September 27, 2016

The Art of Correctly Classifying the Various Voices

The art of correctly classifying the various voices demands deep knowledge and wide experience. Quality alone and compass alone will not solve the problem. It is possible to give only a few general rules, mainly those adopted by such masters as Manuel García and Lamperti. The basso-profundo and the deep contralto are the rarest types, and are recognized by the ease and increase of power and resonance in the lower notes and a corresponding difficulty in emitting the acute high notes. For the light bass, bass-baritone, and high baritone, questions of compass as well as quality have to be considered. The light bass exhibits a natural tendency to grave or heavy tone quality, and the frontale voice becomes blatant at upper C or C sharp, while the centrale voice is seldom reliable above upper E flat or E. One of the most popular light basses now before the public has earned an unenviable notoriety by the frequency of his "cracking" on the upper E flat. Though still partaking of the grave quality, the bass-baritone can use the frontale voice agreeably and with ease up to C sharp, and occasionally D, and the centrale voice will extend to upper F. Both the light baritone and high baritone can extend the frontale voice to E flat, the centrale voice of the former being serviceable up to F sharp, while the latter type is capable of using the centrale voice up as high as A flat, and occasionally B flat. 

An exceptional range of high notes in the baritone voice sometimes leads ill-informed masters to train it as a tenor, but, to alter slightly the words of the poet:—

"You may stretch, you may shatter the voice if you will, But the baritone timbre will hang round it still." 

In accounting for the scarcity of tenor voices the editor of a musical journal recently said that many men were singing bass and baritone who ought to sing tenor. The contrary, however, is the truth, especially amongst church tenors, most of whom are simply basses with the falsetto range of notes trained downwards. The saying that there are three sexes—men, women, and tenors—contains more truth than is dreamt of in the philosophy of most writers on the voice. 

The crucial test for the tenor is the ability to sing the top F in the frontale voice without strain to himself and pain to the hearer. The lighter tenor quality is at first not always in evidence and only a competent master can correct this defect. With tenors the centrale voice is amenable to great extension of compass; I have trained tenors up to E flat in alt. without any trace of falsetto—an abomination which is taboo in the Italian school of voice training. Another test of the tenor is the ability to enunciate clearly and easily on the upper notes. This was one of the methods of Lamperti, who also used a system of "master notes" for mezzo-sopranos and sopranos, the upper F and the upper G being the characteristic note for each type of voice. In addition to the foregoing tests the mezzo-soprano and dramatic soprano partake of the heavy quality of the contralto and mezzo-contralto in the range of notes below lower D. With these aids to guide him, in addition to wide experience, even a skillful teacher will sometimes be in doubt as to the type of voice at a first hearing. But the plan adopted by all successful trainers is to find the easy range of tones in the middle voice, and the type will reveal itself in the process of development.

—Cooke, Clifton. Practical Singing (1916): 19-22. Cooke was a student of Manuel García whose use of the terms frontale and centrale warrant further attention. 

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