April 29, 2013

Hörberg's List: Who Studied With Whom

I came upon a fascinating webpage a few days ago which contains a comprehensive listing of 'who studied with whom' within the Old Italian School of Singing. You see, I was endeavoring to find more information on Lilli Lehmann's mother, who was Maria Theresia Löw, and the latter's teacher, who was Heinrich Anton Föppel. I was able to do just that and got more than I bargained for! In any case, the list is extensive. Compiled by Heldenbariton Maximillian Hörberg, who traces his vocal lineage to Manuel García and Jean de Reszke, you can find it here. Of course, the reader may wonder if the list is accurate. My take? I believe it to be definitive even though weighted towards the Germanic spectrum. Hörberg's list is unusual, and highly interesting if only because it gives the reader a basis for tracing pedagogical thought and practice. In short: It's a vocal pedagogy nerd's delight.

Lithograph of Nicola Porpora from the New York Public Library Digital Archive. 

April 28, 2013

Lilli pushing 60

Did you listen to Lilli Lehmann on Youtube after reading my last post? No? Shame on you! What is it with you people? Do you really expect everything to be handed to you on a platter? Jeez! Don't you make any effort?  Do you even click on any of the downloads in the right hand column? (voice teacher rolling eyes) What is going to come of this present generation? The one that doesn't even know who Joan Sutherland is? (No, I am not making this up.) 

For the curious among you, here's Lilli singing "Martern Aller Arten" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. For one heck of a difficult aria, Lilli doesn't miss a lick. The coloratura is amazing, and the head voice I wrote about in my previous post? Clear as a bell. I know of only one soprano who sang like this when she was 60. Her name is Benita Valente

April 27, 2013

Head Voice: The Neglected Stepchild

I thought of Lilli Lehman's teachings last night after finding myself on Youtube listening to a soprano well past her prime, the voice having lost its luster. Lehmann herself avoided this fate, as evidenced in recordings made when she was in her 60's - some of which you can find here. Of course, she had quite a bit to say about keeping one's vocal youth in her idiosyncratic book How to Sing (1902), which you can find here. I've excerpted a few passages below, taking the liberty of translating the notation of vowels into current IPA.

The head voice signifies, for all voices, from the deepest bass to the highest soprano, - leaving out of question the fact that it furnishes the overtones for each single tone of the whole vocal gamut, - youth. A voice without vibrancy is an old voice. The magic of youth, freshness, is given by the overtones that sound with  every tone. Height, youth, freshness of the voice = /e/ and /i/."  

So to utilize the head voice (resonance of the head cavities) that every tone shall be able to "carry" and shall remain high enough to reach higher tones easily, is a difficult art, without which, however, the singer cannot reckon upon the durability of his voice. Often employed unconsciously, it is lost through heedless, mistaken method, or ignorance; and it can hardly ever be regained, or if at all, only through the greatest sacrifice of time, trouble, and patience. 

The pure head voice (the third register) is on account of the thinness that it has by nature, the neglected step-child of almost all singers, male and female; its step-parents, in the worst significance of the word, are most singing teachers, male and female. It is produced by the complete lowering of the pillars of the fauces, while the softest point of the palate - behind the nose - is thrown up very high, seemingly almost into the head; in the highest position, still higher, thinking /i/ above the head. 

The back of the tongue stands high, but is formed into a furrow, in order that the mass of the tongue not be in the way, either in the throat of in the mouth. In the very highest falsetto and head tones the furrow is pretty well filled out, and then no more breath at all reaches the palatal and chest resonance. 

In the sensation of it, the larynx stands high and supple under the tongue- mine leans over to one side (see plates of larynx). All organs are elastic; nothing must be cramped or exaggerated. 

The vocal cords, which we cannot feel, now approach each other. The pupil should not read about them until he has learned to hear correctly. I do not intend to write a physiological work, but simply to attempt to make clear certain infallible vocal sensations of the singer; point out ways to cure evils, and show how to gain a correct understanding of that which we lack. 

