June 21, 2013

What Manuel García Didn't Teach

See this guy on the right? The famous Manuel García, who is credited with being the first person to see the vocal folds in action during singing via the laryngoscope, and the father of voice science? The guy who knew more than anyone else during his time about the inner workings of the larynx, and who's teachings on the matter have been borne out after 150 years?

After I wrote my last post, and the comments came flooding in, I thought it prudent to be clear about what Manuel García didn't teach: falsetto. The man who codified his father's teaching, which is understood to have originated in the Old Italian School precepts of Nicola Porpora through his student Giovanni Anzani, did not allow this students to sing in falsetto. One statement which supports this assertion comes from a student with a long association with Anna  E. Schoen-René, who studied with Pauline Viardot-García and her brother Manuel.  

Schoen-René was opposed to the use of falsetto and quoted García as equally opposed to it. They believed, instead, in using throughout the entire male register a very carefully controlled mixed voice, supported by a highly developed breath control but never permitted to break into an out and out falsetto tone.   

Of course, there are those who assert that García and his father changed the way people sang, that before their time, men were falsetto-ing all over the place. But I find this a weak argument (it's also a weak register), one that arises from a misunderstanding of the word itself, and its use in earlier writings.

My aim in research has always been to find out what the teachers of the Old Italian School actually did in the studio, and what their conception of tonal production was based upon. Ok then. This much we know. Whatever they taught: it did not include singing in falsetto. Why?  It ain't bel canto!