March 25, 2017

Ciccolini & Wartel

Back in 2011 I wrote a post entitled "Wartel's Hum" in which I referenced a book written by Wartel's student Sophia Marquise A. Ciccolini. Her book, Deep Breathing: As a Means of Promoting the Art of Song, and Curing Weaknesses and Affections of the Throat and Lungs, Especially Consumption (1883) was not available online at the time I wrote my post. However, it's now been scanned by the library gods and can be found on VoiceTalk's download page. 

Why should Ciccolini's book interest you? There is the Wartel connection for starters. He was a student of Adolphe Nouritt, himself a student of Manuel García père. Then there is the teaching of Ciccolini herself which centers on breathing and its appliccation in singing and matters of health—perennial wisdom that needs to be discovered by every generatation. 

Wartel, who was then about 70 years old, and who still often delighted his pupils with his full, rich voice, had a very mysterious and ingenious method which, as he said, was taken from the old Italian masters. He had us sing certain exercises with closed mouth, in order to bring us unconsciously to the end he had in view, viz.: to attack every tone in one and the same place and to employ deep, abdominal breathing. —Sophia Marquise A. Ciccolini. Deep Breathing: As a Means of Promoting the At of Song, and Curing Weakness and Affections of the Thoat and Lungs, Especially Consumption (1883). 

What's fascinating about the passage above is the reference to the old Italian school teaching which instructed the student to "attack every tone in one and the same place."

I can tell you one thing: They weren't talking about the larynx!

March 14, 2017

Porpora's Pure Tone

In the construction of any complicated piece of work, be it a mansion or even a musical instrument, which we wish to have well finished, the first thing naturally sought of it is good materials; the idea may be justly applied to the formation of the Voice.

The material required is a pure tone, by a pure tone is meant that, which is entirely free from any nasal, guttural, or dental sound; the best mode of acquiring this pure tone, is by vocalizing on the vowel A, as pronounced by the Italians, or the Scotch. Ah. It is been found from experience, that by emitting the sound on the vowel detached, it is possible that the tongue may by some trifling motion injure the quality of tone, in passing through the mouth, consequently it is deemed necessary to add the consonant L, making La; it will be observed that by this addition the tongue, in uttering the syllable, will touch the roof of the mouth and gently fall into the cavity in the bottom of it; the top of the tongue, touching the inner part of the lower gums. 

The teeth should be kept sufficiently apart to admit not more than the forefinger, for if they are widely separated, or even admit two fingers, an inclination to a nasal tone is created, and on the other hand, if they are too close a dental tone will arise. In the conservatories in Italy, there are men employed expressly to remind the pupils of the necessity of keeping the mouth sufficiently open, by constantly calling out "Aprite le bocca" open the mouth. 

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. The greatest care should be taken to avoid any distortion of the features, such as the movement of the eyes or eyebrows; as this cannot render the least assistance in the production of a sweeter, a larger, or a better quality of tone, the Voice coming as it does (be it "Voce di petto" the Voice of the chest or "Voce di testa" the Voice of the head), from the back of the mouth, the head should be kept in a horizontal position, the practitioner avoiding the slightest movement of the lower jaw, otherwise he may cause a tightness of the muscular action, (a sensation so frequently felt by those who have not studied the art of singing) while passing from the chest to the head. 

—William Huckel, Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice; With a Series of Rules for its Adaption to the Chamber, the Concert Room, and the Stage (1820?): page 18-20. 


Huckel was a student of Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora. His text is of great interest, not only for its connection to Porpora—whose reputation as a voice teacher is legendary—but as the title indicates, for its practical instruction. He offers the reader much to ponder, one key point in the passage above being "the lower lip should be inclined to the smile..."

Find Huckel's text on the download page. 

March 12, 2017

Mastering Portamento

The old Italian school said that without portamento there was no singing, but only isolated notes void of all spiritual connection. According to the Bernacchi school, one may illustrate the portamento by imagining two pearls strung on a fine thread. The pearls represent the two notes to be joined, and the thread the connection, the swift gliding of the voice from the one note to the other.

Albert B Bach (1844-1912) 
The most expressive and sympathetic portamento that I have ever heard is that of the darling of gods and men, Adelina Patti. I believe that scarcely any other songstress is equally rich in pearls. I mean those notes gliding like invisible pearls from her lips, and certainly more precious than all the pearls eye can behold. I never heard an artist equally capable of singing so much with so little expenditure of breath. A sparkling writer once called Italy “the Lord’s own conservatoire,” and in this conservatorio, said Hanslick, Adelina Patti has indisputably carried off the first prize.