Up to a certain pitch, with tenors as well as with sopranos, the head tones should be mixed with chest resonance. With tenors this will be a matter of course, though with them the chest tones are much abused; with sopranos, however, a judicious mixture may be recommended because more expression is required (since the influence of Wagner has become paramount in interpreting the meaning of a composition, especially the words) than in the brilliant fireworks of former times. The head voice, too, must not be regarded as a definite register of its own. If it is suddenly heard alone- I mean disconnected with chest or palatal resonance- after forcing the preceding tones of the higher middle range, it is of course noticeably thin and stands out to its disadvantage (like any sharply defined register) from the middle tones. In the formation of the voice no "register" should exist or be created; the voice must be made even throughout its entire range. I do not mean by this that I should sing neither with chest tones nor with head tones. On the contrary, the practiced artist should have at his command all manner of different means of expression, that he may be able to use his single tones, according to the expression required, with widely diverse qualities of resonance. This, too, must be cared for in his studies. But these studies, because they must fit each individual case, according to the genius or talent of the individual, can be imparted and directed only by a good teacher. 

The head voice, when its value is properly appreciated, is the most valuable possession of all singers, male and female. It should not be treated as a Cinderella, or as a lost resort, - as is often done too late, and so without results, because too much time is needed to regain it, when once lost, - but should be cherished and cultivated as a guardian angel and guide, like no other. Without its aid all voices lack brilliancy and carrying power; they are like a head without a brain. Only by constantly summoning it to the aid of all other registers is the singer able to keep his voice fresh and youthful. Only by a careful application of it do we gain that power of endurance which enables us to meet the most fatiguing demands. By it alone can we effect a complete equalization of the whole compass of all voice, and extend that compass. 

This is the great secret of those singers who keep their voices young till they reach an advanced age. Without it all voices which great exertions are demanded infallibly meet disaster. Therefore, the motto must be always, practice, and again, practice, to keep one's power uninjured; practice brings freshness to the voice, strengths the muscles, and is, for the singer, far more interesting than any musical composition. 


This passage is filled with many hints regarding the acquisition of head voice, perhaps the most salient being the use of /e/ and /i/, which engender the aural sensation of vibration in the head. The reader should keep in mind, however, that these vowels are best apprehended when 'called' with Italian tonal values and absent any trace of diphthong.

Click on the label at the bottom of this post for more information on Lehmann.

Photo Credit: The New York Public Library Digital Archive.

April 24, 2013

The Lamperti Lineage: Marcella Sembrich

Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)

The brilliant coloratura soprano Madam Sembrich was quite the star in the 1880's after having studied with Giovanni Battista Lamperti, and for a short time his father, Francesco Lamperti. After her long career, Sembrich taught singing at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and then at the Juilliard School alongside Anna E. Schoen-René. Her studio on Lake George in upstate New York is worth a visit on a summer afternoon, as is the Marcella Sembrich Collection at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The latter is fascinating, if only for the many files of Sembrich's cadenzas which are mind-boggling. She made many recordings, some of which you can find here. That she was well past her prime when she stood in front of the horn? At least we have something to mull over. Sembrich gave an interesting interview to the Musical Courier in May of 1910, which is presented below.


SEMBRICH'S MEMORIES OF LAMPERTI - The Famous Singing Teacher with Whom Died the Traditions of the Old Art of Bel Canto - His Methods of Instruction and His Jealous Resentment of References to Sembrich as a Pupil of His Father

Giovanni Battista Lamperti, who died the other day in Berlin at the age of sixty-nine, was the most famous singing teacher of his school, and with him died the traditions of the old art of bel canto that had been handed down through generations. His father, Francesco Lamperti, was even a more famous teacher than his son, although they both had the same theories, and until the fame of each became to large for one country to hold them, both taught in Milan. Mme. Sembrich was in a way the pupil of both Lampertis, although her musical training was mainly the result of her early studies with the younger Lamperti. In was, in fact, after her career as a singer had begun that she took some instruction from Francesco. 

