June 8, 2010

Lucie Manén: The Art of Singing

One of the more curious books on singing is Lucie Manén's Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Song-Schools, It's Decline and Restoration (1987) which is now in its third printing. However, Manén's first foray into publishing was The Art of Singing which was published in 1974. This earlier book was refashioned into the smaller and tightened current version. There is something to be said for the original however. For one thing, it has an accompanying record with musical examples of Manén's teaching on the Imposto, that is, the start of the tone, by well-known British singers of the period—Elizabeth Harwood, Thomas Hemsley and Peter Pears. This was unusual at the time. Now there are quite a few books on singers and singing with an accompanying CD. Another is the looser writing style which gives the reader a better sense of the writer's personality. And what a personality she must have been: Manén (1900-1991) was married to Dr. Otto John,  the "J Edgar Hoover" of West Germany.




Manén studied privately with Anna E. Schoen-René in Berlin, who also taught Margaret Harshaw in New York at The Juilliard School. Schoen-René was a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. And it is in dealing with Manuel García's legacy that Manén, in my opinion, gets matters muddled.

Imposto
The vocal quality of the Bel Canto school is not produced solely by the mechanism of the larynx and its resonator, the pharynx. An essential component of the Bel Canto technique is the exploitation of the upper respiratory tract, i.e. the nose and the naso-pharynx, by switching the start of the note, the transient, from the larynx to the nasal passages behind the level of the bridge of the nose. This mechanism is called Imposto.  —The Art of Singing, p. 27
 
To advance her concept of Imposto, Manén asserts that García did not teach the correct start of the tone. In fact, she claims that García's theories on vocal production—and his teaching on the coup de glotte in particular—broke with bel canto tradition. I'm not convinced that this is the case. Just because García was the first to focus on the physiology of the vocal tract—and the glottis in particular—does not mean that he did not teach the same concepts as his sister Pauline Viardot-García. Otherwise, why did Viardot-García send Schoen-René to her brother for his imprimatur? Was Manén unaware of Schoen-René's book America's Musical Inheritance (1941) which contains an interesting conversation with García about the mask? Manén is even more strident regarding Manuel García in her later book, and this is unfortunate. Instead of standing on his shoulders, she pounds on his head, writing that his research was predicated on the desire to understand his own failure as a singer. How she is able to know this "fact" is not clear.

There are better ways to make one's case. 

Still, I believe Manén has advanced an original theory that deserves more attention and research. However, for that to happen, there needs to be more light and less heat.

2 comments:

  1. Never can one isolate a function within the operational context of physiology. Move one part, many others are affected. In the implementation of the "imposto", one would feel the soft palate elevate. This is a very useful device in enlarging the posterior pharyngeal area and widening the superior aspect of the larynx of the vocal tract thus contributing to increasing the frequency of the 3rd formant; extremely useful for amplifying ones singing on large stages.

    I appreciate you searching and intelligent commentary. Keep up the good work!

    Carmella

    ReplyDelete

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