According to the Bernacchi school, the portamento of the Italians consists in joining on two different syllables two notes which form a smaller or larger interval in such a way that by a gentle legato, commencing at the close of the first note, the voice glides rapidly over to the second note by means of anticipating it. Bernacchi adds: “It is the teacher's business to sing, and to continue singing, to the pupil the portamento, and to make him imitate it until it is entirely mastered." I think it is desirable, too, that the teacher should copy the pupil’s faults, in order to challenge his judgment, and to make his sense of tone more acute; for it is in human nature to judge our neighbours more accurately than ourselves. The fable has it: “Man carries his neighbour's faults at his breast before him; but his own faults he carries on his back, where he does not see them.”

It is the teacher's business to sing, and to continue singing, to the pupil the portamento, and to make him imitate it until it is entirely mastered.

Some Italians call the musical sign marking the portamento—the transition from one note to another—“Il ponticello, the little bridge.” I should call it a magic bridge, the architect of which requires to be a noble artist, on whose skill both the safety and the beauty of the structure depend. The less material he employs in building it, the safer is the bridge, and therefore I may indeed call it a magic bridge, and warn pack-horses and heavy waggons not to tread it. Feelings only may traverse it and pass from soul to soul. To them alone it is open, and only at their command. Many nature-taught singers, indeed, think it melting melody and sympathetic expression when they very innocently mew their notes up and down with a rush of superfluous breath, often enough escorted by some nasal and palatal accessories. This is a style of execution which may meet with acceptance, but is by no means to be commended for imitation to the growing artist. Like religion, art ought to seek truth; and since all truth is harmonious, and all harmony beautiful, art must also seek beauty.

Portamento has its place chiefly in pieces in which tender sentiment is to be expressed; yet in the representation of violent passions, and in the delineation of gloom, not less than of the serene, and even in the recitativo, it may not always be dispensed with. The artist’s taste has in most cases to decide where portamento may be employed. Expressiveness is both the object and the effect of portamento, no matter whether love, grief, or joy be the emotions to be characterised. Still, as observed above, tender sentiment can least do without it.

—Albert B. Bach, On Musical Culture and Vocal Culture (1884), page 137-8.


Bach was a student of Francesco Lamperti. Find out more about him by clicking on his label below. His works can be found on the download page in the right-hand column.

Students of bel canto will be greatly aided by the Janet Spencer portamento recording (#5) which accompanies Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia and can be accessed here.

A key device of the old Italian school of singing, portamento is a preparatory exercise for singing legato. 

March 11, 2017

Singing Mozart

I went to the Metropolitan Opera last night to hear Mozart's opera Idomeneo with Matthew Polenzani in the title role. He was in top form. Of course, I woke up thinking about how one sings Mr Mozart. We learn something about that from a conversation between Bruce Duffie and Margaret Harshaw—the doyenne of voice teachers—that you can find online here. 

BD: Is there a secret to singing Mozart? 
MH: Yes, there certainly is. It requires the most pure placement of the voice, and for that reason it’s very difficult to sing. 
BD: And yet that’s what is imposed on a lot of youngsters. 
MH: Yes, and I will say I don’t think that’s always the wisest thing, because they will sing it by manufacturing, or singing it in a small voice. You have to sing it with a real voice that is well controlled, which is different, and in a very high placement, but not high larynx — there’s the difference.


BD: Getting back to roles a little bit, is it right to impose both Mozart and Wagner on the same voice? 
MH: The reason I sang Mozart was to keep my voice from falling lower and lower, getting thick and heavy, and not being able to get to the top notes — which is what the older singer fights. If you sing Mozart, it keeps you in that high position. It isn’t easy, but there it is again; if you want something, you will work for it, and that is the reason I sang it.



Pure placement. High placement. High position. These are descriptive terms you won't hear outside the voice studio, and even within the studio, the student can only understand their meaning through demonstration/feedback from a great listener as well as auditory sensation. These terms have their root in the García School of Singing, which has also been described in brief by Margaret Harshaw—who studied with Anna E. Schoen-René, herself a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García—as involving low support and high placement.

For practical information on voice placement, see my book Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García in the right-hand column. 

March 8, 2017

Top Ten on VoiceTalk

I never know what is going to interest the reader, and don't write to get clicks. Instead, I just write about what interests me at any given time. That said, it's interesting to see what readers gravitate towards. With that in mind, here are the ten most popular posts on VoiceTalk, ranked in descending order. 