Mme. Sembrich received her instruction from the son when Giovanni was in Milan. He and his father had separated and lived in different parts of the city. It was through the advice of a Russian singer whom she had met in Vienna that Mme. Sembrich, who until that time had been studying with Rokitansky there, decided to go to the son rather than the father. 

"When I went to Milan in 1876," Mme. Sembrich said the other day, "Lamperti seems to take great interest in me, and promised to help me if I would only have confidence in him and work hard. He gave me unusual opportunities. I had no regular hours of study with him. I spent all my day from eleven o'clock in his studio. He would give me a little time here and there, let me listen to his instruction of his other pupils, and then, at the piano, impress upon me the faults and excellencies of some of the pupils he had been teaching. All this was, of course, of the greatest value to me as a student. 

"Lamperti always taught at the piano. He would play the scales with one hand, while with the other he would show the pupil how the throat, the chest and the parts of the body used in singing should be properly held and controlled. In the placing of the voice he was incomparable. He knew, too, as none other the tradition of the old Italian arias and the manner in which they should be delivered. Of course, he did not attempt to keep pace with the advance of musical taste. He was, for instance, entirely indifferent to the lied, and lieder singing did not make the least impression on him. He preferred to remain as the great exponent of Italian singing, and in that field he was long the most famous in the world, and his reputation was deserved."

After Mme. Sembrich went to Dresden to sing in the opera there and had made her great reputation as a singer, Lamperti move to Dresden and when, a few years ago, Mme. Sembrich went to Berlin, he also moved there. His book on the art of singing is dedicated to her. 

In spite of their long friendship, there was a brief interval in which her old teacher and the famous prima donna were not on good terms. This was due to a difference that arose between them as to the right of the señor Lamperti to claim her as his pupil. The younger Lamperti demanded of Mme. Sembrich that she deny ever having taken any lessons from his father. It was obviously impossible to do anything of the kind, since she had, in fact, received instruction also from Francesco Lamperti, although she always represented herself as a pupil of the younger only. 

"The summer before my son was born," Mme. Sembrich explained the other day, "I took a cottage on Lake Cuomo. I discovered that the elder Lamperti was living in the adjoining house. Naturally, he came to call on me, and we often talked of our art and the end was that I studied with him during the few months that we were there together. But I never regarded myself as any other than the pupil of the younger Lamperti. His death has removed the last of the great European teachers of the old style of singing who are of any real use to their pupils. When I get to Paris one of the first things I am going to do is to look up some good teachers for the numerous American girls who come to me and ask where they shall go to study when they go abroad. In the past I could always send them to my teacher." 

May Scheider, the New York girl who has been so successful in Germany and is now the first soprano at Zurich, is the last of the American girls whom Mme. Sembrich sent to Professor Lamperti. During recent years he had received very few pupils, confining his classes to those who seemed to have marked talent. 

April 18, 2013

The Lamperti Lineage: Emma Howson

Emma Howson (1844-1928)
Born in Tasmania, Emma Howson had quite a bit of performance experience before studying with Francesco Lamperti in Milan for two years. She then made quite a splash on the London stage in the first performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's H. M S. Pinafore. Singing the role of Josephine, the Daily News (1878) reported on her "clear and pure soprano, and refined and unaffected style, rendering full effect to the music of her part." Oh, that could hear what her voice sounded like! But of course, Howson was well into her 60's when the gramophone made its debut. So we are denied that. The best we can do is 'hear' her in an article that appeared in Musical America in 1910. Howson was 66. It's fascinating to read that the recently deceased Giovanni Battista Lamperti, like the great Manuel García (see my previous post), had a habit of throwing things at his students. The sons of great voice teachers exhibiting violence? I believe one explanation may lie in accounts of the elder García's harsh treatment of his two older children (he had three), as well as accounts of the elder Lamperti smacking his student's hands with a dreaded baton.


SOME REMINISCENCES OF LAMPERTI - One of His Pupils Recalls His Methods of Getting Results- Would Throw Books at Those Who Failed to Follow His Instructions

Vocal students of this blessed age, when in a period of six months or a year serves to let loose upon the world a host of stars glistening apparently with the concentrated radiance of the first magnitude, my well read with internal shudderings of the mediaeval ordeals imposed by those worthy professors of the olden days, who felt no scruple in keeping their disciples chained to the most elementary exercises for four or five years before deeming their vocal capacities worthy of interpreting real music. 

