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Singing Technique
  XV OBSERVATIONS ON THE TECHNIQUE OF ITALIAN SINGINGFROM THE 16TH CENTURY TO THE PRESENT DAY One of the primary requirements for the purpose of realising aesthetically andhistorically correct interpretations of the music of the past is to identify the music’ssrcinal sound-medium. But it is not always possible to establish this precisely,above all as regards vocal compositions. For whereas we have available to us acomparatively wide range of period instruments whose particular characteristicscan be objectively determined, in the case of song the sound produced cannot beseparated from the actual performer. The human voice is extremely malleable, andvaries in accordance with the anatomy, taste and technical equipment of the singer.There are also the effects of a multiplicity of cultural, social, anthropological andother factors which tend to change over time.This kind of variability can be experienced in listening to the earliestgramophone recordings: the voices of famous singers from the beginning of thiscentury are generally thought not to correspond to the tastes of today. But if thereis a large difference to be found after barely a hundred years, one is bound to askoneself what sort of a surprise one would have in listening to music sung in a yetmore remote past.Discordant positions have been taken in the debate among musicians andscholars concerning an historically appropriate style of vocal performance. Withinthe cultural ambit of Northern Europe, respected opinions on the topic call for avocal production in which vibrato is slight, if not indeed entirely absent. Thispractice does facilitate extremely clean intonation; but while it reflects the musicalcustoms of more northerly peoples, it is strikingly removed from the usual patternin traditional Italian singing.Philological disputes on this matter are still unresolved: however, a reasonablydefinite way forward is indicated by the writings of the period. A variety of worksfrom the late 16th and early 17th centuries discuss, albeit briefly, the art of singing. In his Prattica di Musica 1 , one of the earliest texts in which we findextensive remarks on the subject, Ludovico Zacconi asserts: Il tremolo nella musica non è necessario; ma facendolo oltra che dimostra sincerità, eardire; abbellisce le cantilene [...] dico ancora, che il tremolo, cioè la voce tremante è la veraporta d’intrar dentro a passaggi, e d’impatronirsi delle gorge [...] Questo tremolo deve essere   1   L UDOVICO Z ACCONI ,  Prattica di Musica , Venice, Bartolomeo Carampello, 1596; anastatic reprint, Bologna,Forni, 1983.  XVI succinto, e vago; perché l’ingordo e forzato tedia, e fastidisce: Ed è di natura tale che usandolo,sempre usar si deve [sic]; accioché l’uso si converti in habito; perché quel continuo muover divoce aiuta, e volentieri spinge la mossa delle gorge, e facilita mirabilmente i principij depassaggi [...](The tremolo is not necessary in music; but to perform it, besides demonstrating sincerityand boldness, embellishes the cantilenas 2  [...] I say further that the tremolo, that is, the tremblingvoice, is the true way of access to passaggios 3  and to the command of gorgias. This tremoloshould be succinct, and graceful; because the excessive and forced is tedious, and annoys: Andits nature is such that if one uses it, one must use it always [sic]; in order that the use beconverted into habit; because that continual movement of the voice is helpful, and readily assiststhe production of trills, and facilitates wonderfully the bases of passaggios [...] 4 ) In the light of the instructions cited, it may legitimately be supposed thatZacconi’s ‘tremolo’ is neither a device of emphasis, to be used for expressiveeffect, nor indeed an ornament, like the trill or the mordent 5 ; rather, it presentsitself as a constant attribute of the voice. The essential traits in terms of whichZacconi describes the ‘tremolo’ coincide almost entirely with those whichcharacterise the vibrato of today. It is important, however, to distinguish thenatural vibrato from the vocal effect which results in oscillations so wide (owing,usually, to efforts to increase the volume of the voice) as to impair intonation andsound-quality. Further confusion is caused by various artificial practices, such as the use of the diaphragm to ‘move’ the sound intentionally by means of small impulses, as in the technique employed by some players of wind instruments, orsuch as the more or less rapid contraction of the muscles of the larynx, a habitfairly widespread among singers of popular and pop music. These expedients donot add to the beauty of the voice or provide emphasis in the singing; one mightconjecture that Zacconi is referring to something analogous when he speaks of the ‘excessive and forced’ tremolo which ‘is tedious, and annoys’.   