  1. How Franceso Lamperti Taught Blending of Registers
  2. Blanche Marchesi: Sounding Boards 
  3. Singing & Hearing Aids
  4. How Manuel García Taught Blending of Registers
  5. Le chemin de l'amour
  6. How to Kill an Opera Company in 5 Easy Steps
  7. NYCO Archives Irreparably Damaged
  8. Lilli Lehmann's Vocal Technique
  9. NYCO Archives in Jeopardy
  10. Staccato 

What is to be gleaned from this list? It would seem that readers of VoiceTalk are interested in historical vocal pedagogy—Lamperti topping the list—with the blending of registers being of prime importance. This doesn't surprise me in the least. Students and teachers are forever trying to work out their registration kinks.

NYCO also rears its head—and I confess to having a fondness for number 6 which was written at breakfast in the space of 5 minutes.  I read it now and tell myself: "Yep. That's the way it went down."

The post on Lilli Lehmann's vocal technique? That led a gentleman to call me up and insist that the exercises would make his daughter a star.

Staccato at number 10? Nice to see students of singing Googling the basics. 

Number 5? I heard this haunting song for the first time as sung by the resplendent Rosemary Landry at Westminster Choir College. I hum it on warm summer nights and dream of Paris. 

March 7, 2017

Klein Defends Garcia

Mr. Hermann Klein, at Beckstein Hall on Monday afternoon, made a praiseworthy attempt to absolve the late Manuel Garcia from responsibility for that much-discussed vocal euphemism the "coup de la glotte," or at least the effect as it is generally understood. It is not to be denied that this method of attacking a note carries with it obvious evidences of futility. It has ruined many a singer's voice, but so have many other methods; only they are not all so acutely unpleasant in practice. In view of Mr. Klein's explanations, principally concerned with the correct translation of the word "coup" (which, of course, is not to be rendered "stroke" or "shock), I do not presume Garcia to have been guilty of all that he has been credited with in this particular point. But certainly if the broad vowel "a," without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming an expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte." The broad "ah," unhelped, is seldom at the command of the budding singer, and any persistent attempt to secure it prematurely can only have the most unsatisfactory results. 

This is all by the way, however. I am primarily interested in Garcia as the inventor of the laryngoscope. This idea should have occurred to a medical man, not a singing teacher. If historical records have any value, the art of brilliant accurate vocalism left off with the arrival of the ingenious instrument which permits of an intimate examination of the larynx and trachea. It is fairly obvious that the extraordinary vocal exercises to be found in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercandante and others (in other directions one might also include Handel, Mozart and Beethoven) were only written because they could be sung with a convincing facility. It fact, many of the famous singers were not entirely satisfied with the ornate material offered of the exercise of their abilities. Elaborate cadenzas received additional embellishment, and difficulties were piled on difficulties by the artist, only to show how easily they could be overcome. The famous singers who revelled in these mellifluous displays knew nothing whatever of the physiological aspects of their art, and their teachers were equally ignorant. A work like Rossini's "Barber" cannot be performed nowadays as it was written with any pretensions to successful vocalism. If the composer had been compelled to accept renderings similar to those attempted during the last twenty years or so, his demands on his singers would have been entirely unjustified and history must have played us false. If not, we are justified in attributing the bad, undecided, ill-conceived methods of vocalisation current all the world over at the present day to the invention of the laryngoscope and the consequent advent of the "voice-producer" and the professor of the "scientific method." 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 10, 1911: page 11. 


Sir,—The remarks penned by your esteemed musical critic last week on the subject of my "Causerie" at Bechstein Hall would seem to impose upon me a double duty, namely, to persevere in my endeavour to "absolve" Manuel Garcia from responsibility of the misuse of the "coup de la glotte," and now also to whitewash his memory for the sin of having invented the laryngoscope. So much for the spirit of scientific research; the effort to penetrate one of the mysteries of nature the desire to tell man something about himself that he did not know before! Unlucky teacher of great singers! I cannot believe he had a notion, when he was giving new discoveries new names and striving hard to arrive at the truth concerning his art, that he was heaping up a pile of trouble and preparing the ground for a harvest of misunderstanding and false ideas. 