It now appears, however, that the late Giovanni Lamperti was not too thoroughly imbued with the spirit of modernism to distain the practices of his forefathers as regards arduous labor, or even physical violence as punitive measures whenever his temper got the upper hand. In regard to these matters some interesting details were recently furnished MUSICAL AMERICA by Emma Howson, one of Lamperti's most esteemed pupils, whose impersonations of the coloratura heroines of Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti and Meyerbeer once delighted Italy and England,and whose Josephine in "Pinafore" won her the friendship of the late King Edward and the present King George. 

"Was Lamperti exacting? Well, exacting is not the word for it," declared Miss Howson. "You may get some idea of his methods when I tell you that, although I had been singing for a number of years, and with the greatest success in several countries before I came to him, and, although he expressed himself at the outset as thoroughly delighted with my voice, he insisted on holding me down to scales, solfeggi and vocalizzi exclusively for more than entire year, just to satisfy his craving for thoroughness. 'We shall do nothing but this the first year,' he told me, 'and next year we shall take up opera.' And practice I did, not once or twice a week, as most young folks do now, but every single solitary day. To be sure, he did not insist upon too much work. Some twenty-five or thirty minutes sufficed. But for nothing under the sun was I allowed to forego that practice. 

"Gradually, as time progressed, he seemed to become more and more pleased at what I had accomplished. He finally prevailed upon me to take the beginners in hand, as it relieved him or drudgery, and as I understood his methods completely to his satisfaction. At first this made me dreadfully nervous. There I was obliging to sit at the piano illustrating every little point to the pupil, while he sat by, listening, taking keen note of my abilities, but saying nothing. The only way I was able to learn that he was satisfied was by his leaving the room for a smoke. These 'smokes' began to last longer and longer, and after a time the pupil and I occupied the room alone. 

"But woe to any one with whose work he was displeased. At such times he thought nothing of catching up a heavy book or any other object and hurling it at the unfortunate offender. More than once I narrowly prevented him from seriously hurting some one. It was quite immaterial whether or not visitors were present. His art was the only matter under consideration and none might slight that with impunity. 

I myself often had occasion to weep under such treatment. To give only one instance: He was in the habit of making me sing for eminent artists and professors who visited the studio. On this particular day, I was feeling ill, and I knew that I could never do as well as I had done at my rehearsal with the master on the previous day. I had sung but a few bars when, with a savage growl, he banged the top of the piano down on my fingers. I burst into tears, and our visitors, in great indignation, rushed up to Lamperti, exclaiming angrily at such an indignity, and when the enraged Lamperti told him that my singing was bad he insisted that he had seldom heard better. He might as well have sat quiet and kept still. My teacher knew that I was capable of better things, and nothing but the best was good enough for him. In this, as well as in every other respect, I maintain that there exists to-day no other like him." 

Previous to her work with Lamperti Miss Howson had scored one success after another in the United States, where she appeared in a number of English operas, such as "Martitana" and the "Bohemian Girl." Perhaps the scene of her greatest triumphs at that time was the Grand Opera House, in this city, one of the managers being of which was George Gould. After leaving Lamperti's studio she filled and engagement in Malta, where her singing of such works as "Sonnambula" and "Dinorah" provoked scenes of enthusiasm fully comparable to those attendant upon the début of Tetrazinni in this city a few years ago.

Musical America, June 1910

April 13, 2013

The García Lineage: Sir Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944)
The creator of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts - otherwise known as the "Proms," Sir Henry Wood studied with Manuel García while a student at the Royal Academy of Music, London, with the express purpose of teaching singing. Possessing a "terrible" voice which García said could "go through a brick wall," Wood's memories of García as recounted in his autobiography My Life of Music (1938) are quite interesting.

