January 1, 2011

Wartel's Hum

In researching vocal lineages, one sometimes comes across the most curious things, and that is exactly what I encountered in the case François Wartel. You see, Wartel, a tenor and highly influential voice teacher (one famous student was Christine Nilsson), studied with Adolphe Nouritt, himself a tenor and student of Manuel Garcia the Elder.  Of this three tenor lineage, one might say that Wartel was Garcia's musical grandson. What did I find most curious about Wartel? His method of teaching voice. It seems that he was known for using an unorthodox method, which amounted to having students practice with a closed mouth, that is, by humming. As one student recorded...

Whoever cannot endure singing, sings badly—bad in so far that his singing is artificial, not natural; that is, he does not employ the splendid means nature has placed at his disposal. In this condition I found myself when I went to Wartel for instruction. To whom I owed the good luck of being able to use my voice naturally again, and to whom I shall ever be thankful, I knew on leaving Wartel. The means of my restoration remained a secret to me.
Wartel, who was then about 70 years old, and who still often delighted his pupils with his full, rich voice, had a very mysterious and ingenious method which, as he said, was taken from the old Italian masters. He had us sing certain exercises with closed mouth, in order to bring us unconsciously to the end he had in view, viz.: to attack every tone in one and the same place and to employ deep, abdominal breathing.   
Deep Breathing: As a Means of Promoting the Art of Song, and Curing Weaknesses and Affections of the Throat and Lungs, Especially Consumption By Sophia A. Ciccolina, 1883

The Lamperti School forbade students to hum (see Vocal Wisdom), and there are reports that the Elder Lamperti threw students out of his studio if they did. But what about the Garcia School? Manuel Garcia the Elder's daughter, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, remarked in an interview to the Musical Courier that she did not observe her father use it with his students (he died when she was eleven).  That should settle the matter I suppose. I thought as much until I found another Garcia exponent who also used 'closed mouth' exercises.  And who would that be?  None other than Erminia Rudersdorff, the mother of Richard Mansfield, a famous Anglo-American actor, and the teacher of Emma Thursby. Here's the kicker: Anna E. Schoen-Rene (1861-1942), a student of Manuel Garcia and Pauline Viardot-Garcia, remarked in her book, America's Musical Inheritance (1940)that Rudersdorff was the first person to bring Garcia's method to America. Was Garcia the source of Rudersdorff's 'closed mouth' exercises? We may never know, but the present thread of evidence makes me wonder.

Note March 25, 2017: You can now find Ciccolini's text on the download page. 

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