Well, suppose a singer had invented the laryngoscope. Is your critic so sure that it would not have fallen into the hands of the physiological singing master? Might not the throat doctors have turned and said, "We know now exactly how the vocal apparatus does its work, and are consequently far better qualified than anyone else to give instruction in the proper matter of using it?" They would have claimed the laryngoscope as a purely medical instrument and persuaded every vocal student to go to them first and to the musical man afterwards. Who would have profited by that? 

But Manuel Garcia gave no heed to these things. His great object was to find out by what mechanism the voice was formed. If he incidentally discovered a little instrument that proved to be a boon and a blessing to humanity in the hands of the throat surgeon, be sure he was grateful, and that he had not the least desire to convert the singing teacher into a professor of laryngeal anatomy. It was not his fault if people read into his words more than he intended to convey. He was not to blame if a new race of teachers employed mechanical aids which he himself never employed with or on his pupils. He could not be held responsible of the modern miracle-man of the vocal art proffered "royal roads" to success (and failure), whilst he continued to tread the slow, steady old path which alone, as the often declared, could lead to the goal achieved by the incomparably brilliant vocalists of his own time. Believe me, it is the impatience and unreasonableness of the latter-day student, far more than the advent of the laryngoscope, that marks the new era of singers to whom the roulades and fiorituri of the old Italian school present insurmountable difficulties.

On the other hands, I admit, it is not hard to trace some of this deterioration to the "voice-producer" and the "professor of the scientific method" referred to by your critic. Only it is about as fair to blame Manuel Garcia's invention for the existence of these people as it would be to hold the discoverer of chloroform responsible because burglars occasionally make use of that drug for their nefarious purposes. Blame rather the medical men who first make pathological studies with the aid of the laryngoscope; then, after publishing their observations in a form that the layman could understand, gradually took the singer and the "scientific teacher" into their confidence, and so emphasised the physiological aspect of the voice that the writings of Garcia assumed by degrees a fresh import and became less the means to an end than the end itself.

The doctors I refer to were the late Sir Morell Mackenzie and Mr. Lennox Brown; their books, respectively, "The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs" and "Voice, Song and Speech." The latter paved the way of my old friend Emil Behnke, with his ingenious but mistaken idea of the guttural attack and the "Koo-Koo" method. Surely all this has led may voices to disaster and ruin. Yes, says your critic, "If the broad vowel 'a' without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte.'" What sort of "coup'? Give me the opportunity, and I will gladly at any time demonstrate to "C," with the throat and voice of an untrained singer, in less than half an hour, how the perfect attack can be obtained on the pure vowel "a" by the simple process that Manuel Garcia himself taught—a process that is the reverse of that which is commonly supposed to constitute the so-called "coup de la glotte"!

Yours obediently, Hermann Klein 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 17, 1911: page 15. 

March 5, 2017

Judy's N's

This is what happens to me: I am looking for a particular something, then find myself somewhere else and voila—a post creates itself. That's what happened here. I was at Youtube intent on listening to something completely different when Garland leapt out at me from the right-hand column. And what did I hear when I clicked on "Old Man River"? 

Judy's N's. 

All over the place. Everywhere. The piece was stuffed with them.

This lead me to listen to how Garland sang on her consonants, taking great care to give them time and emphasis. Do you hear singers do this today? I don't think so. This kind of emphasis is considered too fussy, too mannered, and old fashioned.

We laud this lady for singing in such a way as to blow us away; yet, do we hear the detail with which she does it? The technical stuff? I think not. Our brains soak in the big emotional arc Garland takes us on. It's quite the ride, starting quietly and then ending in a huge blaze of sound and feeling. Yet, if you listen carefully, Garland holds herself together with small things like N which are given real care.

We hear the same emphasis and care on her N's in the second cut. The third? We hear Garland do something very different: Instead of emphasising her vocal line, diction and presence, she lets Streisand take the lead. Her diction becomes soft, muted and subordinate. A big star being generous. Then comes the love-fest. 

Small things can be very powerful. Small things like N. 




March 4, 2017

Sing in Spain

I have been vacationing with Umbrian Serenades for the last six years (the program was founded eleven years ago) and will be singing with the program in Soria, Spain, this coming summer. Very excited to be doing so, the program will have a personal component for me because I lived in Spain as a child from the age of 10 to 13—residing in both Bilbao and Valencia. Not having returned to Spain since then, I look forward to revisiting the cities and places that captured my imagination. (There is an amazing Moorish fortress just outside Valencia—in particular—that I am eager to see again.) 

