and three-part harmony, were sent or handed to him separately and later bound together.
Custodial History and Acquisition Information
Purchased in 1994 by Special Collections in Performing Arts with funds from the Rose Marie Grentzer Fund.
Michael Boyd, April 2007; updated by Joshua Barnett, June 2011.
EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Colleen McKnight, April 2007; updated and revised by Cassandra N. Berman, October 2011.
Arrangement of Collection
This collection is organized into two series.
Detailed Description of the Collection
Series 1: Books, 1863-1868 and undated (1.50 Linear Feet)
This series contains books written by Curwen in his own hand and compilations of exercises written out by students of Curwen's method. Materials are arranged chronologically.
|Description||Series||Box / Reel||Folder / Frame|
|Harmony by John Curwen, undated -- This item is a manuscript containing examples, exercises, and a key to Curwen's How to Observe Harmony. -- There is also a course on approaching harmony and a pasted-in insert with Curwen's name written on the front entitled Constructive Exercises in Elementary Composition.||series 1||box 1||folder 1|
|"Key to the Elementary Composition Exercises in Reporter, vol. IX - vol. II" by John Curwen, January 1868 -- This item is a manuscript containing pasted-in exercises accompanied by handwritten answers to the exercises. -- The volume appears to be arranged by increasing difficulty of the exercises.||series 1||box 1||folder 2|
|Constructive Exercises 1, July 9, 1863 -- This book contains a large collection of handwritten exercises in harmonic construction with names and notes written in with pencil. -- The volume appears to be arranged by student.||series 1||box 1||folder 3|
|Constructive Exercises 2, August 1863 -- This book contains a large collection of handwritten exercises in harmonic construction with names and notes separating sections of exercises. -- The volume appears to be arranged by student.||series 1||box 1||folder 4|
|Constructive Exercises 3, October 1863 -- This book contains a large collection of handwritten exercises in harmonic construction with names and notes separating sections of exercises. -- The volume appears to be arranged by student.||series 1||box 1||folder 5|
|Constructive Exercises 4, November 1863 -- This book contains a large collection of handwritten exercises in harmonic construction with names and notes separating sections of exercises. -- The volume appears to be arranged by student.||series 1||box 1||folder 6|
Series 2: Supporting Material, 1860-2005 and undated (0.25 Linear Feet)
This series contains material related to Tonic Sol-fa and John Curwen including examples of the method and biographical information. The materials are arranged by type.
|Description||Series||Box / Reel||Folder / Frame|
|Letter by John Curwen to Rev. John B. Johnston in Glasgow, Scotland., August 17, 1860||series 2||box 2||folder 1|
|50 Beauties of Erin, undated -- This folder contains a book of printed music which serves as an example of a songbook which uses the Tonic Sol-fa notation., 1928||series 2||box 2||folder 2|
|"Transcription of page in 'Harmony,'" August 2005 -- This folder contains letters between Dr. Benjamin Steege and Bonnie Jo Dopp, then-Curator for SCPA, along with a transcription of notes taken concerning the biographical sketches of Joseph and Anthon Gersbach. Arranged chronologically., August 2005||series 2||box 2||folder 3|
|Compiled biographical sources on John Curwen -- This folder contains biographical information on John Curwen collected from Music Dictionaries and a brief summary of Curwen's bio and the collection materials. The material is arranged chronologically., 1874-1998 and undated||series 2||box 2||folder 4|
|"Solfege Tones - Hand Signals and Meanings" -- This folder contains a small poster created for music education explaining the hand signals and meanings of the seven diatonic solfege syllables., 1997||series 2||box 2||folder 5|
- Tonic Sol-Fa Music Questions, by W.R. Phillips (1899); in Lowens Special Collections Room, Rare Stacks MT30.P45 1893.
- Musical Theory: Common Scale and Time Book 1 of 5, by John Curwen (1879); in Lowens Special Collections Room, Rare Stacks MT30.C861 1879.
- The Standard Course of Lessons and Exercises in the Tonic Sol-fa Method of Teaching Music, by John Curwen (re-written, 1901), in Lowens Special Collections Room, Rare Stacks MT30.C95 S7.
- The Pianoforte Edition of Songs and Tunes for Education: Having a Bass Which May Be Sung by Male Teachers, edited by John Curwen (1861) in Lowens Special Collections Room, Rare Stacks MSCPA 72-36.1.2-9-4.
- This collection is part of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Historical Center (previously the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) Historical Center).
For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.
Selected Search Terms
This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.
- Curwen, John, 1816-1880
- Music education
- Music - instruction and study
- Singing - instruction and study
- Tonic sol-fa