2  Ib ., Bk.I,  folio  55, Ch.LXII. 3  Diminutions and improvised passages of agility. Since the art of ‘passeggiare’ (executing passaggios) constitutedone of the essential elements in the training of singers from the 16th to the 19th century, the reader interested in thisfundamentally important aspect of the performance of arias in this period will find it useful to consult the workscited in the present article, as well as in the general bibliography under ‘riproduzioni in fac simile’. 4  Ib ., Bk. I, f. 60, Ch. LXVI. 5  This is the view maintained by Thurston Dart in The Interpretation of Music , London, Hutchinson UniversityLibrary, 1954, p. 50 of the 1967 edition, where he claims that the vocal vibrato is an effect like the trill or themordent, and is to be employed as such; in the performance of ancient music therefore, according to the Englishmusicologist, voices with vibrato would be entirely inappropriate in polyphony and solo singing alike.  XVII It is a reasonable supposition that even the singers of the past practised a formof breath-control 6 : «L’ottava [regola è; n.d.r.] che spinga appoco appoco con lavoce il fiato [...]» («The eighth [rule is (Ed.)] that one push the breath little by littlewith the voice [...]» 7 ). Maffei’s words appear to describe a technique of productionsimilar to the one used in modern singing, in which the apportionment of breathproduces in the voice an involuntary vibration. In the baroque period, too, thevibrato probably formed part of the singer’s technical equipment, independently of any expressive purposes. One could say that - contrary to the opinion that hasbecome established even among musicians - the fixing of the voice is a distinctlyunnatural and mechanical effect, resulting from the stiffening of the muscles of thelarynx and the uncontrolled expulsion of the breath. It is possible in singing tosuspend from time to time the vibration of the sound, whether voluntarily orotherwise, but it has to be said that in the case of most singers who lack therequisite awareness the voice remains fixed at all times, resulting as it does from afaulty production.In spite of the vocal models that have been transmitted by the media in recentdecades, there still exist today people who, though they have never engaged inspecialised study nor listened to trained voices, sing in an open manner thatdisplays a soft and fresh vibrato. It is difficult to believe that an hypotheticallistener of the past should regard a voice having these same characteristics asdefective and unsuited to artistic ends, as is still maintained by some scholars.Recordings made by the singers of the beginning of this century disclose some ‘specimens’ appreciably divergent from the vocal standard of today’s musicalculture. One recognises the above-mentioned ‘firm’ or even vibrato-less sounds, but these are disposed in occasional episodes, as dictated by the circumstances of   6  Some remarks on the use of the breath in singing can also be found in: P IER F RANCESCO T OSI , Opinioni de‘Cantori Antichi e Moderni , Bologna, Lelio dalla Volpe, 1723 - Repr. con note ed esempi di Luigi Leonesi , Naples,Di Gennaro & Morano, 1904; anast. repr. Bologna, Forni, 1985. On p. 65 one reads: «Il Maestro può correggerne loScolaro con quegl’insegnamenti da cui si impara di far un buon uso del respiro, di provvedersene sempre più delbisogno, e di sfuggir gl’impegni se ’l petto non resiste. In ogni composizione gli faccia poi conoscere il sito direspirare, e di respirar senza fatica, poiché ci sono de’cantanti, che con affanno di chi sente penano come gliasmatici ripigliando stentatamente fiato ad ogni momento, o arrivando all’ultime note sfiatati morti.» («The maestromay correct the pupil by means of those instructions through which one learns to use the breath well, to provideoneself always with more than is needed, and to avoid demands with which the chest cannot cope. He should alsoenable him to recognise in any composition the points at which to draw breath without becoming tired, for there aresingers who, to the distress of their audience, struggle like asthmatics, and laboriously catch their breath from onemoment to the next or reach the last notes expiring from breathlessness»). Compare also the paragraph ‘diminutions’ in the authors’ ‘Notes on the Criteria of Realisation’ . 