Designed by Paulo Faustini with the greatest care, the program's core is one of gorgeous choral music with the added addition of a recital series. Contained within the context of delectable cultural tastings (we're talking amazing culinary delights) and locals and experiences, the program has a transformative effect on participants—one to which I can attest since I wrote my first book after my first trip (yes, working on a second). I came home after that wonderful trip and knew what I had to do and how I was going to do it. Seeing that I had been sitting on the project for a number of years, the program provided the necessary catalyst for me to—ahem—get off my ass and get it done. 

Singing does that. Did you know that? Singing changes things by rewiring the connections in our brains, helping us see ourselves and others anew. I believe this is why we go to the opera, the art song recital—which is a very intimate endeavor both for the singer and the listener—the synagogue, church, and mosque. Singing is transformative. 

Come be part of it in Spain. See the video for more information, then visit Paulo's site here. He is still accepting applications. 


February 25, 2017

Vannini's Intelligent Laziness

Before entering on a detailed description of Vannini's method of singing, it is necessary to say something about the man, his artistic training, and his peculiar fitness for teaching. Like many others who have made great names for themselves, he has not done so along the line he originally intended. His first instrument was the piano, at which he worked from his earliest youth with the purpose of becoming a concert pianist. In due time he took up the study of harmony, counterpoint, etc., making a rounded musician of himself, with the conductor's baton as the final goal. He had always been in and about the theatre, and showed such proficiency in his profession that at eighteen he was made director of the chorus in the Niccolini, at Florence. This post he filled for three years with such credit that he was appointed conductor, and assumed full direction of the theatre at twenty-one. In Italy the position of conductor is one of great influence and responsibility. On all questions of art his word is law. Not only the concerted music, but the arias of the artists must be sung according to his direction; the stage is set to suit him; and if he says that anyone, from the prima donna down, is not satisfactory, that breaks the contract. He is the repository of all the traditions of the theatre, and is called not the conductor, but il maestro, the master. Such was Vannini's artistic experience,—rather a different one from that of the average vocal teacher.

Karleton Hackett (1867-1935) 
He conducted the opera at the Niccolini for several years, until the demands of a new calling, and one for which he felt himself especially adapted, became so imperative that he resigned, and from his twenty-sixth year till now, in the prime of life at forty-four, has given his entire attention to voice-teaching.

As he was so much in the theatre, he constantly heard the artists rehearsing; and when things did not go right he seemed to know instinctively the trouble and its remedy. After rehearsal he would go to the artist and say: "It seems to me that if you took the phrase this way, it would come more easily;" and a trial proved him right. Naturally, the next time the singer came to a difficult place he went to Vannini for more assistance; then others went; and soon all formed the habit of reading their music to him before rehearsal. Vannini became fascinated with the work. Convinced that it was the branch of the art for which he was intended, he gave up everything to devote himself to teaching the voice, and sought in every way to perfect himself. He had always been intimately associated with artists, which, in itself, is an education of inestimable value. He now consulted all teachers, heard them give lessons, and even went so far as to dissect throats, though this he found of no practical use.

In person he is rather short but strongly built, with a head set very erect on the shoulders, a peculiarly deep, sometimes dreamy eye, coal black hair now a little powdered at the temples, a thin beard, a hand large as the hand of Providence, and, like all Italian gentlemen, with courtesy bred in the very marrow of his bones. His main characteristic is unaffected simplicity and directness in everything, and his greatest horror is humbug, by which he means any theatrical posing or ostentation, either in or out of the studio. Such is the man who greets you so courteously, and who, to the very last day of your stay, treats you with the most kind and thoughtful consideration, never permitting himself a harsh or hasty word no matter how much you may deserve it; for he takes it for granted that you are a gentleman and an earnest student, anxious to do your very best.

There are two distinct parts to Vannini's teaching: First, the training of the voice, pure and simple; secondly, the training of the artist after the voice is placed. For the present I shall speak only of the first part.

At the first lesson or two he metaphorically turns the voice inside out; that is, he tries it in every possible way to find out its quality and quantity, its strong and its weak points. In fact, he says that the first lessons are for his benefit, not for the pupil's. When he knows just what material he has to work with, he begins slowly and carefully to develop the instrument, aiming to reach the highest point possible, no matter how much time it may take. All pupils take three one-hour lessons a week. His terms, though among the very highest in Italy, seem to us here surprisingly low, viz., ten francs or $2 an hour to professionals, more, of course, to amateurs, though he scarcely ever has any. During the period of voice-building, he demands strict obedience and unquestioning faith that what he says must be right. He does not have one cast-iron set of vocal principles to which all voices are made to conform even if they break in the process, but uses as many variations to the great fundamental truths as he has individual voices to deal with.

