March 4, 2015

A Rare Photograph of Pauline Viardot-García

VIARDOT-GARCIA. Michelle Ferdinands Pauline, a great lyric actress and singer, younger sister of Maria Malibran, is the daughter of the famous Spanish tenor and teacher, Manuel del Popolo Garcia, and of his wife, Joaquina Sitchez, an accomplished actress. She was born in Paris July 18, 1821, and received her names from her sponsors, Ferdinand Paer, the composer, and the Princess Pauline Galitzin. Genius was Pauline Garcia's birthright, and she grew up from her cradle in an atmosphere of art, and among stirring scenes of adventure. She was only three years old when her father took his family to England, where his daughter Maria, thirteen years older than Pauline, made her first appearance on the stage. His children were with him during the journeys and adventures already described, and Pauline has never forgotten her father being made to sing by the brigands.

The child showed extraordinary intelligence, with a marvellous aptitude for learning and retaining everything. At that time it would have been hard to determine where her special genius lay. Hers was that innate force which can be applied at will in any direction. She learned languages as if in play. Her facility for painting, especially portrait-painting, was equally great. Her earliest pianoforte lessons were given her by Marcos Vega, at New York, when she was not four years old. At eight, after her return from Mexico, she played the accompaniments for her father at his singing lessons, 'and I think,' she wrote afterwards, 'I profited by the lessons even more than the pupils did.' She thus acquired a knowledge of Garcia's method, although she never was his pupil in the usual sense, and assures us that her mother was her 'only singing-master.' Her father worked her hard, however, as he did every one. In his drawing-room operettas, composed for his pupils, there were parts for her, 'containing,' she says, 'things more difficult than any I have sung since. I still preserve them as precious treasures.'

The piano she studied for many years with Moysenberg, and afterwards with Liszt; counterpoint and composition with Reicha. Her industry was ceaseless. After the death of her father and sister she lived with her mother at Brussels, where, in 1837, she made her first appearance as a singer, under the auspices of De Beriot. She afterwards sang for him on a concert tour, and in 1838 at the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris, at a concert, where her powers of execution were brilliantly displayed in a 'Cadence du Diable' framed on the 'Trillo del Diavolo' of Tartini. On May 9, 1839, she appeared at Her Majesty's Theatre as Desdemona in 'Otello,' and with genuine success, which increased at each performance. A certain resemblance to her sister Malibran in voice and style won the favour of her audience, while critics were not wanting who discerned in her, even at that early age, an originality and an intellectual force all her own. Her powers of execution were astonishing, and with the general public she was even more successful, at that time, in the concert room than on the stage. In the autumn of the same year she was engaged for the Theatre Lyrique by the impresario M. Louis Viardot, a distinguished writer and critic, founder of the 'Revue Indépendante.' Here, chiefly in the operas of Rossini, she shared in the triumphs of Grisi, Persiani, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. With these great artists she held her own, and though in many ways less gifted by nature than they, her talent seemed enhanced rather than dimmed by juxtaposition with theirs. Her face lacked regularity of feature; her voice, a mezzo-soprano, but so extended by art as to compass more than three octaves, from the bass C to F in alt, was neither equal nor always beautiful in tone. It had probably been overworked in youth: although expressive it was thin and sometimes even harsh, but she could turn her very deficiencies to account. Her first admirers were among the intellectual and the cultivated. The public took longer to become accustomed to her peculiarities, but always ended by giving in its allegiance. For men and women of letters, artists, etc., she had a strong fascination. Her picturesque weirdness and statuesque grace, her inventive power and consummate mastery over all the resources of her art, nay, her very voice and face, irregular, but full of contrast and expression—all these appealed to the imagination, and formed an ensemble irresistible in its piquancy and originality. 'The pale, still,—one might at the first glance say lustreless countenance,—the suave and unconstrained movements, the astonishing freedom from every sort of affectation,—how transfigured and illumined all this appears when she is carried away by her genius on the current of song!' writes George Sand; and Liszt, 'In all that concerns method and execution, feeling and expression, it would be hard to find a name worthy to be mentioned with that of Malibran's sister. In her, virtuosity serves only as a means of expressing the idea, the thought, the character of a work or a role.'

In 1840 she married M. Viardot, who resigned the Opera management, and accompanied her to Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, and England. At Berlin, after her performance of Rachel, in 'La Juive,' one of her greatest parts, she was serenaded by the whole orchestra. Here too she astounded both connoisseurs and public by volunteering at a moment's notice to sing the part of Isabelle in 'Robert le Diable' for Fraulein Tuczek, in addition to her own part of Alice—a bold attempt, vindicated by its brilliant success. 

She returned to Paris in 1849 for the production of Meyerbeer's 'Prophete.' She had been specially chosen by the composer for Fides, and to her help and suggestions he was more indebted than 5s generally known. She was indeed, as Moscheles wrote, 'the life and soul of the opera, which owed to her at least half of its great success.' She played Fides more than 200 times in all the chief opera-houses in Europe, and has so identified herself with the part that her successors can do no more than copy her. 

