Who was the man who taught the Strathspey King?


Much of what is published on the history of Scottish traditional music is simply drawn from previous works, with little checking of data or primary sources. In this way, errors and misunderstandings become compounded and myths perpetuated. With the arrival of digital publishing and editing the cut and paste facility this has become more of an issue and we must be very wary of received wisdom.

This came home to me recently as I sought to investigate the musician credited with leading James Scott Skinner into the world of classical violin technique.

According to Skinner himself, writing about his musical apprenticeship as youth with Dr Mark and his Little Men in Manchester from 1855 to 1861:

Now, had I remained with the forty boys on tour, I am certain I would never have gained fame as a violinist or become known as the “Strathspey King”. Just prior to my return to Manchester [having been sent back there from Luton in disgrace after fighting with a fellow boy musician], Rougier, a French violinist from the Paris Conservatoire (and a member of Charles Hallé’s Manchester Band) [Hallé ran “Gentlemen’s” and other concerts in the city from 1850 and Orchestral Concerts from 1857], joined the staff, and I was really in luck’s way in finding myself under his tuition. I unhesitatingly ascribe all the success that has been mine to the skillful instruction I received from RougierRougier, I think, took rather kindly to me… and right away commenced to teach me the theory of music, and after several months steady work and skillful tuition, I was passed out to rejoin the “Little Men”. [James Scott Skinner My Life and Adventures (Aberdeen, 1994) pp. 13-14.

The influence of Skinner’s mentor is discussed in the excellent Aberdeen University  web site on the fiddler:

Dr Mark taught the boys to play from memory – which is exactly how James had learned to play in the first place. They had lessons in the morning and again in the afternoon. Every afternoon and evening, they performed in concerts. Dr Mark was a liberal master – he gave the boys an hour’s play in the morning and again in the afternoon, another hour for dinner and an hour for tea. He believed that a musical education encouraged a happy family life. Dr Mark received no public money to provide for the boys. He reckoned that in ten years he had spent £30,000 – a huge sum by today’s standards. He was committed to the ideal of setting up a national music school for talented children.

James, known as ‘Jamie’ or ‘the kilted boy’, was not always happy and at one point was sent home from a tour for fighting. Musically, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Back in Manchester, Charles Rougier, a French violinist who played with the new Hallé Orchestra, gave him violin lessons. Rougier realized that James could not read music, so set about rectifying this. Rougier’s teaching was so good that in later years, James credited him for his success as a composer and performer.


By the 1870s, Skinner was giving concerts all over the North-east of Scotland. The programmes normally included some of his own compositions as well as virtuoso violin solos by such composers as Paganini, or his old teacher, Charles Rougier.

Mary Anne Alburger [Scottish Fiddlers and their Music (London, 1983), p. 178-9] reproduced [from the Miller o’ Hirn collection?] the programme for a concert by Skinner given at Peterhead in 1879 that ended with the violin solo “Keel Row” by C. Rougier and notes:

It is touching that twenty years after he left “The Little Men” he chose as a final solo “The Keel Row” in an arrangement by his old teacher, M. Rougier.

while quoting Skinner’s words:

The writer is indebted to both French and German Schools, and remembers with gratitude his years of pleasant travel with Dr. Mark, and the solid lessons he received from Rougier in Manchester forty years ago. [James Scott Skinner A Guide to Bowing (Edinburgh, 1984) p. 27].

She also suggests an even more formal musical education was offered to Dr Mark’s pupils:

When not on the road, they were based in Manchester, and took lessons at the Royal College of Music, recently formed by Charles Halle. It was there that Skinner received his musical education, primarily from Charles Rougier, a French violinist with the Hallé Orchestra, who had studied at the Paris Conservatoire. [p. 175]

Alastair J. Hardie wrote in September 1975:

…it was during this period that Skinner consolidated his violinistic and theoretical skills under the guidance of Charles Rougier. [J. Scott Skinner: The Strathspey King (Topic Records 12T280) Liner notes.

The SCRAN site tells us:

1858. S. S. was in this juvenile orchestra when it gave its command performance before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on the 10th of February, 1858. Fortunately he met Charles Rougier in Manchester, and to that celebrated French violinist’s schooling in Kreutzer studies, etc., he attributed much of his future success.

As the concert was held after Skinner’s first meeting with his master we can say that, at the time of these studies he was between the ages of 13 and 15 years.

