April 6, 2017

Brinkerhoff Speaks Her Mind

A Traditional Pupil of Porpora 

Now I would guarantee to prove that Farinelli, one of Porpora’s pupils, is not the only one who had the advantage of the great singing-master’s method of breathing and controlling the breath, which by this method becomes the voice and has the tenuity of an absolute substance, as much so as any visible, elastic material. I guarantee to prove this to you. It will not take half an hour to make you understand how simple a matter it is. I am a traditional pupil of Porpora, and teach the method of singing and breathing to my pupils so that they can breath without convulsive motion, or audible breathing, or jerking the breath out, when closing a phrase. This art or science I received from my mother, who was a pupil of Domenico Corri, who was a pupil of Porpora. There really is no reason for the old school of Italian singing to pass away. The old school requires a free and powerful activity of the mind, but very little action of the throat. You know that the modern requisites for singing are just the opposite—not mind and a great deal of throat work. This is supposed to produce the singer. But where is the expression? 

Werner's Magzine of Expression, January 1885, page 14.

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
Leading the Witness 

I want to ask if you can take one good breath without raising the soft-palate.

—Discussion of vocal technique, Werner's Magazine of Expression, October 1887, page 151.

Science is for the Teacher 

The first great fact to be recognized in singing is, we only truly sing when we produce pure tone. In order to obtain this there must be a model tone given to educate the ear, as the eye is educated to know one color from another. All that science and art can do, is to lead us right back to nature and her laws for the mastery of the voice. Perfect vocal organs should give forth pure tones naturally, but they rarely do, even in childhood. The articulation of our language stands in the way of pure tone before it reaches the lips; and the voice often comes squeezed, or as a grunt or a shriek, or — as we have sometimes heard in opera—a yell that should horrify the audience and singer. Science teaches us that such and such a position, which includes the whole body as a factor in placing the vocal apparatus of the throat, tongue, lips and teeth in conjunction with the lungs, will produce unvaryingly the quality of the tone we wish at will. It is necessary for the teacher to know scientifically how to teach, physiologically and with art, pure tone. Oral examples alone can teach either child or adult the articulated consonants or pure delivery of the vowels. Slovenly articulation is almost the greatest hindrance to good singing. Each vowel plays an important part in the singing-voice, and determines by its position the tone-color, and also what we term register." If, after uttering or during utterance, we could take a mold in wax of each shape of the mouth and throat as modified by the vowel and tone-color issuing, singing would be more easily understood. Every person whose nervous system is in a healthy condition, who can pitch sound, can learn to sing the chromatic as well as the diatonic scale. Therefore we should learn singing in early childhood. Science is for the teacher and not for the pupil.

Werner's Magazine of Expression, March 1855, page 46.

More on Pure Tone & Diction

"Will Mme. Brinkerhoff kindly give a further explanation of the paragraph on page 358 of the September “Vocalist” commencing: “All sounds must touch the lower lip, made firm by muscle tender it, which connects with diaphragmatic action.”

In reply I would say that I give lessons at 47 West 42d St., and never by mail. The article or essay quoted was written by me and was to be delivered by me at M. T. N. A. meeting at Denver, Col., but was read for me, my health not permitting me to go there and be ready to give auricular and oral demonstration to all discussion, which should have followed any new proposition in vocal culture. But the quoted section is not really new. I have trained voices since I was fifteen years old (see Werner'sMagazine, March, 1896) and have never seen reason to change this, the old Italian method of voice training, although I gave much attention to the study of methods in various languages abroad, in national conservatories, etc.There are certain things which appertain to the vocal instrument and this is the first thing to learn and to do; understand, the instrument from head to foot is the human being. The voice is a result of how this instrument is strung. The quoted passage touches upon energy which is prepared in the brain and can be called upon by the singer, if—you wish this force. It is little comprehended. Electricity is not the same; sacred fire is as near as we can get to it in vocal parlance. Whoever opens his mouth to sing, before he has formed the will-desire to send out the note or tone, will not get perfect tone, simply because he, the human instrument, was not strung from head to foot, only partially so; the strings were slack and will-force feeble. If it were a violincello that you called upon to give forth its music, you would string the instrument to pitch. You would not dream of leaving the strings of a violincello slack, but draw them into good vibrating form; in a word, attuned to proper pitch. In the human being you first teach him how to stand. Then this action of will-force from brain to under lip muscle to diaphragmatic action at belt, is the work done for the instrument before the voice proper issues into buccale cavity and outward, into surrounding air, to be modified in tone-quality by the acoustic environment given it. If you wish to send a message a long distance in telegraphy, say from New York to Chicago, there would be a telegraphic relay instrument to renew its force and propel it on to Chicago by this means. It could go without, but not the same. I answer the questioner but I believe he would have to pay for the lesson by taking it from the teacher, because it is the teacher's ear alone and psychological comprehension, that can decide whether this contact is made. If the will is wavering or the intellect not fully apprised, he will not use this energy, so absolutely necessary for the use of the voice in grand artistic singing. The voice must be taught to vibrate with fervor and tone-fire, for that alone can show its heavenly origin, the greatest of all instruments if properly learned with understanding.

The Vocalist, October 1896, Page 433.

Brinkerhoff Slams García

Dear Editor: Your letter read, and the request of your subscriber (or should be one) desiring to know “at what time does Madame Brinkerhoff draw the line which divides what is called Garcia or Modern Italian method from the old Italian method?” He accepted the French method of La Porte in 1824. He did not teach his daughter, Madame Malibran, a most noted singer, for her great expression and rich tones of voice, anything except the old Italian method, as taught to himself by Rossini; but he did teach his daughter, Madame Pauline (Viardot) Garcia, his mixed method called Garcia method; her singing was, when I heard her, French method, and the language she sang in. It is quite necessary the questioner should understand the genus of other languages.