"When I became accompanist to the operatic class I formed a lasting friendship with Gustave Garcia who directed it. I also accompanied singing lessons by Manuel Garcia, W. H. Cummings, Fiori, Edwin Holland, Duvivier, Randegger, Arthur Thompson and Fred Walker.  It was a great chance for me because I learned the traditional rendering of classical arias as taught by these great teachers. Young as I was, I realized that such experience would fit me for the future I had planned, for love of the human voice had taken hold of me just as the organ had done in my earlier days. Determined to be a teacher of singing, I took lessons from every professor available and heard every vocalist of the day. 

Accompanying for Manuel Garcia’s pupils was a privilege and an artistic experience for the greatest value- both in what to do and what not to do- but although I consider he was the finest teacher of his day, I must say he was at times quite violent with his pupils. It was nothing for him to fling a book at an unsuspecting head during a lesson. It never seemed to occur to him that the poor soul was in no fit state to learn anything further- at least during that lesson. 

Occasionally I came in for it also. A mezzo-soprano was singing I will sing of They great mercy (St. Paul) which she rather dragged.  So did I. 

“You’re dragging!” Stormed Garcia.

The next second he cannoned me on the to floor, taking the keys from under my fingers. The singer went on, and any onlooker might have thought it part of the game, so naturally was it done. David Hughes, a Welsh baritone, also suffered from Garcia’s book-throwing, but he had been trained as a boxer and always managed to dodge.

Garcia was a real character. One day he showed me an advertisement in a daily paper.

“Look at this, Henry!” He shouted …..”Voice production! What’s voice production? We teach singing here!”

I also remember a Welsh miner who came to the R.A.M. to study singing. He had a fine though somewhat throaty baritone voice and was nothing of a musician. However, Garcia did wonders with his voice in six months, mainly by giving him vocal exercises and training his ear to be alert to his own tone- certainly not by talking about voice production. Indeed, after four years’ study this man won several prizes.

It so happened that the students knew that Randegger sometimes offered engagements to baritones, especially if he were producing Saint-Saens’s Heavens declare, in which there is a baritone quartet, or perhaps for the double quartet in Elijah. This was an attraction, and it was the thing to get into Randegger’s class. I thoroughly enjoyed myself the morning the Welsh baritone approached Garcia and broke the news that he wanted to join Randegger’s class.

“Please, sir.” He said in a voice that was hardly robusto, “I’m sorry, but I want to leave your class at the end of the term and go to Randegger,”

I held my breath. I watched those fierce Spanish eyes flash fire, and prepared for the storm I knew must break.  Garcia stared at the man for a moment. Then, in a voice of thunder:

“Could you sing a note when you came to me?”
“N-no, sir!” (This very tremulously.)
“Had you any vocal technique?”
“Er…..n-no, sir!”
“Had you any repertoire?”
“N-no, sir!  (Hardly audible)
“Then GET OUT OF MY ROOM, and never let me see your face again.  Out you go or I’ll kick you out- even though I am very nearly a hundred!”
The Welshman fled.  Garcia followed him to the door.
“I’m a teacher of singing.” He roared, “not a concert agent!”

That taught me a lesson, too. I always told my pupils I could not undertake to find them engagements, and took care to inquire whether they were coming for real singing lessons or merely to try to make use of my influence."


Aside from García throwing books (you can't do that now, can you?), several things stand out in the passage above. One is García training his student's ear rather than talking about voice production. Another is the danger of blind ambition. The baritone who asked to join another teacher's class? Well, that was dumb on his part, wasn't it? However, I can tell you from experience that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have all kinds of students as a private voice teacher: beginners, ardent amateurs, working professionals, and everyone in between. The ambitious student is still with us. Sometimes he lands on my doorstep, post music school, well into his 30's, stars in his eyes, not having the career he hoped for. His inability to sing basic 5, 9 and 11 tone scales with requisite ease and tonal beauty? He doesn't consider that a problem.