Glasgow University Special Collections tells us he went to Manchester as a cellist:

After a brief education in Aberdeen, Skinner left the Northeast to tour Great Britain playing the ‘cello with Dr Mark’s Little Men, a latter day boy band consisting of around forty juvenile boys playing in an orchestra. When not travelling the boys were based in Manchester and the Little Men attended the Royal College of Music. It was during this period that Skinner learned to read music and received his classical training from Charles Rougier, a French violinist who had studied at the Paris Conservatoire. It was this training that allowed Skinner to perform pieces by composers such as Paganini and Mozart alongside his own “traditional” pieces and also compose technically difficult pieces such as ‘The President’. Skinner felt that these compositions put him above his contemporaries such as Marshall and Neil Gow.

This may have been picked up from Mary Anne Alburger [Scottish Fiddlers, p. 174] who quotes an 1860 prospectus for Dr. Mark’s ensemble that refers to “Mister James Skinner, from Aberdeen, Highlands, 11 years of age” as a cellist. I suggest that it related to Skinner’s first period with the troupe as the programme for the 1858 Buckingham Palace concert notes him as “Jamie Skinner, Violin”.

The influence and significance of Charles Rougier is clearly important, not only to Skinner but also to historians and scholars of Scottish music. He has clearly become a crucial part of the story on Scottish traditional music and his stature continues to grow. For instance, The liner notes for the re-release of Skinner’s gramophone records by Temple Records notes the Scot “…went on to study with Charles Rougier, a renowned French violinist” while J. Murray Neil  talks of Rougier as “one of Europe’s most celebrated violinists” [The Scots Fiddle, Volume 1 (Glasgow, 1999) p. 103.]

Just who was this celebrated and renowned violinist and composer/arranger who introduced Skinner, and through him, the Scottish tradition, to modern European violin technique?

I searched long and hard but my efforts to locate Charles Rougier in specialist dictionaries, music directories, catalogues of music, trade directories and genealogy websites drew a complete blank.

Fortunately, through the Hallé Orchestra I was able  to confirm that the player in question was actually called Roguier. Charles Roguier, Paris, was a member of the first violin section from the orchestra’s establishment in 1858 and he played with them until the seventh season in 1864.


[http://archive.halle.co.uk/siteFiles/dcincludes/catalogue/images/PR2118.jpg and http://archive.halle.co.uk/halle-lists.asp]

Census records show that this “professor of music” was born in Bordeaux in 1832, and that his full name was Pierre Charles Roguier. In 1856 he married Mary Ellen Stopford and by 1861 they were living in Moss Side. He died in 1866 and was buried at Manchester. By that time Skinner was established in Aberdeenshire as a teacher of dancing and deportment.

There is little to suggest that Roguier was as renowned as writers have come to suggest. Nevertheless, he did have some status regionally, as this concert report records:

Bury. — The first miscellaneous concert for the season of the Choral Society was given in the Athenaeum on the 19th ult., before a crowded audience. The principal vocalists were Miss Winward, Miss Lomax, Messrs. Bailey, Dumville, and Ramsbottom. There was an excellent band of about fifty performers, led by Mons. Roguier, of Manchester, and conducted by Mr. M. Wike. Judging by the fashionable attendance at this concert, and the enthusiastic manner in which the music was received, there is every reason to believe that the Choral Society and the Athenaeum may be mutual gainers by their cordial co-operation.

[‘Country News’ in Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 1 Nov 1864, Volume 11, p. 390.]

I have been unable to locate and compositions or arrangements by him and wonder if the Keel Row arrangement mentioned by Mary Anne Alburger was in fact by another, but real, C. Rougier. The search continues.

It is also fascinated to note that Skinner’s mentor was a fairly young man rather than the wise and distinguished master I allowed myself to imagine he might be. It is perfectly understandable that the young Skinner might have misunderstood or failed to remember correctly the Frenchman’s correct name.

References to Dr Mark’s ensemble being closely associated with ‘The Royal College of Music’ also need to be handled with caution as it was not until 1893 that Sir Charles Hallé founded the Royal Manchester College of Music. Dr. Mark’s institution was certainly not its predecessor but rather an independent establishment that may have taken its prestigious name on account of his ensemble having performed before royalty.

Marks 1858


Fiddle Pibroch 3 : Tim MacDonald plays MacIntosh’s Lament

Another practical exploration of the potential of the fiddle pibroch genre:

And by way of balance, here is Tim playing another set.

The videos are from the 2014 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle. This selection was Open winner Tim’s winning set. March; Johnny Cope; Strathspey,Sir Alexander Don; Strathspey, Reel; Miss Betty Robertson’s reel.