Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hullah, John Pyke

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HULLAH, JOHN PYKE, LL.D. (1812–1884), musical composer and teacher, was born at Worcester on 27 June 1812. His father, descended, according to tradition, from a Huguenot family, was a native of Yorkshire, but lived in London from the early years of the century. Hullah seems to have derived his musical gifts chiefly from his mother, who had been a pupil of John Danby. After attending private schools, he became in 1829 a pupil of William Horsley, studying the pianoforte, vocal music, and composition. In 1833 he entered the Royal Academy of Music for the purpose of learning singing from Crivelli. Two years afterwards he made the acquaintance of Charles Dickens, through his sister, Miss Fanny Dickens, a fellow-pupil of Crivelli. An opera by Hullah, `The Village Coquettes,' set to words by Dickens, was produced at the St. James's Theatre on 5 Dec. 1836, and ran for sixty nights with great success; the whole of the music, with the exception of a few songs, was burnt in a fire at the Edinburgh theatre soon after it was first brought out there. In 1837 Hullah became organist of Croydon Church. Among the compositions of this time was a madrigal, `Wake now my love' (afterwards printed in `Vocal Scores'), which was performed at the Madrigal Society's meeting, and two songs written for Miss Masson. On 11 Nov. 1837 `The Barbers of Bassora' (words by Maddison Morton) was produced at Covent Garden, and on 17 May 1838, at the same theatre, 'The Outpost,' Hullah's last attempt at dramatic music. Both were unsuccessful. In 1839 he investigated at Paris the Mainzer system of teaching music to large numbers of persons at one time; but he came to the conclusion that Wilhem's method excelled any other then invented.

At the instance of Dr. Kay, afterwards Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, he began on 18 Feb. 1840 a class on Wilhem's model at the Normal School for Schoolmasters at Battersea, then recently opened. A year later, after improving his knowledge of the system by another visit to Paris, he formed classes at Exeter Hall for the instruction of schoolmasters and the general public. Later in the same year the system was started in Manchester under Hullah's direction. In July 1842 the number of persons attending the classes was computed at fifty thousand. Classes were also held at some of the great public schools, among them Eton, Winchester, the Charterhouse, Merchant Taylors', and King's College London. In June 1847 Hullah took a prominent part in the foundation of Queen's College in Harley Street. Later in the year he went again to Paris, where he found much to disapprove of in the musical system transmitted from older teachers by Chevé, and called by his name, a system which has no slight resemblance to the tonic sol-fa method. In October 1849 his classes began to meet in St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre, a building specially erected as a centre of operations for the movement. It was formally opened on 11 Feb. 1850, and in 1854 Hullah took up his abode there. In 1858 he succeeded Horsley as organist to the Charterhouse, a post which he retained until his death, and in the same year some of his most successful songs were written. `The Sands of Dee' and `The Three Fishers' were the result of his intimacy with Kingsley. Besides the work connected with the hall, which included the arranging of historical and other concerts there, he found time to take part in the controversy concerning musical pitch, and used his influence to promote the adoption by the Society of Arts of C-528. On 26Aug. 1860 St. Martin's Hall was burnt to the ground. This misfortune fell the more heavily on Hullah, since he had incurred serious financial responsibilities in connection with the building, and he was obliged virtually to begin the world again. A series of lectures on the history of modern music was delivered at the Royal Institution early in 1861. In 1864 Hullah lectured at Edinburgh, but in the next year failed in his candidature for the Reid professorship of music owing to the casting vote of the rector of the university (the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone), which was given against him. In 1866 and 1867 he conducted the Philharmonic concerts in Edinburgh, and in the latter year received a medal at the Paris Exhibition, but seems to have been mortified by the bestowal of a similar award upon the Chevé system. In 1869 he was elected to the committee of management of the Royal Academy of Music, and from 1870 to 1873 conducted the academy concerts. In March 1872 he was appointed by the council of education musical inspector of training schools for the United Kingdom. The reports drawn up by him in 1873, 1877, and 1880 are notable for the fairness with which they deal with systems of which he could not approve. He failed to see that the tonic sol-fa system was certain of ultimate success, in spite of its many shortcomings, but he avoided the common mistake of imagining that music, in order to be popular, must also be bad. In 1876 he received the degree of LL.D. from the Edinburgh University; in 1878 read a paper on musical education at a meeting of the Social Science Association at Cheltenham, and in the same year went abroad in order to report on the condition of musical education in continental schools. The report, quoted in his wife's memoir of him, is very instructive. Early in 1880 he was attacked by paralysis, although he was able to resume his work later in the year. He sustained in November 1883 another stroke, and died in London on 21 Feb. 1884, being buried at Kensal Green cemetery on 26 Feb. Mrs. Severn Walker of Malvern Wells possesses a portrait of the composer painted in 1881 or 1882 by Ralph Bowen. Hullah was twice married, first, on 20 Dec. 1838, to Miss Foster, who died in 1862; and secondly, in December 1865, to Frances, only daughter of Lieutenant-colonel G. F. Rosser. His second wife survived him.

His compositions are chiefly in the form of songs. Of these there are some fifty published, besides duets, and `Three Motets for Female Voices.' His editorial work was more valuable. It includes `Part Music,' 1842-5, `The Singer's Library of Concerted Music,' 1859, 'Vocal Scores,' 1847, 'Sea Songs,' `School Songs,' 1851, 'The Song Book,' 1866, a collection of fifty-eight English songs, Germany, 1871, and London, 1880, and numerous psalters and tune-books.

His literary works are as follows:

  1. 'Wilhem's Method of Teaching Singing, adapted to English use,' 1841.
  2. 'A Grammar of Vocal Music,' 1843.
  3. `The Duty and Advantage of Learning to Sing,' lecture, 1846.
  4. `On Vocal Music,' lectures (Queen's College), 1849.
  5. 'A Grammar of Musical Harmony,' 1852.
  6. `Music as an Element of Education,' lecture (St. Martin's Hall), 1854.
  7. 'Music in the Parish Church,' lecture (Newcastle), 1855.
  8. 'Letter on the Connection of the Arts with general Education, in Sir T. D. Acland's Account of the New Oxford Examinations, &c.,' 1858.
  9. 'The History of Modern Music,' lectures (Royal Institution), 1862 (Italian translation by Signor A. Visetti, 1880).
  10. 'A Grammar of Counterpoint,' 1864.
  11. `Lectures on the Third or Transition Period of Musical History' (Royal Institution), 1865.
  12. 'The Cultivation of the Speaking Voice,' 1870.
  13. 'Music in the House' ('Art at Home' series), 1876.
  14. 'How can a sound Knowledge of Music be best and most generally disseminated?' (pamphlet), 1878.

He wrote for the 'Saturday Review' from 1855, and afterwards for the 'Guardian' and 'Fraser's Magazine.'

[Life of John Hullah, LL.D., by his wife, 1886; Grove's Dict.i. 755;Brit. Mus. Cat.; information from Mrs. Severn Walker.]

J. A. F. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.162
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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199 i 14 Hullah, John P.: for council of education read education department