Sir Henry Wood also wrote a four volume treatise titled The Gentle Art of Singing (1927-28) which was abridged into one volume in 1930. Herman Klein had some acerbic things to say about the original version, which you can find here. I would have loved to interview Sir Wood. He seems a fascinating character. He also seems to be mixed-dominant. How does one discern this kind of thing? By listening to the voice and watching the body and face in action. The mouth 'pointing' to the left is a tell-tale sign (his left, not your left). The "terrible" voice? That's another.

April 12, 2013

I'm After Madam Tetrazzini's Job

Cameo portrait of Bessie Wynn,  Ziegfield Follies,  1909 

Sometimes you find things that make you laugh when researching. Consider the photo of sheet music from Zeigfield Follies of 1909. I stumbled upon it while looking for a photo of Luisa Tetrazzini at the New York Public Library's online digital gallery (which you can find here). My intention was to include a photo of Tetrazzini while yammering about the difference between two words: attack and onset. You know, how the word attack was used for a couple centuries for the start of the tone before the scientists among us decided onset was better. Then I was also going to steer you towards Tetrazzini's own words about the attack (which you can find here). Did you notice they misspelled her name on the cover? Bet she wasn't happy about that. You see? Names are important. 

You can find "I'm After Madam Tetrazini's Job" here.

April 11, 2013


When is the last time you practiced exercises on staccato? Do you even know what the word means? Do you know how to do it? Why am I thinking that you don't?

(voice teacher shaking head and rolling eyes) 

Are you aware that the acquisition of a beautiful staccato is within reach of every voice, not just coloratura sopranos, and that the staccato is an essential tool for developing real vocal technique as well as a legacy of the García and Lamperti schools of singing?

What are the benefits of singing staccato vocal exercises?

  1. Singing staccato makes you listen to what you are doing. This is a big deal. Give a singer with a big voice staccato exercises and dagger looks will result. "Why can't you just let me sing?" The singer fairly yells with his eyes. "Why are you making me sing this stuff?" Because it makes you listen to what you are doing. You can't bellow while singing staccato. Nor can you fake it. Either you approach the staccato head on, or you will bungle it. 
  2. Staccato will clean up your act. Real staccato is clear and brilliant, not guttural or nasal. It will teach you the correct "attack." 
  3. Singing staccato will enable you to guide your voice, rather than "shoot & aim," hoping it will land in the right place. 
  4. Staccato exercises will teach you to suspend the breath. You can't be heaving or wheezing. 
  5. Staccato exercises will open your rib cage. If it doesn't widen in every direction, something is wrong. 
  6. Singing staccato will open your ear. You know the exercise is working when all the extensor muscles of the body are called into action: when very muscle from pelvis to the top of head lifts, becomes alert and responsive before any sound comes out of your mouth. Does this mean you can force yourself into military posture and "open" your ear? Sorry, no. It doesn't work that way. Your muscles lift in response to the desire to sing, to communicate clearly, not overt manipulation.
  7. Staccato exercises enable you to sing piano. 
  8. Staccato exercises prepare you to sing the "shake" or trill. 
  9. Staccato is an excellent 'cure' for the tremolo. 
  10. Staccato exercises enable you to sing with great flexibility.

Forget about voice placement when you are singing staccato exercises. The vowel (and you should always think about making clear vowels rather than a tone) will seem to be everywhere. If your staccato is relegated to your throat or aspirated, you know something is wrong. 

Practice staccato slowly on closed vowels like /i/ and /e/ in the medium range. Why? These vowels sounds will enable you to hear 'head resonance.' However, you will have achieved a great deal when you can sing staccato on /a/ without effort. 

What is the overall impression of staccato? Bell-like resonance. When you have mastered the staccato, you will be ready for the trill and chromatic exercises. All three require heightened listening ability. 

April 10, 2013

Lincoln Center: along came a spider

If you are writing a book having everything to do with vocal pedagogy (the teaching of singing) and live in New York, you'll find yourself at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. That was me yesterday. Living a few blocks away, I find myself there quite a bit when I am not teaching at home. And why not? The light is wonderful (living in a dark apartment makes one appreciate such things), the chairs are comfortable, and access to information is unequalled. Google is great, Bing may be better, but both represent only a fraction of the information one can find at a great library - and the Library of the Performing Arts is a treasure trove.   

