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, Rangegger, of Shakespeare, 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 nothing 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 is 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 for 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 is 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 teachers 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.

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