June 30, 2014

Learning from the past while living in the present

Anna E. Schoen-René
What got you interested in historical vocal pedagogy?

That's what a young colleague I had just met asked me not that long ago. 

"Oh," I said. "I was taught certain things by my teacher who was a musical descendent of the Garcías, and when I went and looked at the texts within their school, found very little information which addressed what I had been taught. Wanting to know why this was so, I started digging. 

What did you find? 

That the Garcías didn't write everything down! I also found that most people don't save anything. Out of the many students who studied with the Garcías and their exponents, precious little of that information—say, in the form of lessons notes—is available to the public. That said, there were quite a few students who wrote books and articles, often without mentioning they were students. 

Why is that? 

Because, from what I can tell, the teachings of the Garcías were considered proprietary information. Teachers made a living from it, after all. When we look at old newspapers, we see Lamperti exponents jockeying for position—and can learn quite a bit about what they taught as a result, but the García exponents are silent for the most part—at least in terms of vocal pedagogy. They kept what they did in the studio to themselves.

Do you use what you've learned?

Of course. The first half of the lesson is taken up with scales and exercises which are then applied to repertoire. It's not rocket science. 

What do you mean? 

Can the student sing /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/ and /u/ clearly, easily, and in an attractive manner? That's one big Old school teaching. But you'd be surprised how many people think singing involves stuffing stacks of facts into their brain. "What's hard is simple. What's natural, comes hard." Remember that Sondheim line? Too many facts can make the simplest thing very hard.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Ernst Schoen-René. Schoen-René was a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García.

June 29, 2014

The Legitimate School of Singing by Francis Charles Maria de Rialp

Therése Tietjens (1831-1877) 
Now, what were the law of the ancients, and of those who, in later times, may have inherited their traditions, we have no means of knowing, since there is no written record of them. What we do know, however, of all successful teaching of singing, is that it has always, in all times, been built, consciously or not, upon the foundation of correct speech. Song, progressed and enlarged, that is, carried through a wider and more versatile range, does not thereby outgrow the power of the last which originally governed it,—the laws of smooth, undulating, carrying, well-placed speech.

The law of Pitch, which is peculiar to this School, embodying, in itself, everything necessary for the perfect placement of speech, comprehends the best of all that could ever have been taught of singing since the earliest times, so far as mere truing of the voice is concerned. While I distinctly claim it as original with my School, there is no proof that it was unknown at an early date, under whatever name. As long ago a as 1673, Sebastian de Covarruvias, in his "Testoro de la Lengua Castellana," says: "Salir de tono, no continuar el modo y orden con que uno empieça, ô a cantar ô a razor." "To depart from the tone, is to discontinue the mode and order in which one begins either to sing or to reason." It is evident that he refers here to something other than mere musical mode or tonality, else he would never have included in his definition reasoning, which is necessarily confined to speech.

It becomes needful to explain what Pitch is, since, in our day, it is theoretical unknown; and in this country, whose language is naturally so unfavorable to its use, but little practiced.

To the word Pitch, in its relations to correct speech, I attach a meaning different from its musical one. By pitch, is not to be understood the relative position of the notes of the gamut, of the musical elevation or depression of a sound. Pitch may be defined as: the height and circumference, chosen for their acoustical value, at which every sound that we utter must, in its artistic capacity, originate, and within which it must be contained. 

Let us simplify this definition.

Pitch is indicated by a first sound, placed to the best acoustical advantage. Upon this placement, so to say, we speak every sound that may follow, allowing none of them to fall below this height. It will be impossible to exceed it, because the true pitch is already the highest. The first sound then, properly placed, indicates the pitch for all that may follow. Let us regard this sound as the mother of all the rest, from which they are all derived, and from which they all draw, in equal measure, power, purity and sonority. Each succeeding sound passes in the room of the first. It is impossible that a single one of the sounds, thus generated, should exceed, in height of depth, volume or beauty, any one of its sister-sounds. They will be, one and all, of one size and one quality, being based upon and controlled by the first sound. The first sound acts as a kind of pedal throughout the whole range of the voice. The first sound is the veritable generator, sustainer, and preserver of all our sounds. I call it the BASAL-SOUND. If we understand well its action we have mastered the theory of Pitch. We comprehend, then that we may run through the whole gamut of sounds, to the full height and depth of the human voice, and though, musically speaking, one sound may be higher or lower than another, yet, according to the law of the basal-sound, no sound can be higher or lower than the first, which established the pitch.