See Calder's spider in the first photo? It's what you see while waiting for the library to open. The Metropolitan Opera sits behind it. The second and third photos were taken from inside the library on the first floor, which looks out on the plaza and towards Avery Fisher Hall, where the New York Philharmonic is in residence. The penultimate photo is a close-up of Lincoln Center fountain, which is new and quite striking, while the last one features a placard for the Film Society, which is honoring Barbra Streisand later this month. It's a busy place. 

Photos take with dinky iPhone, CameraBag App and Magazine setting. 

April 4, 2013

The García Lineage: Madam Kenneth

Church of St. Augustin, Paris
Back of the Church St. Augustin in Paris and quite close to it, Rue Miromesnil 93, lives a modest, quiet busy professor of singing, Mme. Elena Kenneth, who has had the great privilege, among many others of being an éleve of Manuel García, son of the celebrated Spanish tenor. 

Madame Kenneth studied first piano in Germany under the best masters and at Brussels under Fetis. As a child she accompanied many great celebrities - Madam Grisi and her cousin Ernesta Grisi, Madam Rossi-Caccia, Rubini, Mario, De Rouski, Ernst, Teresa Minanollo—and she knew both Mendelssohn and Moscheles. She left the study of the instrument to study voice with García, and later completed her dramatic and vocal education with Chevalier Alberto Muzzucato, director of the Conservatory of Milan, a voice teacher of the oldest and best Italian School. She made her début in Varese, near Milan, where many great singers made their first appearance. Rubini, Pasta &c. After singing in the various musical centres of Italy she received the diploma "Academica Filarmonica" of Bologne. At Rome the composer Pacini wrote for her his last opera, "Ill Saltimbanco," and a cantata executed at Florence under the patronage of the Princesse Poniatowka. In Barcelona and at the Royal Theatre in Madrid she sang several times, and in the latter city with Tamerlick, a warm friend and colleague. Among other artists she knew were Noden Pancane, &c. She sang in over thirty-six operas, no small labor as operas were studied and sung in those days. She was on friendly terms with Rossini and his family.

Among her operas were "Don Pasquale," "Robert de Diable," "Othello," Lucia," "Sonnambula," "Traviata," "Martha," "Ballo in Maschera," "Trovatore," "Barber of Seville," "Maria di Rohan," "Attila," "Puritani," "Don Giovanni," "Freischütz," "Oberon," "Ernani," in fact, all the roles of the day in her voice, which was of extended compass. 

Church if St. Augustin, Paris
To Manuel García Madam Kenneth gives the credit of placing her voice. He was absolutely unique, she says, in his power and authority in voice placement. Scientist, analyst, born teacher, erudite in his calling, and with the illumination of family genes such as possessed also by his famous sister, Pauline, the results he attained were extraordinary. She firmly believes that the García school of development is the only one ever known that could develop the voice to its fullest possibilities, conserve it to the longest limit, keep best the natural quality and leave the health clean and sound. The principle of the García school is that the singing voice, properly prepared, should have the facility and spontaneity of emission of the speaking voice, and no less power of color and expression. 

Speaking and knowing roles in five different languages, Madam Kenneth is admirably prepared to teach foreigners. She has many distinguished American amateurs among her pupils.

A Pupil of Manuel García in Paris, Musical Courier, February 16th, 1898


Madam Kenneth was English and born in 1830. A high soprano, Pacini's "Il Saltimbanco" reveals a voice with an extensive compass (you can find the original score here). Kenneth was sixty-eight when the Musical Courier article above was written, her career and teaching now lost to time. 

Ellen Gulbranson was one of Kenneth's students. Gulbranson also studied with Mathilde Marchesi and Marchesi's daughter Blanche, the latter helping Gulbranson transition from mezzo-soprano to dramatic soprano. Unfortunately, I have not been able to acquire a photo or additional biographical information on Kenneth. History does not remember her as one of the 'first rank' of 'singers, yet, in viewing the  opera written for her by Pacini, this writer posits that Kenneth's voice would have made an immense impression, the aria in Act One alone not being for the faint of heart with it's repeated flights to high D. 