From 1848 to 1858 she appeared every year in London. In 1859 M. Carvalho, director of the Theatre Lyrique, revived the Orphée of Gluck, which had not been heard for thirty years. The part of Orphée, restored (by Berlioz) from a high tenor to the contralto for which it was written, was taken by Mme. Viardot, who achieved in it a triumph perhaps unique. This revival was followed in 1861 by that of Gluck's 'Alceste' at the Opera. The music of this—as Berlioz calls it—'wellnigh inaccessible part,' was less suited than that of Orphée to Mme. Viardot's voice, but it was perhaps the greatest of all her achievements, and a worthy crown to a repertoire which had included Desdemona, Cenerentola, Rosina, Norma, Arsace, Camilla ('Orazi'), Amina, Borneo, Lucia, Maria di Bohan, Ninette, Leonora ('Favorita'), Azucena, Donna Anna, Zerlina, Rachel, Iphigenie (Gluck), Alice, Isabelle, Valentine, Fides, and Orphée. 

In 1863 Mme. Viardot fixed her abode at Baden, and has sung no more at the Opera, though she has appeared at concerts, and was heard in London as lately as 1870. She has composed a great deal, and several operettas, the books of which were written for her by Turgenief, were represented in her little private theatre by her pupils and her children. One of these, translated into German by Richard Pohl, as 'Der letzte Zauberer,' was performed in public at Weimar, Carlsruhe, and Riga. In 1871 she was obliged, as the wife of a Frenchman, to leave Germany, and since then has lived in Paris. She has devoted much time to teaching, and for some years was professor of singing at the Conservatoire.

Among her pupils may be named Mme. Desiree Artot, Orgeni, Marianne Brandt, and Antoinette Sterling. Mme. Viardot has published several collections of original songs, and vocal transcriptions of some of Chopin's Mazurkas, made famous by her own singing of them and by that of Jenny Lind. Her three daughters are all clever musicians. Her son, Paul Viardot, a pupil of Léonard, born at Courtavent, July 20, 1857, has appeared with success in London and elsewhere as a violinist. Mme. Viardot is still the centre of a distinguished circle of friends, by whom she is as much beloved for her virtues as admired for her genius and her accomplishments. Not one of her least distinctions is that to her Schumann dedicated his beautiful Liederkreis, op. 24. 

We cannot close this brief account of a great artist without an allusion to her well-known collection of autographs, which among other treasures contains the original score of 'Don Giovanni,' a cantata 'Schmücke dich' by J. S. Bach, Mendelssohn's 42 Psalm, a scherzo by Beethoven, etc [F.A.M.]

A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Sir George Grove, 1890, p. 259

Note: Mme. Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910) gave this rare c. 1880's photograph to pupil Sophie Traubman (1866-1951), a soprano who was born in New York City and made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1887. Traubman remained with the company for 10 seasons, appearing in the first American performances of Wagner's 'Das Reingold' and 'Götterdämerung,' where she sang the role of the Forest Bird to Lilli Lehmann's Brunhilde and Albert Niemann's Siegfried. She also appeared in 'The Barbier von Bagdad,' as Elvira in Don Giovanni,' in 'Siegfried' with Jean de Reszke in the title role, and in 'Carmen.' After subsequent appearances in Munich, Cologne, Vienna and London, Traubman taught voice in New York City at the Old Met on West 39th Street. 

Photo Credit: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 

March 3, 2015

Alessandro Busti's Studio di Canto per baritono & William Huckel's Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice

Students of historical vocal pedagogy can now download Alessandro Busti's Studio di Canto per baritono (1865)the historic singing manual Lucie Manén wrote about in Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Italian Song-Schools, It's Decline and Restoration (1987) that confirmed the bel canto teaching on the "start of the tone" she had been taught by Anna E. Schoen-René, a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. Previously unavailable from the only library in America which had a copy (too fragile to scan), the text has recently been digitized by Landesbibliothek Coburg. 

Manén believed Busti had revealed a secret teaching of the old Italian school when he published the exercise you see below in Studio in Canto per baritono in 1864. However, the exercise had already been published by William Huckel in 1820 in his fascinating little book Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice. Perhaps Manén was unaware of this? Whatever the case, the inclusion of this exercise in two different texts—one published in Naples and the other in London—can be traced back to the same pedagogical tree: Busti had been a student of Girolamo Crescentini, one of the last castrati, while Huckel had been a student of Domenico Corri, a tenor who had studied with Nicola Porpora.

Busti's exercise for the start of the tone

Busti's book is essentially one of vocal exercises with very little text, while Huckel's is just the opposite, containing excellent instructions woven around carefully chosen exercises. 

Those who read Huckel closely will be rewarded with detailed vocal techniques. His nuanced instruction on the old Italian school teaching of opening the mouth departs from the usual focus on the smiling upper lip. Huckel writes: "The lower lip should be inclined to the smile, so that the tip of the under teeth may just be seen; for if the lip is allowed to remain in its natural position during practice, the probability is, that it will weaken and damp the tone." 