Thus the law of Pitch destroys, at one blow, the theory of registers. It proves, conclusively, that such a thing as a break in the human voice does not exist,  or has only been created by teachers ignorant of the etymology of sounds. Do we find a break in the voice in speaking? And have we not suggested proof enough that singing is nothing more than speaking?

We recognize that, according to the laws of acoustics for the full transmission of sound, there must be a directing and a receiving focus. The sounding board above the head of the orator, reflecting his utterances to the opposite wall. This, in turn, acts as a second sounding-baord, especially if it be concave so as to embrace the sounds as they arrive. The same principle is applied in our theaters and opera-houses. The proscenium itself is an enclosed space, a kind of arched box (forming the directing-focus), and the theatre is built in concave shape (forming the receiving-focus), in which the sound, issuing from the focus of the proscenium, are surrounding and reflected.

We see, therefore, that a sound to attain its full acoustical value must be enclosed at its point of emission, as well as at its point of reception. We all know that a sound stuck on the inside of an empty barrel, will reach the ear more resonant than the same sound stuck on the outside of a barrel; and that the sound of a violin-string could not be heard in a hall, were it not for the re-enforcelemnt which it receives from its sounding-box. But we are apt to forget this principle in its immediate application to the transmission of the voice.

Common sense should tell us that, in order for the voice to be conveyed to its outer directing-focus (which serves in the first instance as a receiving-focus) it must be placed, first of all, in the cavities which will give it the necessary carrying-power.

All the sounds must be enclosed, before their emission, in order to reach their full acoustical value. 

Wherever we may be, we must speak. Consequently, nature has provided for us a primary directing-focus, which we carry always with us.

A sound, to be perfectly placed and perfectly rendered, must travel and form in all the cavities of the head, and nowhere else.

If the reader will admit that where there is bone there is sound to be obtained, he will enter at once, into our theory of the enclosing of sounds, and will become quickly disabused of the idea that sounds may be obtained from the fleshly parts of the body. In the throat is the utterance of sound; but that does not say that in the throat is sound itself. That utterance, for its formation, must be raised as high as the mask, or that part of the head bounded by; the upper gum (lowest); drum of the ear (side); and frontal-bone (highest part). We cannot form sounds for singing in the chest; for we find there only the cavities of the lungs, containing the quantity of breath required for sustaining the sounds. Some teachers entertain the idea that there is a chest-voice, from the fact that the chest vibrates during the emission of sound. We cannot countenance such an idea, as, at that rate, we should be obliged to admit that there is a foot-voice (!), as every part of the body vibrates, more or less, in sympathy with our every act. If it were not so, the natural consequence would be that, while on part of the body were in activity, the other parts would be inert, or paralyzed. The passage of the breath through the lungs, with a certain velocity, is sufficient to account for their vibration. A gust of wind through a tube, may cause the tube to vibrate; but sustaining and formed sound is produced only when the wind meets an acoustical focus at its issue.

Therefore, let us treat the theory of registers as we treat the theory of ghosts. We speak of them; but they do not exist for us.

Before leaving the subject of acoustics, I would like to remark that what is physically accomplished by the material receiving-focus (namely, the embracing and reflecting of the sounds sent to it), is, in part, psychically reversed in a mental receiving-focus. When a human voice, placed in its true acoustical focus directs its sound to the listener, whose acoustical faculties are elevated to the same level as those of the singer, the mind of the listener accepts these sounds and retains them, concurring in them. And when, in judging a singer, we accuse him as the possessor of a muffled voice, it is because our mind is fixed at an acoustical level above that of the singer, and the singer fails to reach it. His acoustical focus is not chained with ours.

The Legitimate School of Singing by Francis Charles Maria De Rialp, 1894, 12-18.