In an interview published in this magazine last spring I used a simile which I thought and still think a very good one, viz.: "Let the centre of a circle represent the trained voice—the ideal to be reached. Let the circumference represent the untrained voice—the beginner. The master examines two voices, and may find it necessary to start one voice at the right of the circle and the other at the left. They proceed in opposite directions and yet finally meet at the centre." Now there is so much truth in this, and it has been so delightfully misunderstood by some, that I wish to explain my meaning a little further. Take two untrained voices, having exactly opposite faults. One has a thin, pinched, throaty tone with all the breadth and richness squeezed out of it; the other has a flabby, colorless, breathy tone, spread out of all focus. Now it is evident that these voices must be treated in very different fashion. One must be opened out and given freedom; the other gathered together and brought to a focus. Thus, though started in opposite directions, nevertheless, they will meet at the centre, which is the natural, free voice. As no two persons are exactly alike, neither are any two voices; and continual study of individuals with careful consideration of the peculiarities of each voice, are the chief sources of Vannini's power. Following out this plan, he uses no set of vocal exercises, but writes his own for each pupil as fast as needed. Thus the student is always provided with an exercise designed to correct just the fault he is working on. A great volume of exercises is unnecessary. I have all that I used in three years' study on a half sheet of music paper.

The first and sometimes the hardest thing that the American pupil has to learn is to "go slow;" to get free from our national bustle and hurry, which is, perhaps, business, but is certainly neither art nor study. One of Vannini's favorite expressions is "intelligent laziness," by which he means to know when you have done enough actual work, and then to "lie still and grow," as Kipling has put it. Italians have a very wise proverb: "Chi va piano, va sano, e va lontano;" "He who goes carefully, goes safely, and goes a long way." Voice-cultivation is the development by natural growth of the vocal apparatus that nature has given to us. All the vocal teacher does is to direct this growth; in no sense does he make it. He may aid or retard, but nature does the work. The growth that is begun most slowly and carefully will develop most safely and rapidly. We all have noticed that in starting a heavy train the engineer sometimes pulls the throttle too wide open, and the big driving-wheels whiz round; but no progress is made till the engineer shuts off steam and starts again more gently. A similar thing happens very often in vocal study; only when the vocal driving-wheels whiz round, the results are apt to be serious.

That the desired end may be reached most quickly, Vannini usually has his pupils stop all home practice, particularly when there is faulty tone-production, until the pupil has mastered the old faults and has so firm a grasp on the new method that there is no danger of slipping back. The maestro earnestly cautions the pupil against over-practice. Probably nine voices are injured by too much practice where one really suffers from not practicing enough. At first, the pupil may practice from five to ten minutes two or three times a day, but not unless they "feel like it," and never after the voice shows the first signs of weariness. Better go slowly than to take a strained throat to the doctor. From the first day to the last, it is the quality of the work done not the quantity, that is insisted on. A few minutes with all the faculties keenly alert and watching for each minutest fault, are hard work, but bring solid progress; singing a lot of exercises, and never minding whether some things do not come as well as they might, is quite easy and equally injurious. After a few weeks or months of this kind of work, some simple song is given, but only as an exercise for the words. For after the voice can vocalize correctly, there are endless difficulties that may arise from using the different vowels.

What, then, is Vannini driving at? What is the ideal that he holds before himself, and to which he bring each voice as near as possible? It is the rich, free, resonant voice, that can sing legato, and that rolls out from the singer with the same ease and joy as does song from the lark. That voice of fiery yet melting beauty, which we so associate with the Italian stage and so often hear erroneously attributed to the Italian throat, that bel canto, is within the reach of any person endowed with voice and musical feeling, who is willing to work hard enough for it. We Americans are gifted with natural voices, but we have lacked the atmosphere of art and study that pervades the music-centres of Europe. Not that we have no fine teachers, for there have been and are to-day in America teachers of the very first rank; but we do not give to them the same favorable opportunity for work that we give to the European teachers. We are too business-like, in too much of a hurry for tangible financial results. Then we lack the incentive of constant hearing of good artists at reasonable prices.