Huckel's exercise for the start of the tone

Huckel also has curious things to say about the joining of registers, which involved crossing from chest to head by "pressing from the back of the mouth; the pressure necessary may be compared to leaning forward when walking against a very strong current of air." When I read this passage, my modern ears heard the words "lift" and "extension," which refer to proprioception of the muscles of the body rather a forcing of air from the lungs.

Huckel also gives the reader excellent information on the "shake." In fact, he may be the first writer to illustrate the manner in which it should be practiced, the first exercise being done slowly on a half-note (which is how Jenny Lind had been taught to practice it by Manuel García). 

There is a lot more waiting for the reader to discover in Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice, which I find to be one of the most intriguing texts I have encountered. 

VoiceTalk readers now have two important 19th century singing manuals which compliment and inform each other.

February 26, 2015

Mrs. Robinson-Duff comes out swinging

Sarah Robinson Duff (d. 1934)
To the Editor of the Musical Courier: 
My attention has just been called to a letter from Vittorio Trevisan, vocal teacher of Chicago, which appears in the Musical Courier of July 27, I922, in which he makes some disparaging statements regarding my claim, being a teacher of Mary McCormic. At the time the Chicago Opera Company engaged Mary McCormic, Mary Garden, who was then the general director of the company, sent Miss McCormic to me and asked me to prepare her in the aria of Micaela from "Carmen," and Musetta in"Bohéme." She also asked me to teach her the air of “Le Roi de Thule" and the waltz from “Faust,” as well as the bird song from “Pagliacci.” I consented and Miss McCormic studied with me from that time until May, 1921.

When I began to work with Miss McCormic I found that in order to have her do this work in a satisfactory manner I should be compelled to replace her voice. Miss McCormic had never been taught breathing and her voice was uneven. During this time Miss McCormic took a singing lesson with me every day and at the same time had a daily lesson in diaphragmatic breathing with my daughter, Francis Robinson-Duff. The remarkable result of her work while under my teaching can be testified to by a number of prominent people who heard her at that time.

An appreciation of Miss Robinson-Duff's instruction can be found in an article written and illustrated by Miss McCormic in the Physical Culture Magazine of August, 1922.

Mary McCorinic's second period of study with me was during the season of the Chicago Opera Association in New York in 1922, when daily lessons were taken from both my daughter and me.

I have never claimed to be the only teacher of Miss McCormic. But I do claim to have given her the proper diaphragmatic breathing and to have placed her voice on this breath.

In conversation with me, Miss McCormic has always spoken of Mr. Trevisan with great appreciation and gratitude for all he has done for her in her art.

Thanking you for giving this letter attention in the columns of the Musical Courier. I beg to remain

Yours faithfully, (SIGNED) Sarah Robinson-Duff

Musical Courier, September 12th, 1922.


Replaced her voice? Now, that's a turn of phrase you don't hear anymore! What Robinson-Duff means, of course, is that she taught her student correct voice placement. Linguistically speaking, this terminology echoes the teachings of the old Italian school of singing as expressed by students of Francesco Lamperti and Manuel García during the early part of the 20th century, terminology which sounds increasingly foreign to our ears.

Dive into Robinson-Duff's Simple Truths Used by Great Singers (1919) and you will find references to more arcane vocal terminology, perhaps the most unusual being the exercising of the fausse nasal which appears throughout the text. What is Robinson-Duff talking about? The muscles of the nose, which Madam Calvé is reported to have exercised for two hours a day. Hello! Do voice students today know what this means? I think not. (Hint: speak and sing a clear, deep and resonant /ü/ that seems to fill the upper chest, throat, head and surrounding space with tone.)

Breath and brains are the qualifications most necessary for a singer. —Sarah Robinson-Duff, Obituary, New York Times, May 12, 1934. 

Robinson-Duff's obituary tells readers of her birth in Bangor, Maine, having descended from John Robinson—a Pilgrim minister, but curiously omits the year of her birth. Whether this is the result of vanity or reporter oversight is not known. Whatever the case, Robinson-Duff kept the Robinson family name after marrying Colonel Charles Duff at the age of eighteen.

Robinson-Duff studied voice with Mathilde Marchesi in Paris, and made her mark as a teacher of singing; first in Chicago—where she encountered fourteen-year old Mary Garden—her first pupil; then in Paris, where she taught for more than two decades before fleeing the City of Lights for New York in the wake of the first World War.

Her many students included the aforementioned Mary McCormicAlice Nielsen, Jessie Bartlett Davis, Fanchon Thompson, Nora BayesOlive FremstadFrieda Hempel, and Florence Page Kimball, the teacher of Leontyne Price. Robinson-Duff's daughter Frances (1877-1951) kept the family name and taught her mother's vocal method to many actors, including Kathryn Hepburn, Henry Miller, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Gish (sister to Lillian), and Norma Shearer.

Those curious about the Robinson-Duff-Marchesi method can find relevant material at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

February 25, 2015

When I went to Paris

Mary Garden (1874-1967)

When I went to Paris, Mrs. Duff took me to many of the leading vocal teachers of the city, and said, “Now, Mary, I want you to use your own judgment in picking out a teacher, because if you don’t like the teacher you will not succeed.”

