Students of historical vocal pedagogy can now download Alessandro Busti's Studio di Canto per baritono (1874/1865), 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 involves 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.
Note: The reader will notice that the link for Busti's text utilizes a date of 1874; however, close examination reveals the text to be comprised of two books, the earlier one being published in 1865.