Vannini seeks to know just how the natural, healthy voice, unaffected by malformation or misuse, acts; how nature intended the perfect voice to sing. Then he brings the many kinds of limited or injured voices as near to the ideal as possible. He bases, his system on the most natural of all sounds, the open Italian a; but as certain voices have trouble in vocalizing on this vowel, he colors it for a time to suit their needs. But before they can go a step farther, they must master this fundamental principle of good singing. He spends most of his time on the middle voice, making it absolutely solid, because long vocal life and the correct formation of both upper and lower tones depend entirely upon the middle voice. This part lies the bulk of the work to do in all kinds of music, and it is where the first signs of wear or faulty production appear. When the middle voice is so poised that it can sustain heavy work without fatigue, then the production of the upper tones is an easy matter. But as long as the pupil has any doubt about the management of the middle voice, the upper voice would better be left alone, as almost inevitably it will be produced incorrectly.

Vannini seldom takes the voice to the extreme high notes, because when the middle voice is perfectly solid there is little need of it, and before that time it is useless. The pupil is taught to sustain tones quietly, putting aside all nervous tension, and using only just as much voice as comes naturally—neither repressed to a piano, which is always dangerous for beginners, nor pushed a particle to make the voice larger. No matter how small or poor the voice may seem to be, when given in this simple, natural manner it will grow fast enough with time and care. But woe to the voice that is forced in the studio. If it does not break, it grows one-sided. When the voice is so poised that it can sustain a real legato, whether it takes two months or two years to accomplish it, then and not till then is Vannini ready to begin the training of the artist—"but that's another story." 

(To be continued.)

Hackett, Karleton. "Vannini—The Man and the Method," Werner's Magazine of Expression, December 1893: page 414-5.


The voice has now reached a point where things can be thought of other than voice-building. The instrument is at command. Important works can be studied, and the real business of making a singer can begin. It is wise to consider what line of work you wish to follow. Vannini’s whole course of instruction is to prepare pupils for the opera. If the singer wishes to fit himself for oratorio work he can, after a thorough course in voice-building under Vannini, undoubtedly be better coached in England than in Italy; and for German Lieder it is equally necessary to go to Germany. But for concert singing, where the aria plays so important a part, and most certainly for opera, even if it be German opera, too much cannot be said of the value of study in Italy. Even the vocal training of Paris is largely in the hands of Italians, and many of the most prominent singers of French opera are pupils of Italian masters. In spite of the poor voice-teachers that Italy, in common with all countries, possesses in abundance, and of all the charlatanry about the “ old Italian method,” etc., the fact remains that the value of the Italian way of singing is everywhere recognized, and all this quackery that has flourished so luxuriantly is only a proof of the richness of the underlying soil.

As soon as the newness has worn off and strange ways have become familiar, there is something truly inspiring to a singer in living amongst people that turn to music, especially to singing, as the greatest pleasure of life. Where all, from the great noble to the street peddler, have frequented the opera since their earliest recollection, and love and understand it as only those can to whom it has become a necessity, there is formed an atmosphere of art whose value to the student, though it may not be measured by length, weight, or bulk, is unspeakably great. There is encouragement to the student when one sees that whatever is really good receives instant and outspoken recognition. Then, the value of constantly hearing artists can hardly be overestimated. It is not only education, but a great incentive. You realize after a time that these great artists, before whom you stand in wondering admiration, were not born supremely great, nor with phenomenal vocal endowments, but they owe their position to long study, hard work, and unconquerable determination. You become acquainted with them, learn of their struggles, their discouragements, their limitations; and, finally, you realize that almost no bounds can be put to the possibilities of the fairly 'gifted man who will work unremittingly and wisely in his art. The list of great singers whose first managers told them they were “good fellows, but had mistaken their profession,” is too familiar to need rehearsing.

As I have already said, the foundation of Vannini’s work is voice-building, and the pupil can undertake nothing beyond until the art of voice-placing is mastered. But after this is over, and it sometimes seems very like drudgery, comes the real pleasure and greatest benefit from study with Vannini. As in his voice-building he studies the peculiarities of each voice as an instrument, so now he studies the temperament and character of each pupil, to know what sort of music is best suited to his abilities. Many a time he is compelled to say that though such a one has a voice he will never be a singer. After a time you realize that the voice is but a small part of the artist. Some with truly phenomenal voices can reach only mediocrity; and some of the great artists of the world amaze us, and—win our greater admiration, when we understand how poor was their original vocal endowment.

