November 19, 2016

Garcia's Higher Symmetry

EDMUND RUSSELL, after several years' absence in Europe, lecturing on and teaching the principles of art-criticism and expression as formulated by Delsarte, has returned to America for a short preliminary visit prior to the opening of a regular season in October. Mr. Russell is well known by his lectures on art, dress, decoration and kindred subjects, as well as through his paintings, and while a talk with him is always interesting and instructive, it promised to be excepionally bright after his travels and his meeting with world-famous people. Of course, Delsartism was spoken of first, being the subject that lies nearest his heart as well as one in which I am deeply interested, and I asked:

“What is the condition and progress of Delsartism in England compared with America?”

“When we went to London three years ago the name of Delsarte was almost unknown there. I found but three persons in England who had ever heard of him and his work, and, strangely, all of them had been personal friends of his. They were the elder Garcia, brother of Malibran, Sir Frederick Leighton, President of the Royal Academy, and Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith). They all spoke of him in the highest terms both as a man and as an artist. Prior to my visit to London, Felix Moscheles, the famous painter, son of the composer, had spent two years here, and had heard me lecture on Delsarte. When he returned to England, he excited much interest in the subject by his frequent question at all gatherings. Of artists, ‘Have you ever heard of Delsarte?’ and always met with the same negative reply. One day, at a garden party, putting his question to a little old man whose piercing eye flashed the fire of genius, he was answered, ‘Heard of him! yes; he was a friend of mine.’ It was the elder Garcia that spoke.

“It was my privilege,” continued Mr. Russell, “to talk much with Garcia about his famous friend. ‘He was the greatest singer I ever heard,’ said Garcia one day ; ‘with no voice at all, such was his expression that one would rather listen to him than to the finest voice in the world.’ His voice was what would be called ‘veiled,’ but his wonderful expression made his song seem alive. If Garcia had told me," added Mr. Russell, “that Delsarte was the greatest actor he had ever seen, I should not have been surprised, but when he so praised Delsarte's singing, the art of which Garcia is so superior a judge, then we must believe that it was more than wonderful. Indeed, every one that knew of Delsarte at all, in Italy and France, spoke of his singing. The Baron de Moyacque, an old Frenchman, told me that he had heard Delsarte when he was young, and again 20 years afterward, and he seemed physically unchanged. He seemed to have discovered the secret of perpetual youth. I must not forget to add that Garcia was present at the court of Louis Philippe when Delsarte was so royally received there, as described in your ‘Delsarte System Of Oratory,’ and confirmed the distinguished consideration and esteem with which the monarch received Delsarte. I asked if he was well known in Paris. ‘Certainly,’ said Garcia; ‘he was considered the greatest artist and teacher of his time. Nearly all the present teachers at the Conservatoire studied with him. Now, no one knows him in London, but if Patti sneezes, it is cabled round the globe. The great teacher is often forgotten in the achievements of his pupils, who prefer to stand before the world as God-made geniuses rather than acknowledge that any earthly hand helped fashion them to a higher symmetry,’ he added a little bitterly.”

“Why is it, Mr. Russell, that the Delsarte system is nowadays applied almost exclusively to dramatic art or to aesthetic calisthenics, if Delsarte himself was a master in all the arts?"

“Because the system has been taken up by and presented through actors or those who were more interested in its application to bodily culture, and at first thought the art of expression seemed most needed on the stage. The Delsarte system contains the fundamental principles of all art and it is universal in its application. It is not an invention, it is not something new; it is simply a concise, scientific forum."

What other famous people did you meet while you were abroad?

“I had the pleasure of becoming well acquainted with the elder Lamperti and his beautiful wife. We spent summer before last with them at Cernobbio. Our cousin, Ada Beckett-Coster, who, I think, is known to the readers of your magazine, is studying with Lamperti for the operatic stage; he gives her great encouragement. He is still teaching, and his time is nearly filled, although if you should ask about him in Milan you would doubtless be told that there was an old mummy somewhere by that name who gave a few lessons, but that he was nearly blind and deaf, had almost no vital power, gave his lessons in bed, and such nonsense. This is not true. I saw him give many lessons, and never saw lessons of such brilliancy and power. The severity of criticism, always kindly, however, the subtlety of analysis, the patience and energy, and above all the depth and knowledge, I have never seen equalled. It is difficult to understand him, as he cannot speak English and prefers to speak his Milanese dialect; but his wife acts as his interpreter and, to a large extent, as his accompanist. She is very much younger than he, but she adores him. When a pupil enters for a lesson Lamperti seems at first listless, but when the exercises begin the master becomes interested, and his fervor increases until he is wrapt in the lesson. His prices are from 25 to 50 francs a lesson for private instruction; and 15 francs a lesson for daily instruction to regular pupils, who have the privilege of hearing the criticisms of others. He prefers to teach two at a time, giving first one ten minutes and then the other the same time. This allows the voice to rest, yet the pupil still is instructed in listening to his companion. He does not coach, except where the person has been a pupil of his and is already thoroughly trained; then he will help him in a new role."

"Lamperti does not work for compass or execution," continued Mr. Russell, “like so many teachers. Quality, quality, quality, is his aim, and to enrich tone is his chief care. He insists upon exercising the voice very softly at first, for he says that if a good resonance cannot be produced on a soft tone it certainly cannot be made on a loud tone. He practices for months just on tones. He also begins in the middle or medium range of the voice, saying that if you work on a voice at the centre it will spread out at the ends, but if you work at the ends, it will always thin at the centre. A Russian countess, who was a pupil of his twenty years ago, and who has lately seen him, says that his power of teaching seems to improve rather than grow less, and that he is greater to-day than ever, although he is over 80 years old."

"Lamperti can never have a real successor,” added Mr. Russell, “but the one that comes nearest to it in my estimation is Mme. Delle-Valle, of London, whose vocal instruction is exceptionally fine. He bemoans the decline of Italian opera and singing. Verdi‘s last opera, ‘Otello,’ was a great disappointment to Lamperti. ‘Verdi is no longer Italian, he is no longer Verdi,’ he said sadly. He considers ‘Rigoletto’ to be Verdi’s finest opera, but prefers Bellini to all other composers for the expression of real heart-feeling. Of course he is opposed to German opera.”

Werner's Voice Magazine, May 1889: 90-92. 

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