I came upon The Legitimate School of Singing early in my research at the New York Public Library, then returned to it after I went to the Listening Centre in Toronto in 1999, having had the realization that De Rialp was talking about the active audition of bone conduction. In fact, the more I read De Rialp's book, the more I thought he must have been familiar with the teaching of Francesco Lamperti, if only because his expression of ideas had much in keeping with what could be found in Giovanni Battista Lamperti's maxims as recorded by William Earl Brown in Vocal Wisdom—which I also perceived as referring to the audition of bone conduction. Florenza D'Arona, a student of the Milanese maestro (and subject of a recent post), furthered this impression when she wrote: 

The fundamental truths of the art of singing are based upon the European standard of the old masters, and the truths so much discussed as new discoveries were taught many, many years before present day discoverers were born. That these later day theorists are not indebted to the old masters for their knowledge may also be true, for study and experience are great teachers, as is proved by De Rialp's book. The points in said book of "mother tone, "pitch," &c., are solid truths, which by the clothing of expression confuses many. This gentleman is wise in offering no further explanation of his terms, since only those who have had these points viva voce illustrated and themselves put them into practice by the side of a keenly observant teacher can fully comprehend their meaning. —Florenza D'Arona, The Music Courier,  November, 1894. 

Oh, she's right about that. You really do have to have viva voce demonstration, which De Rialp would have been privy to having worked closely with many singers trained in the Old Italian School. He was an interesting fellow, as I found from his obituary in Musical America, which is about the only information I have been able to find regarding his life and work. 

Francis Charles Maria De Rialp; formerly a noted singer and teacher, died recently at his home near Milford, Pa. He was born near Barcelona, Spain, in 1840, and studied piano under a pupil of Berlioz and theory under Balart, most of his student days being spent in Paris. Subsequently, he served in the Spanish army in the war against Morocco. Tietjens, the celebrated singer, brought him to the notice of Col. James Henry Mapleson, and he was engaged shortly thereafter as accompanist to the prima donna. Then he went to London where he remained in Mapleson's service for sixteen years, filling many important functions in connection with the opera company and being associated with the most famous stars of the day. 
When Mapleson came to America and took up the management of the Academy of Music in New York, De Rialp remained his invaluable helper. Later, he was associated with Abby and Grau, of the Metropolitan, but eventually he retired and spent the rest of his life teaching. It was De Rialp who restored Campanini's voice when the tenor once injured it, and who informed Jean de Reszke that he was a tenor when the Polish artist was singing baritone parts. Musical America, September 2, 1911. 

So the guy was immersed in opera and opera singers for a long time, and expressed a unique understanding of the voice. That much is clear. If his words sound strange to us, well, I chalk that up to our collective preoccupation with facts concerning anatomy, physiology and acoustics, rather than the singer's perception of sound, for which we have a paucity of facts.

Could it be circular thinking at work? Could the fact that the vocal tract is the only resonator keep voice scientists from being interested in the perception of voice placement—that persona non grata word, especially when those same voice scientists have expressed that the singer's audition is a subjective rather than an objective matter? I think so. Why look for what you believe can't exist?

Back to De Rialp's book. I've not forgotten something my own teacher said which speaks to what he wrote in the passage above.

"It's a nasty vowel in a closed position!"

These words became crystal clear after I spent time at the Listening Center with headphones on my head, which stimulated the two muscles in each ear with highly filtered bone and aired conducted sound. What I felt and heard in my head was the essence of her description: scratchy, nasty and buzzy, bone itself being the "closed position." (Truth to tell: closed vowels have something to do with it too.)

She also told me: "It's the buzzy business that never turns off!"

I suggest you now go back and read De Rialp's description of "basal-sound," and believe my teacher and he would agree. That her musical grandfather wrote Hints on Singing the same year as The legitimate School of Singing appeared is also food for thought. But oh, that is a mind bender.

Photo Credit: New York Public Library Digital Gallery. 

June 27, 2014

Letter to the Reader 2

A couple of years ago, I used this photograph to accompany an announcement that I was working on a book, which later appeared in the form of Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (2013). Little did I know that, as a result, the Janet Spencer recordings would come to light—which still takes my breath away. Since the book was published, I've adopted the perspective that it's not a good idea to talk about one's writing projects (a matter of keeping the energy where it belongs), but can say that there are a couple of things on the burner. 