In order to best develop the artistic insight of his pupils, Vannini allows them the very widest liberty of interpretation, preferring to let them find by actual trial which way is the best and most effective, rather than to stifle individual thought by saying in advance that “this aria is to be sung so.” If, after due time, the pupil does not seem able to find for himself the best rendition, Vannini suggests that “perhaps it would go better this way,” and the pupil has floundered long enough to appreciate the value of the right way when it is pointed out. But I know one celebrated teacher who goes so far as to write in all the breathing-places and expression-marks before the pupil has ever studied, or perhaps even heard, the aria. Where the teacher is thoroughly familiar with the music, that is undoubtedly an easy way of giving instruction; but I hardly think it is likely to develop the pupil so satisfactorily. Vannini is always striving to make his pupils think and have opinions of their own about the value of music and its interpretation, even when those opinions do not coincide with his own. He knows that the singer who is merely the echo and mimic of his master will never be an artist.

For those pupils who are studying for the stage, Vannini’s experience as conductor is invaluable; and for teaching a broad, dramatic style of singing it is impossible to find his superior. His pupils, score in hand, are expected to attend the opera several times a week (though, thank fortune, not at American prices!), and at the next lesson to give a clear and decided criticism of the methods of the singers and the value of their interpretations.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Vannini’s pupils is comradeship and mutual friendly interest, which lasts a long time after they leave his studio. This is greatly cemented by his “ Wednesday Evenings,” which are of much benefit to students, both musically and socially. They last through the winter months. All pupils are invited, and all who have passed the chrysalis stage are obliged to sing, in order to gain confidence and ease, even if they do only a simple ballad. The mutual criticism is very valuable, and the incentive of seeing what progress the others are making keeps the interest at a high pitch. When any of Vannini’s “artist pupils ” are in town they also assist, and I have heard as many as five singers from the opera, all ex-pupils, sing at his house in one evening. Of course, the benefit of getting so close to artists and watching what they can do in the studio is very great, as is, also, the pleasure of the musical chat and reminiscence that follows the music. Many a time it keeps up till the “wee small hours.”

After a pupil has reached the proper point, Vannini has many opportunities for getting him public hearings, though this is rather out of the province of vocal instruction. One who has ever studied with Vannini is sure of a friend through all his career, in whatever land he may be and whatever the branch of the art to which he may devote himself. And in the hearts of his pupils, il maestro ever holds a first place in love and respect.

Hackett, Karleton. "Vannini—The Man and the Method," Werner's Magazine of Expression, January 1894: page 5. 


A native of Florence, Italy, Vincenzo Vannini (1848-1924) taught in Boston from 1876-1880 and published several volumes on singing (see Worldcat). His student Karleton Hackett (1867-1935) was a native of Boston and may have met Vannini there as a young man. Whatever the case, Hackett commenced his musical studies at Harvard, then studied with Vannini in Florence for three years. Upon his return to America, Hackett sang for a time, wrote many articles on the art of singing, and ultimately became an important voice teacher at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He also found himself in a legal tussle with A. D. Duvivier—a student of Manuel García which you can read about here. The long and short of it? Duvivier gave an address which he promoted in a pamphlet. Hackett commented on it in the Musical Courier—insinuating that Duvivier had an overly familiar relationship with his female students. That Hackett's libel was true did not prevent the judge from dismissing the case. See the labels below for additional information. 

February 23, 2017

Bone Breathing 2

In answer to your question, I would say that Lamperti is a successful old charlatan in Milan. His principal hobby is breathing. But in this he is a charlatan. His theory is: "You must inflate the bones and take your breath out of your bones." I believe that this was his original way of defining deep breathing. He had a considerable reputation among Americans at one time, but his professional standing has never been high. Madame Ridenti was a pupil of Lamperti before she failed in New York, in Italian Opera. In 1877-8 she studied with me, hence my information about him. 

K. L. 

"Letter Box," The Voice, January 1884: page 16.


It's not the first time I have come across a reference to Lamperti teaching "bone breathing," another letter appearing on these pages here. Of course, the idea of breathing from your bones is laughable if one is concerned with the physiological process of air entering the lungs. But I have the sense that Lamperti—if he indeed told students to inflate their bones—was not talking about the physiological process of air entering the lungs inasmuch as he was directing the student's attention to the feeling that is experienced when inhaling deeply for 18 seconds with the mouth closed—which was also his teaching. What happens? The inquiring mind observes the muscles of the body lift—a sensation that can also be understood as inflation. What brings the sensation into being? Two tiny muscles within the ear.

But back to the letter above. The writer is incorrect: Lamperti was considered—along with Manuel García—as one of the two most famous voice teachers of the 19th century.