Kenneth's assertion that the García school is one of spontaneity and facility of the speaking voice is worth careful consideration. Does Kenneth mean the "speech level" singing of a certain West Coast vocal pedagogue? Hmmmm. Don't think so. García's principals were based on Italian tonal values, which are altogether different than American speech with its diphthongs, guttural and nasal sounds. The reader should not suppose that all things are equal.

There is also the matter of García "placing" Kenneth's voice. Now that's something to chew on for awhile. 

April 3, 2013

The García Centenary

Manuel García (1805-1906)  by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

The García Centenary, March 17th, 1905 

The toast was drunk with enthusiasm, and the company sang "For he's a jolly good fellow."  
Señor García, who was almost overcome by emotion said in response: Words, one has said, are given us to conceal our thoughts. They will admirably fulfill that purpose if you take mine as a full and complete expression of my feelings on this extraordinary occasion. But words, whatever use we make of them, are not mere masks. They are living things, intensely living things to some, to those of us who hold the magic ring that makes them slaves. They are as might friends, friends such as you to me, who from the ocean depths of your indulgence fling back to me my own poor words and trivial deeds, transfigured into something "rich and strange."  
At this point Señor García, who had become almost inaudible, and who was evidently somewhat exhausted by fatigue and excitement, handed the MMS. of his speech to the Chairman, who read the remainder as follows: There are so many of you to be greeted, old friends of out the past, old pupils, comrades, children! Ah, children! Sixteen societies of laryngologists, and mostly come of age, calling me "father!" They will have it so, and I am pretty proud of the title, I can tell you. Well, do you think one solitary man could find fit words to answer all these voices? But you can do it for me. There is an old story some of you may remember, which when I read it changed the aspect of things for me by its very name, for that is was a stroke of genius, Put Yourself in His Place. What a different world it would be if we all did that. Well, you try now. Try hard. Think yourselves each 100 years old to-day. Not the ladies, I will not ask them. Though they may come to that they will never look at it, and they will never know it, and no one will ever believe it. But you men can try. Fancy you each have lived 100 years, and woke to-day to find yourself surrounded by kindly clamorous voices, "troops of friends." What would you say? I think you would say nought. Only the infinite nought which circles all things could give an adequate answer to you all. I shall say nought to the great master of the brush, Mr. Sargent, who with two creative touches in a moment brought life from the void. It is a strange experience to see one's seeming spring out at one from nothing in a flash. I shall say nought to this rash friend of mine (Sir Felix Simon), who into the midst of a busy life crammed all the work and worry of the labour of love that has brought your here to-day; nought to the friends so very near to my heart, the Laryngological Society of London, and the chose band whose really terrible labours it fills me with remorse to think about- the members of the García Committee. I shall say nought, nought, nought to all of you, except just this, "God bless you every one." 

The Garcia Centenary, The British Medical Journal, March 25, 1905, p 681-689

April 2, 2013

Drexel's Cabinet of Curiosities

I had just gotten off the elevator at the research division of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, and ran smack into Joseph William Drexel. He was standing next to the water fountain.

What are you doing here today?

I'm trying to locate a long dead voice teacher, and thought I would start with the Biographical Card Index. That Ok with you? 

Excellent choice. You know where it is.

He looked towards the elevators as I went through the glass double doors, coursed my way past the music division desk (which is, I am sorry to say, sorely understaffed these days) and back to his Cabinet of Curiosities.

Imagine a time when industrious librarians snipped articles out of newspapers and recorded the contexts of every musical publication onto index cards. Stuff you won't find on the internet, it's a veritable gold mine. Here is one on Manuel García.

I found what I was looking for, which sent me to the main desk where I put in a request. Fifteen minutes later, I was staring at a photograph of my sought after famous voice teacher, which, from the look of it, had not seen the light of day since it was placed in its folder. I made a point to thank Mr. Drexel on the way out.