May 4, 2010

Herman Klein & Manuel Garcia's Hints on Singing

When I first starting researching historic vocal pedagogy about twelve years ago, I found a copy of Manuel Garcia's historic treatise Hints on Singing on microfilm at the New York Public Library. Then I found a copy at Patelson's - the music store right behind Carnegie hall- which had been publishing it since 1982. Unfortunately, they went bust this past year. Since then, I've seen a few originals for sale (when they are available) in the $800 dollar range. But you don't have to worry about any of this. You can read and download the book in two places: here and here

Hints on Singing warrants close attention. It was published in 1894 as a distillation of Garcia's groundbreaking tome A complete treatise on the art of singing (1847, 1872). In it, Garcia took plains to clarify his teaching on the coup de la glotte, which caused no end of controversy during and after his lifetime. Herman Klein, a student of Garcia who also served as editor of the text, added a footnote at the bottom of page thirteen to further clarify Garcia's clarification. 

Klein addressed his participation as editor in his book Thirty years of musical life in London c. 1903, three years before Garcia's death at the age of 101.  

Apropos of birthday honors, I may also mention that on March 17, 1894, Manuel Garcia entered upon his ninetieth year; and his brother professors at the Royal Academy of Music seized the opportunity to present him with a silver tea- and coffee-service, accompanied by an illuminated address. Later in the same year, the venerable maestro brought out his second and last text-book upon the art wherein he had labored with such distinguished success for nearly three quarters of a century. In the compilation of "Hints on Singing," as this instructive catechism is called, I was fortunately able to render Signor Garcia material assistance; and the help thus gladly tendered finds gracious acknowledgment in the preface. The "Hints" are published in the United States as well as in England, but have not yet attained the wide recognition that they deserve.  (p. 399)

Earlier in the book, Klein wrote of his life-long association with the great maestro. 

In the spring of 1874 there occurred an event which was destined to exercise an important influence upon my career. Manuel Garcia, the great teacher of singing, came to live under my parents' roof. We occupied a large house at the corner of Bentinck Street and Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square,—then, as now, the recognized fashionable quarter for London professional people,—and Signor Garcia1 took the entire ground floor for his '' studio'' and dwelling apartments.

I should like to describe the brother of Malibran and Pauline Viardot as he was at that time. He had just entered upon his seventieth year, but in appearance and bearing he did not seem much past fifty. He had a light, buoyant step, always walked quickly, and had a keen, observant eye, which, when he spoke, would light up with all the fire and animation of youth. His dark complexion and his habit of rapid gesticulation bespoke his Southern origin; and although equally at home in Spanish, Italian, French, and English, he always betrayed a decided preference for conversing in the French language. His modesty was remarkable. He could rarely be induced to talk about himself; but in his opinions he was firm almost to obstinacy, and a prejudice once formed was as difficult to remove as a liking. In argument he was a close reasoner, and would be either a doughty opponent or a warm advocate. The middle line never attracted him. But at all times he was a true, stanch, and loyal friend.
Fortunately, Signor Garcia took a considerable fancy to me. He was fond of discussing politics, but, having little time to read the papers, would generally ask me for the latest news. He openly expressed his disgust with the policy of the Liberal Government of that day, and found in myself a sympathetic supporter of his views. About music I was afraid for a long while to talk with him. One day, however, he heard me singing in a distant part of the house, and told my mother that I had a very agreeable light tenor voice. She at once asked him if he would be good enough to give me some instruction. He readily consented, and, within an hour, to my intense delight, I found myself taking my first lesson from Manuel Garcia.
The master was then in his prime. For forty years his pupils, from Jenny Lind down, had included some of the best singers that Paris and London provided, while among the many aspirants for vocal fame who came to study with him at our house in Bentinck Street were several whose names yet enjoy a universal reputation. During the eight or ten years that he lived with us, I studied with him for nearly four, and heard him give many scores of lessons beside those which I received. To see and hear Garcia teach was ever a source of unqualified pleasure. Even when annoyed by a pupil's lack of ordinary intelligence, he seldom became abrupt or impatient; and he never worried or confused the student with technicalities not actually essential to the accurate understanding of his method. His voice had virtually gone, but he would liberally employ its beaux restes to impart the idea for the proper emission of a note or the phrasing of a passage. As often as not, the sounds that he produced would be positively ugly; but they never failed to convey the desired suggestion, and, though his own voice might tremble with sheer weight of years, he never, to my knowledge, brought out a pupil whose tones were marred by the slightest shade of vibrato. 
Nor was he at any time guilty of the sin of "forcing" a voice. I say so with all possible emphasis, because that untrue assertion has been made on various occasions, and it should be contradicted as a libel upon a teacher whose first rule was ever to repress the breathing power and bring it into proper proportion with the resisting force of the throat and larynx. The contrary proceeding would have been altogether inconsistent with the system of the old Italian school, whereof Garcia is the last really great teacher.  
No less stupid, but rather more cruel, has been the recent onslaught—emanating principally from Paris—upon the act of vocal mechanism known as the coup de la glotte, a term created by Garcia as the result of his observations on the interior of the larynx with the aid of the laryngoscope, of which instrument he was the inventor. This term, first employed in his wonderful "Traite complet de 'Art du Chant,'" was merely meant to describe the movement or "stroke" of the glottis in the act of attacking a vocal sound—a movement as natural as it is indispensable to the clean, definite striking of a note by the human voice. Possibly the practice of the act in question has been worked to excess by would-be imitators of Garcia's method; but certainly it was never so taught by him, and I have never come across one of his pupils who had suffered through its normal employment. Later on, however, I shall have to refer to this subject again, in order to quote in their proper place some words used by the master to refute a particularly flagrant attack upon the coup de la glotte.
I was barely twenty-two when I ceased taking lessons from Signor Garcia. Our relations by that time were those of very close friends(p 34-37)

What were those words used to refute an attack? A response Garcia wrote to Victor Maurel after hearing the latter address the subject of the coup de la glotte in a lecture in London. The full story is recounted by Klein on page 371. 

Klein brought the Garcia Method to New York in 1901 and was a founder and the first Chairman of The National Association of Teachers of Singing, later renamed The New York Singing Teachers Association.    

Klein's adventure in New York will be the subject of a subsequent post. 

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