Thus we went around from studio to studio. One asked me to do this—to hum—to make funny, unnatural noises, anything but sing. Finally, Trabadello, now retired to his country home, really asked me to sing in a normal, natural way, not as a freak. I said to myself, “This is the teacher for me.” I could not have had a better one.

Look out for teachers with freak methods—ten to one they are making you one of their experiments. There is nothing that any voice teacher has ever found superior to giving simple scales and exercises sung upon the syllables Lah (ah, as in harbor), Leh (eh, as in they), Lee (ee, as in me). With a good teacher to keep watch over the breathing and the quality, “what more can one have?”

I have always believed in a great many scales and in a great deal of singing florid roles in Italian. Italian is inimitable for the singer. The dulcet, velvet-like character of the language gives something which nothing else can impart. It does not make any difference whether you purpose singing in French, German, English, Russian or Soudanese, you will gain much from exercising in Italian. 

Mary Garden in Great Singers on the Art of Singing (1920) by Harriet Brower and James Francis Cooke. 

Note: Garden's teacher, Mrs. Sarah Robinson-Duff, was a student of Mathilde Marchesi, and wrote an interesting book, Simple Truths Used by Great Singers (1919), which will be the subject of a future post. 

February 23, 2015

Herman Klein on Vibrato

Herman Klein (1856-1934) in New York City in 1901 

In the old Italian school of singing nothing used to be more admired and cultivated than an absolutely steady tone. To-day even in Italy a strong vibrato or a quivering tremolo is generally preferred. Consequently, the modern Milanese 'maestro' encourage it. 

Whether a trembling tone can every furnish a satisfactory medium for the singing of Mozart is another question. We have evidence, both internal and external that the voices for which Mozart write did not suffer from this particular drawback. The sin did not become common until some years after it had started at the Paris Opéra in the midway of the last century Meyerbeer, Auber, and Gounod openly expressed their detestation of it. In alliance ether which a strain of pure melody or a declamatory passage, a trembling voice, no matter how pleasing its quality per se, has always sounded disagreeable to the ears of an English audience. 

Intelligent use of the method of breathing described above practically obviates all danger of an unsteady tone. Instinct for the exactly right amount of breath-pressure should be natural to the good singer and made reliable by practice and experience. It contributes, moreover, to the liquid purity and clearness of timbre resulting from an undisturbed adjustment of the vocal cords. 

This economy of breath and this adjustment are interdependent, since the muscles of the throat respond and resist automatically in exact proportion to the varying degrees of pressure from the lungs. Yet the need for care does not end there. The singer intent upon the tone must not think of the throat, but of where and how the tone itself is reflected or placed: that is the true point d'appui. 

It follows that a perfect sostenuto can only be obtained when the singer has the sensation of direct and uninterrupted great support extending from the region of the diaphragm to the area of resonance. 

—From The Bel Canto: with particular reference to the singing of Mozart (1923) by Herman Klein. (The complete text can be found in Herman Klein and the Gramophone (1990), a collection of essays which can be accessed by clicking on the link.) 


Readers of Hermann Klein and the Gramophone can learn quite a bit about his thoughts on vibrato, which is what I did by going to the link above, using the "search" feature on the left-hand side of the screen, then pulling down my hard copy edition from the shelf.

Type in "vibrato," and you will find twenty-five citations within Klein's text. What does one learn? Well, for one thing, it becomes clear that Klein thought of vibrato in a negative context, that is, he observed its aural character to be at variance to the normal vibration found in the singing voice. This is made clear in the citation appearing on page 221. 

Another warning—addressed this time the English male soloists. They are too much out for volume. Perhaps it is because they are middy jealous of the foreigner, with his bigger voice and freer production. Anyhow, their tone sounds a great deal louder on the gramophone than it does as a rule in the concert-room or even in the opera house. They appear to be standing quite close—much too close—to the microphone, and, by using excessive breath-pressure, they either detract from the natural beauty and purity of their voices or else they set up a vibrato which is not a normal feature of their singing. In this matter, as I think I have observed before, the microphone is more relentless than a highly-polished mirror. It shows up every defect to which the human voice is liable; and I regret to add that the habit of making the tone unsteady by careless or unskillful breathing is one of the commonest of those defects. 

Excessive preath-pressure? Well that makes sense, don't you think? Klein also attributes "vibrato" to breath-pressure on page 452 when referring to Tancredi Pasero's singing. 

The bass delivered the broad theme of King Henry's Prayer, and from the lips of Tancredi Pasero it sounds very broad indeed, despite the rapid vibrato of his (due to excessive breath-pressure) which is his only serious fault. Otherwise, he is in the front rank of Italian "singing basses." 

Fortunately, we are able to hear just what Klein was referring to at Youtube! Click on the link here, and you will hear Pasero sing the very recording Klein reviews.

