October 30, 2012

Tea with Gaetano Nava




I took this photo yesterday afternoon while awaiting the arrival of hurricane Sandy, having already cancelled the day's lessons, and not feeling up to writing a promised post (it will come- have no fear). What did I do instead? Have a cup of Darjeeling and reacquaint myself with an old friend. (As it turned out, the power flickered in our neck of the woods on the Upper West Side, but never failed when the huge storm slammed into the coast of New Jersey, causing power outages in lower Manhattan and flooding the subway system.)

The two texts next to the antique transferware tea cup and Sheffield tea pot were written by Gaetano Nava, a once-famous singing master who is now largely forgotten. Nava first came to my attention via Herman Klein (a student of Manuel García), the latter having included Nava in a small group of vocal pedagogy gods in his must-read, The Bel Canto (1923), which you can find nestled within the dizzyingly fascinating Herman Klein and the Grammophone (1990).

This method was the one being taught by such Mozarteans of the second generation as Garcia, Lamperti, Sangiovanni, and Nava (the teacher of Santley). 

Ha! With such provocative inclusion, I had to hunt down Nava's texts, eventually acquiring two via Abebooks after a long and patient search. The one on top is his Method of Instruction for a Baritone, Edited by Charles Santley (1872), while the larger volume underneath is Nava's Practical Method of Vocalization for Bass and Baritone Voice, Newly Edited by Henry Blower (1899). Clicking on the titles will take you to the University of Rochester digital library, where you can download both books. Pretty nifty, huh? No musty libraries to haunt, no waiting for Interlibrary loan for weeks and weeks. None of that. Distilled wisdom right at your fingers as you experience more effects of global warming.

Nava's student, the Victorian Baritone Charles Santley, wrote about meeting his master in Student and Singing: reminiscences of Charles Santley (1892). You can find it here. Below is the little biographical information I have been able to find.


NAVA, Gaetano, a distinguished Italian teacher of singing, and writer of vocal exercises, born at Milan, May 16, 1802. His father, Antonio, taught and composed for the French guitar, then a favourite instrument, but the son received a college education previous to entering the Milan Conservatoire under Federici. Here in 1837 Nava was appointed professor, retaining his connection with the institution—where he gave instruction both in harmony and in singing —for thirty-eight years, that is, up to the time of his death, March 31, 1875. His skill as a vocal teacher, enhanced by his cultivated intelligence and uncommon earnestness and honesty of purpose, brought him a large clientele of private pupils. Distinguished among these stands our own countryman, Charles Santley. None of Nava's scholars have achieved a more brilliant reputation than that eminent baritone; nor could a better exemplification be desired of the master's method of careful vocal development, as opposed to the forcing system. Nava's works, published at Milan, by the firms Ricordi, Lucca, and Conti, comprise numerous books of solfeggio and vocalizzi, several masses and separate pieces of vocal church music, and a Method of Singing that has appeared also in London and at Leipzig. B. T - Groves Dictionary of Music, 1922


Over tea, Nava reminded me how to open the mouth. Oh yes, I thought. Simple, elegant and timeless instruction, worth its weight in gold.  I told him we should talk more often.


The rule prescribed by the good school of singing is, to keep the mouth open in such a way that the upper teeth should be vertically over the lower, and that without the least discomfort, almost smiling, it should preserve in that position a natural fitness and grace. This general rule is more exclusively applicable to vocalization, since in singing (properly so-called) one must naturally adapt one's self to various modifications, without, however, preventing the sound of the voice from being correct, pure and agreeable.
Not to dwell too long on this subject by analyzing all the faulty positions of the mouth, I will only recommend young students be satisfied with the above rule, advising them at the same time to avoid wrinkling of the forehead, contortions of the eyes, twisting of the neck, and all those faults and tricks which are offensive and unpleasant to the spectators, and no less inimical to perfection in singing. - Gaetano Nava, Practical Method of Vocalization for Bass and Baritone Voice, Newly Edited by Henry Blower (1899)

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