7   G IOVANNI C AMILLO M AFFEI ,  Delle lettere del Signor G. C. M. da Solofra libri due: dove tra gli altri bellissimi  pensieri di Filosofia e di Medicina v‘è un discorso della voce e del modo d‘apparar di garganta senza maestro ,Naples, 1562; in  Revue dee Musicologie , no. 38 (1956), p. 20.  XVIII actual performance. If the voice is without vibrato for reasons connected withexpressive needs or the pronunciation of the text (one might listen for instance tothe  Lamentationes Jeremiae as declaimed/sung by Alessandro Moreschi 8 , or to theother recordings of the same singer), the sound nonetheless remains soft, and thenotes without vibrato are never fixed. Such vocalisation differs from what is usualin operatic singing in our own day, but it is also far distant from the hard voicespresented by many northern European performers.In the 16th century, almost all the music produced took the form of vocal polyphony. Performance ‘a cappella’ normally took no account of the notes’ absolute pitch; the only advice was «avere riguardo a quelli che hanno da cantare,che stiano commodi di tuono, né troppo alto, né troppo basso» («to have regard forthose who are to sing, that they be at ease with the pitch, neither too high, nor toolow» 9 ). With the passing of the centuries, these suggestions were to remain valid;see for example Scola di Canto Fermo 10  of 1715, or the preface by RaffaelleCasimiri to the ‘opera omnia’ of Palestrina, as cited in note 15 below. Theclassical typology of roles in polyphony assigned the ‘bassus’ part to a bass voice, the ‘tenor’ to a mid-range male voice, the ‘altus’ to a high tenor exploiting theresonance of the head voice in a very high tessitura, and finally the ‘cantus’ to a‘puer’ or a falsettist. Polyphonic compositions are often to be encountered which seem to lie very high in relation to such a disposition of voices. But the melodicranges in these cases are not to be taken to correspond to the actual pitches in performance; the fact is that where the so-called ‘chiavette’ or ‘chiavi trasportate’ (‘transposed clefs’) were present, the vocal performance 11  was customarily afourth or a fifth lower 12 .  8  Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), ‘castrato’ soprano of the Sistine Chapel who earned the sobriquet ‘angel of  Rome’, recorded in 1902-3 some ten G&T discs. These recordings were put together on the CD The last castrato , which sold quite widely in the USA. The ‘Crucifixus’ of Rossini‘s Petite Messe Solennelle  (srcinally G&T 54764or 54733) has recently featured in the EMI Classics compilation  L’epoca dei Castrati . 9   L. Z ACCONI , op. cit. , Bk. I, f. 78, Ch. LXIX. 10   F ABIO S EBASTIANO S ANTORO , Scola di Canto Fermo , Naples, 1715, Novello de Bonis ed. p. 255. 11  As may readily be supposed, the transposition to a fourth or a fifth below could be waived in the case of exclusively instrumental performances. See e. g. the Cartella Musicale  of Adriano Banchieri, Venice, GiacomoVincenti, 1614 (transcribed into modern notation by A. Bornstein, Bologna, Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 1994), where forexample among the  Duos  we read: «Duo del Quinto Modo autentico, non corrisponde al tuono. Questo QuintoModo corista et trasportato è comodo per strumenti acuti, ma riesce incomodo per le voci [...] Per strumenti acuti.Trasportato una quarta sotto [è adatto; n.d.r.] per voci umane» («Duo of the Fifth Mode proper, does not correspond to the pitch. This transposed chorist‘s Fifth Mode is convenient for high instruments, but proves inconvenient for voices [...] For high instruments. Transposed a fourth lower [it is suitable (Ed.)] for human voices»). 12  As regards the ‘chiavette’ and their relation to mode of the pieces, cf. the article by H. F. A NDREWS , Transposition of Byrd‘s Vocal Polyphony  in  Music & Letters , vol. 43, 1962, pp. 25-37; or A RTHUR M ENDEL , Pitchin the 16th and early 17th Centuries , Part I (pp. 28-45), Part II (pp. 199-221), Part III (pp. 336-357), Part IV (pp.
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