By way of comparison, Klein has nothing but good things to say about Titta Ruffo's singing on page 79, where he reviews Ruffo's rendition of the Prologue from Leoncavallo's I Paglicacci. Listen to it here.

It is a magnificent organ, properly produced, amazingly resonant, free from nasality or vibrato, and controlled by true diaphragmatic breathing. The power and opulence of the tone strike the listener from the instant he sings the "Signore, signori"; and you can even—rare event! —catch the hissing of the "s" as well. In each successive phrases there is an abundance of expression ample contrast, and not a hint of exaggeration. To teachers who use the gramophone I would say, "Here is your perfect model!" I may even add my opinion that this is how Santley in his prime would have sung the Paglicacci Prologue. And praise can go no higher than that.   

What does one hear in Ruffo's singing? A vibrating tone, which is quite different than Pasero's vibrato. One also hears the sostenuto which Klein refers to in Bel Canto, which he considers a matter of correct production, one requiring steadiness. We can take from this that Klein's sostenuto does not mean straightened tone, which, by its very nature is limiting to vocal function. In short: steady does not mean straight! 

Others are welcome to disagree, but if we take Klein's teaching as having descended from a direct line of voice teachers stretching back to Nicola Porpora (Klein's teacher was Manuel García, who's own father—also Manuel—studied with Giovanni Anzani—a student of Porpora), then we will want to review Baroque performance practice, which has been straightening out vocalists and orchestras since the 1960's.

Happily, the whole matter seems to be under revision. Click here for another perspective.

February 21, 2015

The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD

This is a remarkable book which features the work of Paul Madaule, director of the Listening Centre in Toronto, Canada, which is based on the work of Alfred A. Tomatis, a pioneer in psychoacoustics. 

What can the student of singing gain from this book? Well, for one thing, a good deal of information regarding the plasticity of the brain. For another, an under-the-hood view of how we learn—and how the body and brain are connected. Reading it, you begin to understand why Tomatis said curious things like "Your back is your ear" and alternately, "Your ear is your back."

I experienced Tomatis' observation myself after beginning my own course of listening training in Toronto in 1999.  At the end of the first week, I observed that my neck had been elongated—stretched up and back, so much so that my muscles ached. I also felt a huge change in the base of my tongue—as though someone had reached into the back of my mouth and untied a knot, the consequence of which I felt an intense ache from the tip of my tongue all the way down to my collarbone. All this from listening to filtered music, which changed the relationship between the muscles of my ears and body.

My speaking voice changed of course, as did my singing, both of which became more fluid and full of timbre. I know this blog to be a result of my listening training experience too: singing, speaking and writing involving self-listening, the training connected the dots—or as I sometimes tell people—moved the furniture in my head, which found expression on this page. Such is the power of sound.  

This book is full of stories of real people experiencing real change. As a companion, I also suggest you read Paul Madaule's excellent book When Listening Comes Alive. Taken together, you will have a better understanding of Tomatis' revolutionary work and its application to the art of singing. 

February 20, 2015

G. B. Lamperti in Dresden

G. B. Lamperti, Musical Courier c. 1899

EIGHT years ago, preparing for a course of study abroad, my great objective point was Italy; circumstances intervening, five years went by before my face was turned Europe-ward, and then not to Italy. Why? The then rapid decline of Italian opera, the new Wagner craze, the superiority of German music generally, and some minor causes, sent me to Dresden, for there was the happy combination of an Italian-method teacher, and the finest opera in Germany. Time has proven that my selection was wise. 

With the maestro, G. B. Lamperti, son of the celebrated Francesco, of Milan, my studies were begun, and from the first lesson to the present time, I have no reason to regret it. He is one of the last of those truly great teachers who believe before playing upon an instrument, it should be put in order. Each tone is first built up, until the voice is a beautiful, complete whole. This is no easy matter, requiring patience on both sides, and confidence on the part of the pupil; but the average American student of moderate talent seeks a so-called "quick method," being discouraged if in a year he be not a fine concert singer, or able to make a good church or opera engagement! If as Sim Reeves is reported to have said to an ambitious American mother, it takes seven years to make a shoemaker, what can you expect to do in a few months with an instrument hidden in a dark corner of the body, neither able to be seen nor handled Dear Editor, it is time this ignorance regarding the voice be dispelled. An average mother will give her daughter eight to ten years of piano-instruction; but request her to give three years for voice-cultivation, and she wonders what it is all for. It takes years to train the other muscles to their proper uses, why not the delicate throat-muscles?

Lamperti is censured for being slow and "old-timer." Thanks to him, I am happy to say he is, if slow consists in demanding at least three years to perfect a singer. A more careful, painstaking, conscientious, capable teacher I cannot imagine; but the modern idea, which wants everything done by touching an electric button, had better pass him by. He laments the decline of the art of singing, saying it is impossible with the present prevailing ideas to produce the artists of 100 years ago. 

Lamperti's price is 100 m. (about $25) a month, for two half-hour lessons a week, which is less than Henschel, Rnagegger, of Shakespear, in London, or Marchesi, in Paris. The latter is growing very passé, and, I am told, has a temper simply unbearable. Students are now giving preference to La Grange or Artôt in that city. 