What I have to say on the voice is for the ear and not the eye. Words on paper cannot convey a tactile difference between two schools or methods.

Nothing can teach but the ear and voice of the teacher. The ear is what we cultivate and what we teach with, not the intellectual curiosity or mere desire to know.

As I stated in that part of my article on Pure Tone and Diction, relating to school or method, “the French method represents to us in voice and dramatic action just what this language can and does give—small volume in speech and song, through narrowed larynx and undeveloped diaphragm. The ear and larynx being formed by its use, give them mostly light, narrow, and to our ear, nasal sounds for brilliant execution, and screamy ones if highly dramatic action is required for the subject.”

The cause is lack of proper support from the diaphragm which is not used in this method. The Frenchman demands grace in song above all things.

The language—which is the expression of the people who use it—being keen and intellectual—requires grace and facility in expression.

The difference between the French method and the old Italian is in the inspiration and expiration of breath, the control of the breath inspired, and the shaping of the larynx for vowel sounds.

In the French method it is aplatre l'estomac, consequently the shoulders rise and the chest is drawn up, and the breath is held by the muscles of the throat, and if the thought or action is powerful, the breath cannot be kept behind the tone as a controlling force, and the tone is rendered screamy and hysterical.

Having heard Madame Viardot Garcia at the acme of fame for the Garcia school, she can stand as an example of that school. I heard her in Paris in 1861. It is not pleasant to remember, although I remember it very well. But I knew she was a great artist by her phrasing and delivery of such tone as she used. I want to say at this point I do not criticize her tone because it was what her method produced, and I had no right to expect any other. But I do not like to hear anyone who can sing the broad, rich English language or Italian (the first being richer than the latter in vowel sounds, its consonants being the great obstacles till dominated by the old Italian method, but the throat is all ready for the old Italian method) use the timbre of the French voice and method, except they sing the French language. Therefore I want the Garcia method, which combines, or seems to combine, the French and old Italian, crushed out, when people can sing the English or Italian language, so far as calling it the Italian method, because it is not.

Garcia borrowed from La Porte, in 1824, having heard his method first in Paris, afterwards in London, where he sang the operas of Rossini, who was conducting them. Garcia was a favorite pupil of Rossini.

No one can tell, except a linguist, why a Frenchman will persist in saying, even if he has been here twenty-five years, “The sheeps sell the say,” instead of “The ships sail the sea.” It is not lack of ear; it is the disobedience of the automatic action to feeble will. You may say the German is just as bad because his ear does not, or, rather, his automatic action does not enable him, after many struggles, to say a th. He will say, “I am dirty and my wife is dirty-too,” instead of “I am thirty and my wife is thirty-two.”

To show how language is embedded in the timbre of the voice, I will relate an incident of last season. On the first night of the representation of the “Scarlet Letter,” by Damrosch, sung by German singers, I was not surprised or in the least displeased at hearing this beautiful opera sung with the German timbre of voice; but after listening to a whole act, I heard no German words; I listened in vain for the shaping of their consonants and vowels, although I heard the German sounds or timbres. So I asked the lady seated next to me what language the people on the stage were singing. “German,” she replied. I said, “But I hear no German sounds. Will you kindly listen and tell me when you hear German words?” She listened and replied, “No, I do not hear German words, but I thought before it was German.” She asked me if it was English. “I know English very leetle. I speak it only mit mine leetle kind.” We could not decide it until the lights were turned on, and looked at the program, which read, “sung in English.”

This summer I asked a distinguished singer and teacher of Philadelphia in what language the “Scarlet Letter” was sung in that city. She replied, “Oh, German, of course.” “Did you hear it?” I asked. “Yes, and I enjoyed it very much, and it was sung in German,” she replied. “It said in English on the program,” I said. Well, if I was fooled, a great many more were fooled—beside myself all our party thought so too. What are you going to do about it? Gounod says, “I did not like Italian singing; their tones were attacked so differently from the French method of singing that it was unpleasant at first, but I went again and again for I could not stay away. I enjoyed it so much.”

The Vocalist, October 1896, Page 517-9.


Brinkerhoff takes no prisoners, that much is clear. In her last missive on this page (which continues a discussion from a previous post), she goes after Manuel García and makes two curious assertions; the first in that the Romantic tenor adopted the teachings of Pierre-François Laporte who was an actor and impresario; and the second in believing García to be a student of Rossini. Whatever the influence of these two men on the great tenor, the historical record is clear that García was a student of Giovanni Anzani who he met in Rome in this 30's.

But what about Pauline Viardot-García's voice? I believe Brinkerhoff's criticism of it and García's method may have its origin in García's Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing (García's son having recorded his father's vocal method in physiological terms) where the reader will find a description of the mechanism of inhalation which could be mistaken to involve a conscious inward pulling of the abdomen. It's this action and its presumptive effect on Pauline Viardot-García's singing that draws Brinkerhoff's condemnation.

I have my own theory on the voice of Pauline Viardot-García which does not involve Brinkerhoff's theory of causation, but rather, the curious matter of the ear and its relationip to the voice. Using records of Viardot-García's facial movements as well as descriptions of her voice, I believe a case can be made for Viardot-García being mixed-dominant. 

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