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Mann, Arthur Henry (1850–1929), organist, was born on 16 May 1850 at 31 Tombland, Norwich, the youngest of the five children of Henry James Mann (1809–1860) and Ann Couzens Jubey (1811–1891). The family forebears had followed the common Norwich trades of weaving and shoemaking, but, although Henry Mann was originally apprenticed as a worsted weaver, between 1841 and his marriage in 1843 he had become a music teacher. Like his eldest brother, Frederick Alexander, Arthur Mann became a chorister at Norwich Cathedral under Zechariah Buck. A probationer from the late 1850s, and a full chorister shortly after his father died in April 1860, he was articled to Buck from June 1865. Buck had promised the dying Henry Mann that he would see Arthur out into the world; he later made an allowance to Ann Mann, and remitted her son's apprentice fees in full when he left.

Buck was a renowned trainer of boys' voices, and Mann acknowledged that from him he gained all his basic musical experience. During his apprenticeship he grew to have a devotion to his master, and he was later to mirror, in the phraseology, emphasis, and style of his handwriting, the same punctiliousness that can be observed in Buck's manuscript. Mann is mentioned in reviews of local concerts acquitting himself well as a boy soloist in the early 1860s. In 1870 he was appointed organist of St Peter's, Wolverhampton. A year later he moved to the nearby village of Tettenhall, with its collegiate church, where he met his future wife, Sarah Ann (1854–1918), the daughter of John Ransford, whom he married on 25 November 1874. He matriculated at New College, Oxford, in 1872, and took the degree of BMus in 1874. He graduated DMus in 1882 with his cantata Ecce homo. Following a brief spell, from 1875, at Beverley Minster, Mann applied for the organist's post at King's College, Cambridge. It was the first time that the job was to be filled by open competition, and, from a shortlist of six candidates, Mann was elected on 7 June 1876, beginning what was to be his lifetime's work at King's on 16 July.

The university colleges which had choirs who maintained ‘cathedral service’, and several of the cathedrals themselves, were at that time in a process of reform. Many of these establishments had been responsible, since their foundation, for the rudimentary education of their choristers, and most now wished to see this put on a proper professional footing. Mann's appointment to King's coincided with that college's desire to start a proper choir school, dispensing with the children of local menials as the choristers, and beginning to attract sons of professional people who might be boarders at the school. From 1881, through the generosity of the Austen Leigh brothers, a fund for choral scholarships was begun, and this allowed a gradual change to take place, with Mann's active co-operation, as retiring lay clerks were replaced by undergraduate choral scholars, thus making the choir an additional educational unit of the college. Mann, however, like most of his contemporaries, was regarded in his post only as a college servant. For his part, he was the professional musician, leading a choir on behalf of a college which did not have any academic musicians among the fellowship. While the college could not criticize his methods in the chapel, there seems to have been some attempt to broaden the very Victorian selection of music proposed by the young organist. His relationship with choristers was strongly personal. A kind man, he was known to the choir and to his friends as Daddy, but he was not to be trifled with.

It was said that, in the notoriously reverberant acoustic of King's College chapel, ‘Mann determined to make Echo his friend’. His performance tempi were, inevitably, slow by modern standards, and he required from all his singers a roundness of tone which blended well within the building, yet the music was executed with distinct enunciation. He paid great attention to the performance of the daily psalms, the importance of which he no doubt derived from the strong traditions in that sphere practised in Norwich since the time of J. C. Beckwith at the start of the century. ‘Any fool can sing an anthem’, Mann used to remark, ‘but it takes a choir to sing a service’. At the behest of one of the fellows he experimented with different selections of Anglican chants, eventually drawing up in 1884, with W. H. D. Boyle, a young graduate volunteer singer, a collection which was to remain in use, in large part, until 1968. As an organist he was reputed never to have been heard to play a wrong note, and his improvisations, particularly those which preceded an anthem, weaving together themes from the music, were of great local renown.

Although Mann was no professional academic, he was a great amateur musical antiquary. From 1894 to 1922 he was an assistant master at the Leys School in Cambridge. He did not achieve recognition in Cambridge University until he was appointed university organist in 1897; it was not until 1910, when he was sixty, that the college supplicated for him to be granted an honorary MA, and he was not made a fellow of King's College until 1921. Nevertheless, in his day, Mann must have been one of the most indefatigable gatherers of archival miscellanea concerning Handel, whose music he adored, and musicians and musical events since the eighteenth century in East Anglia. He possessed a mass of remains connected with William Crotch, first principal of the Royal Academy of Music, including a number of his watercolours. His copious loose-leaf notebooks attest to the hours he must have spent in original research, scouring local newspapers and parish documents, and it is to be regretted that he never brought any of this work together in published form. Possibly he felt somewhat cowed, as a mere amateur, in a world of academics. Over the years he amassed a large library of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century musical publications. Between 1889 and 1892 he spent much time and labour rearranging the Handel manuscripts kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum. His own compositions were slight.

While it was held that Mann was hardly ever away from his daily duty in the college chapel, and he seldom delegated a choir practice, he does seem to have been in demand to travel from Cambridge to open organs or to participate in other musical events. Apart from the college choir, he formed a choral society, initially to celebrate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee on 16 June 1887, and from 1889 this became Dr Mann's Festival Choir. Until 1911, through this vehicle for performance, Cambridge was able to hear works as new as The Apostles or The Kingdom by Elgar or the Requiem by C. V. Stanford, but, as can be imagined, the programmes also featured a steady diet of Handel and Mendelssohn. There was something of the missionary in Mann. In the early years of the century he felt called to start a series—Dr Mann's Symphony Concerts—whereby large-scale works might be heard in Cambridge, performed by London musicians, with a little additional local participation, and usually under the direction of national figures such as Henry Wood, Beecham, or Elgar. Perhaps it was a combination of factors—the changing musical taste and the growth of a Cambridge snobbery that it did not need outside ‘help’—which caused these ultimately to fail financially. Mann was choirmaster of the Norwich festival in and after 1902. In 1892 he had become a freeman of the City of Norwich. He was an early member of the Royal College of Organists and a central figure in the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

Mann had four children, of whom two daughters survived and married choral scholars. Two of his grandsons became choristers. He died at the Evelyn Nursing Home, Cambridge, on 19 November 1929, a few days after his last appearance in the chapel. His lasting legacy is the King's College choir, which he established in its modern, recognizable form, and the apposite harmonization of the Christmas hymn ‘Once in royal David's city’, later heard throughout the world in the regular broadcast from King's College of the festival of nine lessons and carols each Christmas eve.

Andrew Parker


King's Cam., archives of the provost and fellows of King's College · Norfolk RO, archives of the dean and chapter of Norwich · Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge City Libraries · King's Cam. · Arthur Henry Mann: a memoir (privately printed, Cambridge, 1930) · DNB · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1930)


CUL, music collections · King's Cam., Rowe Music Library · Norfolk RO |  King's Cam., letters to Oscar Browning


photograph, 1863 (with other Norwich Cathedral choristers), Norfolk RO, DCN 101/1/6 · photograph, 1899, Norfolk RO, MS 11090 · photographs, King's Cam., Rowe Music Library

Wealth at death  

£1630 11s. 4d.: probate, 4 Feb 1930, CGPLA Eng. & Wales