The question of where to go and to whom, puzzles many. Shun Italy. The older Lamperti is almost eighty, and gives few lessons; Vannuccini in Florence knows knowing of voice-building; and Vannini has not reputation enough, even if he has a good method. A lady recently returned from Florence states that she was not able to find one good teacher there, and Milan was equally destitute. This dearth of teachers is not the only bad side of Italy; the opera is deplorable, music generally being very clap-trap, while the climate, with poor heating arrangements, offers another objection. I should advise Paris, London, or Dresden. Dresden is full of American pupils, it being far ahead of Berlin in vocal advantages. The conservatory is especially good, principle among the teachers being Fraulein Orgeni, pupil of the older Lamperti. She is very popular and does fine work. The opera house is the third finest in Europe, and the opera excellent. The "divine Malten" stands at the very head of the great sopranos, and Scheidemantel ranks as one of the finest baritones in Europe. Opera is cheap, costing from twelve cents to $1.25, and is a fixed price. The fourth gallery is the great American resort; seats cost from .25 to .50, and, the music sounding it better here than in any other part of the house, it is always crowded with students, and tourists who do not care to make a toilet required for the parquet or first gallery. Hats are never worn in either concert or opera, and one is compelled to give up coat and umbrella for a small fee. 

Living is expensive, four marks (about $1) being the very least fro which one can find eatable and sleepable board. A piano student can tuck himself away in some cheaper place; but a vocalist needs, above all things, a sunny room and good table. London is much more expensive while the fog and other disagreeable features of the climate are a great drawback; but that s the place for English ballad and oratorio. 

Shun the "German method" teacher. He generally has a bundle of Italian exercises in his hand (either Borgogni, Marchesi, or Lamperti), a German heart beating in his bosom, and a German vowel sticking in his throat! He is not the man for a bright student who wishes to improve, beautify, and best of all, preserve his voice. I reasoned in this manner: The method which developed a Jenny Lind, a Sontag, a Patti, and, in fact, all the greatest singers, was good enough for me; why seek further? The Germans, as a class, are opposed to the vocal trill or cadenza, saying it is soulless and foolish; yet they spend hours in acquiring a trill upon piano or violin, an dappled a Sarasate or Carreno vociferously for something fine in that line. There is no talk of frivolity then, I notice, and lack of soul enters not in the conversation! I am afraid (tell it not in Gath!), I am afraid they are not consistent. 

I would advise my American friends who contemplate a course of study abroad, not to come for only one year. They will be disappointed, as in that time only a beginning can be made. The sad and unhappy girls who return half-finished after a twelve-month her are legion.

ELBE.  Dresden, Germany.  

Werner's Voice Magazine, June 1891. 


ONE of the first surprises I had in beginning my singing-lessons was that the exercises were not given piano.  I said to Lamperti: "I have read a great many books on Italian method, and they all concur  in one point, and that is that the old Italians began voice-training piano; why do you not do so?" "For the simple reason," replied he, "that to sing piano well is the finishing touch of a singer; why begin at the end? If you were teaching violin or any other instrument you would not require your pupil to play a tone first piano, would you?" I acknowledged the sense of his reasoning and know he is right. Sing naturally first, neither piano nor forte, and with a proper management of breath, both of these will be a easy matter afterward, if you have a voice; if not, don't waste your time taking singing-lessons. Better bestow the money on the poor.

A second surprise awaited me in the registers—head-tones began at C#! I had had three different teaches in America, so-called "Italian-method," but they compelled me to run my middle notes up to F#,—a sad mistake, narrowing the voice down and injuring the quality. 

ELBE, Dresden, Germany

Werner's Voice Magaine, July 1891.

February 18, 2015

Mr. Wheeler's Rounded Pyramid

Lyman W. Wheeler (1837-1900)

By Susan Andrews Rice

The room in which Mr. Wheeler teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music is in striking contrast to his beautiful studio on Tremont street. It is well lighted, but besides the grand piano and chairs, there is no other furniture. A few Japanese trifles are about the only attempt at decoration. As the class take their places at the side of the piano, Mr. Wheeler seats himself and talks to them. He tells them the two great principles of Voice-cultivation are these: First, as you diminish the tone, open it; and, second, make the voice round as you ascend, that is, pyramidal in shape, broad at the base, round at the top. No matter what the voice, whether bass or soprano, thin or sombre, these two things must be studied constantly. The great representatives of the Italian school, Garcia, Vannuccini and Marchesi, all agree on this point.

The exercise used for opening the voice as the tone is diminished is oh, blending into ah, sustained up and down the scale. This distributes the force equally through the throat and head. In an experience of 30 years’ teaching, he has almost always begun a lesson with this exercise. It is sung by the class, within the medium range of the voice. “Be careful not to close the month until the sound has entirely died away,” he cautions, and repeats his opinion of the value of the exercises: “If I were to die and could leave only two things on record about voice-culture it would be those two," are his earnest words.

An exercise for rounding the voice follows arpeggio and scale. It is sung to the syllable ah, trying to make the upper notes round. “Do not try to make the position of your mouth like that of any other person’s. Let the ear be the criterion. Forget you have a throat; sing naturally. When the tone sounds right, it is right.”

Mr. Wheeler begins to speak of embellishments, but is interrupted by a message. He then goes on: “Sing the common turn.” The scale introducing this ornament is sung, and a little exercise containing it is written in the notebooks. (Let me state parenthetically that each pupil sings the exercise alone, as well as in company with the others.) “There are two turns in general use, the common turn and the attack turn. In the common turn the accent is on the first note; in the attack turn the first three notes are sung rapidly. There are seven different turns, but it is essential to consider these two only.”

Then the study of Vaccai's exercises are taken up. The class practice reading Italian at first, then sing the first four exercises “Try and infuse some sentiment or feeling into everything you sing, be it scale, song, or study," is his advice.

The lesson ended, Mr. Wheeler recapitulates tersely what he has said. One young lady asks if it is a sign that she is singing wrongly if her throat aches after singing. Mr. Wheeler replies: “If you have been singing in a wrong manner and have come to a sensible teacher, it is only natural that the muscles should tire easily when the method is changed. If sore throat sets in, it is a sign that you are singing wrongly, or that your throat should be in the hands of a physician. Never sing with a sore throat.” The bell rings, the class pass out, and the lesson is over for the day.

Werner's Voice Magazine, November, 1891. 

Note: Lyman W. Wheeler was a student of Manuel García and Domenico Scafati, a highly successful tenor, and faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music. For more information, click on his label below. 

February 16, 2015

Listening comes first

Here's something to write down in your notebook: We learn to feel what happens in the vocal tract after we make the sound we have made rather than before.  

Got that? If you keep this in mind, then you will be way ahead of the oh-so-smart grad student who's just discovered Manuel García's groundingbreaking treatise (the first to assign physiological causes to tone) and believes he can learn how to sing though an understanding of vocal mechanics and raw manipulation. 

You'd be surprised how many people think this can be done. All you have to do is sit through voice juries at your nearest university and you will hear things like: "She doesn't keep her larynx down!" He doesn't lift his soft palate up enough!" "Where is the support?" "Oh, that was a fine legato! She really used her core muscles that time!"  

We all too often equate knowledge about observable phenomena as being equal to its creation. However, old Italian school voice teachers, who approached the teaching of singing from an empirical perspective, would not agree. They were "vowel first" people, not move this muscle to get that sound folks.  

We see this in Klein's text in Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel García in his teaching regarding "singing position." There, Klein instructs the student to "first sound the vowel "ah" in the speaking voice. This should be done with firm utterance, not very loudly, but upon what seems to be a rather deep, reverberant sound."

Got that? Klein is asking the student to "sound" a vowel in a very specific manner. There is a lifetime of instruction in this teaching. Why? Because to do what Klein asks requires the student to listen to what he/she is doing.

The result? Klein tells the reader: "This action will be found to press the larynx down to a slightly lower position in the throat than it ordinarily occupies. The deeper the speaking sound the lower that position will be. Observe the nature of the sound thus uttered, and see that it be easy to sustain, musical, and pure." 

Neat, huh? 

You make the sound and then observe the result. As such, listening comes first, which leads to an experience/understanding of cause and effect. 

February 12, 2015

The Wheeler Boys

Lyman W. Wheeler (1837-1900)
One of the most popular and successful teachers of singing in Boston is Mr. Lyman Warren Wheeler, who has been connected with the New England Conservatory of Music since its foundation. Mr. Wheeler was born at Swampscott, Mass., a fashionable watering place and summer resort, in the spring of 1837. When about ten years of age he began his musical studies under the direction of Mr. C. A. Adams, of Lynn, Mass., with whom he remained four years, at the same time taking a few lessons on the piano and organ, and attending the common school. At this time young Wheeler possessed an alto voice of remarkable sweetness and unusual compass, singing three octaves without any difficulty. He received many offers to join concert companies, but his father, with great good sense, realizing the delicacy of a young voice and the readiness with which it may be entirely ruined, preferred to keep the boy at home at his studies. At the age of seventeen he went to Boston, ambitious to acquire the best musical education obtainable, and in the spring of 1853 he entered the Philharmonic Institute, where he remained two years. On leaving the institute he continued his studies in vocal music under the best English and Italian masters, and in September, 1857, he started for the west, and began teaching in different cities. During the winter of 1857 Wheeler had no fewer than 900 pupils whom he met every week. He officiated as conductor of several musical societies, and has held musical conventions in many of the principal western cities. In September, 1860, Mr. Wheeler sailed for Europe with the intention of placing himself under Garcia, the preceptor of Jenny Lind, Malibran and many other famous vocalists. He entered the Royal Academy of London, Garcia being at that time the head of the vocal department of that institution, and after devoting a year to the most arduous study of the art of singing, he repaired to Milan, Italy, where he began with Prati and San Giovanni, with whom he remained eighteen months, during a part of that time taking two or three lessons each day. At the suggestion of Garcia, he then sought the guidance of Scafati, a famous teacher at Naples, with whom Mr. Wheeler studied for five months. During his stay in Italy he studied and committed to memory the principal tenor roles of a large number of grand operas. Returning to London in 1863, he reviewed all his past instruction with his old master, Garcia, besides studying the oratorios with Smith and Perrin. At the queen's concert rooms, and also at the concerts of the Royal Academy Mr. Wheeler sang with distinguished success. He returned to his native country in August, 1863, and accepted the position of tenor in Emanuel church, Boston. His first public appearance was with the Handel and Haydn Society, when they first sang in Boston music hall with the great organ of that auditorium. Mr. Wheeler sang the tenor roles in many productions of oratorio in Boston and other cities in New England, meeting with the highest praise from the critics and the public. As a teacher he soon found all his time taken up, and he was obliged to give up singing in public, to devote himself to his class. At the foundation of the New England Conservatory Mr. Wheeler was asked to become one of the faculty, and to that splendid institution he has devoted himself and his best efforts ever since. He has graduated some of the best singers that America has produced, many of the famous artists of the day having obtained the foundation of their success under his guidance. Mr. Wheeler usually spends his summers in normal work, in different parts of the country. For some years he was associated with Mr. Wm. H. Sherwood, in summer schools of this kind, whereby his influence is more widely extended. —A Hundred Years of Music in America, 1889, page 16-17.


J. Harry Wheeler (1836-1909) at Chautauqua
J. Harry Wheeler is one of the prominent voice teachers in the United States. His pupils may be found filling responsible positions in nearly every large city in the country. Many of them are on the grand opera, oratorio and concert stage. 

Mr. Wheeler has been the principal of the vocal department at the Chautagua N.Y. Summer School of Music fifteen year; he was principal of the vocal department at the Northwestern University; principle of the vocal department at Tufts College, principal of the Boston Normal Musical Institute; was voice teacher and lecturer on vocal culture in the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, thirteen years; voice examiner in the College of American Musicians; special voice examiner at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Canada, 1901. Mr. Wheeler is the author of the most concise work published on vocal physiology, adapted to the requirements of voice teachers and singers, entitled “Vocal Physiology and Singing,” published by the New England Conservatory of music, Boston, Mass; also author of “The Voice and Kindred Topics,” &c. In his student days Mr. Wheeler was a pupil of the famous singing master, Manuel Garcia, London, England, the teacher of Jenny Lind, Malibran and many other world famed artists. In Italy he studied with the renowned maestro de canto, Lamperti. Both of these eminent masters taught strictly the Italian method of tone production which Mr. Wheeler unreservedly and enthusiastically pursues in his teaching of voice placement. 

Mr. Wheeler fully endorses those in this picture group. The voice teachers educate voices strictly in the Italian method, and may be relied upon as safe, reliable and first-class teachers. —Musical Courier, January 8, 1902, Page 18.


Two men with the same last name, one of them studying with García, the other with both García and Lamperti. After finding the articles above, I wondered if Lyman and Harry were related. Since the one about Lyman gave crucial information regarding his place of birth, it became a matter of tracking down more information about Harry—which led me to his book that referenced Francesco Lamperti, as well as an article which apologized for confusing the two men—who were brothers. I subsequently discovered Harry and Lyman Wheeler were born a year apart in the 1830's. Both brothers studied with Manuel García and taught at the New England Conservatory of Music (Lyman taught on the faculty from 1868-1882, then 1885-1893, while Harry taught voice from 1882-1887). Lyman was the younger of the two and had a higher profile, which may be explained by Jenny Lind remarking that Lyman was one of the best tenors she had ever heard—there being no mention of Harry's voice at all. Was there rivalry between the two? It's hard to know, but one wonders, since Harry taught at a succession of schools, while Lyman stayed at the New England Conservatory. Lyman also kept his pedagogical allegiance to García, while Harry left the father of voice science for Lamperti—García's great rival. In the end, Harry outlived his younger brother, who dropped dead at the age of sixty-three. Harry left the planet nine years later at the age of seventy-three, having married a twenty-two year old student when he was fifty-six—not unlike his famous teachers who also married much younger students. He spent the last decade of this life in New York City, teaching privately and giving lectures on the voice and vocal physiology. Like García, Harry used a model of the larynx, and presented himself as a vocologist a hundred years before the word was coined. Harry's book, Vocal Physiology, Vocal Culture and Singing (1883), is a fascinating document, which, on close examination, reveals itself to be an expression of Old Italian School teachings. I encourage the reader to mine its gold and heed Wheeler's sound advice.

Notes: The spelling of "Scafati" has been corrected in the article on Lyman Wheeler, having been incorrectly written as "Skafati." Harry Wheeler's book can also be found at the Hathitrust Digital Library, which can be found here. I also wish to thank New England Conservatory's archivist Maryalice Perrin-Mohr for providing the Wheeler brother's dates of employment on the NEC faculty.