In other VoiceTalk news, I'd like to let you know about the inclusion of the Petersen Voice Studio in my blogroll, which can be easily found when scrolling down the right hand column. It's great to have another seeker of vocal wisdom in the house. Those with sharp eyes will also notice that VoiceTalk's appearance has changed slightly, and the content of the right hand column has been edited and reorganized in an effort to enhance the reader's experience.  

Lastly, I can't tell you what pleasure it gives me to hear from you. Your comments, emails and messages, make it all worthwhile. 

June 26, 2014

Mme. Florenza D'Arona on Teachers and Students

Mme. Florenza D'Arona
Be sure you are right and then push ahead. While in the studio give yourself up to your teacher, give more time to voice placement and all the ground that it covers; leave pieces and repertoire alone until every note is as beautiful as it can be made; master the science first, the art is a study of a life-time, expanding with every year; put three to four good years of solid work in the studio; good coaching is all you'll need after that, or an accompanist to assist you with committing a répertoire.  

Put aside ambition for plain common sense, backed by determination to find out the road to fame, and never stop or be stopped by obstacles that should forearm you if you are forewarned. Learn that if you are not successful, you are either not appreciated, are contending against prejudice, ignorance, or maliciousness, or you are not at your best through inexperience or inefficiency. If the latter, you deserve censure and should retire for further study; if hindered by inexperience, take the lesson from whomever gives it, and profit by it; remember you have lots to learn, and must walk in the footprints of all the other divas. 

If you are contending against maliciousness, ignorance, or prejudice, fortify yourself with courage, for what is apparently your disgrace in one city is your virtue in another, and what passes without a hand of applause in one country may bring you the longed for fame in another. 

Be sure you are deserving, and then never fall below your own standard and you will command success. 

Mme. Florenza D'Arona, student of Francesco Lamperti and Antonio Sangiovanni, The Musical Courier, May 13, 1896 

Sabrina H. Dow on Vowels

The variable configuration of the vocal cavities and the habits acquired by singers makes it necessary that the teacher should regulate vocal exercises according to the necessities of each person. All voices cannot be formed on one mould; a different treatment will be required to modify exaggerated peculiarities. By learning the effect of the action of these parts of the mouth and throat on the quality of tone, a tangible means of correction is gained. If a voice by nature of wrong habit is sharp or piercing, the practice of the vowel sounds o, or, ou, with the mouth dilated as much as possible in the interior, forming a tunnel-shape of which the back part of the mouth is the largest, will render the tones rounder and richer in character. 

The opposite quality of dullness or headiness can be modified by using the open Italian a in vocalization, the mouth being much opened transversely, the large part of the tunnel in this case being the front. Other vowels suit other cases. It is for the teacher to discover what vowel is most favorable to the production of an agreeable timbre in each individual voice. The teacher should be able to imitate defective timbres and to explain their cause; and also to give examples of artistic timbres, until there is awakened in the pupil an appreciation of the beautiful in tones. Then all difficulties will be easily overcome. 

Artistic Singing by Sabrina H. Dow, 31-32. 


This is a very different approach than is used by many voice teachers today, who don't quite grasp the utility of working with pure vowels, the emphasis having shifted away from what is heard to what is seen, especially as the presence of voice analysis technology in the studio is concerned. As well, many work in a mechanical fashion, with an eye towards getting the muscles of the larynx to move according to pre-determined plan, registration being their main focus, with vowels being something of an afterthought. 

My observation: once the student is busy looking, the ears stop listening. This is why I don't like having students read from music during their lessons. Nine times out of ten, their audio-vocal control suffers. Yes, professional choristers must master this skill, but even so, the best will tell you having the score memorized makes for a very different experience. Of course, the same thing goes for the conductor who is standing in front of you! 

In accordance with this matter of listening, Dow emphasizes the ability of the teacher to demonstrate, which, it should be noted, gives the student an inordinate amount of information. Of course, the real trick is the student's ability to listen to technique, rather than blindly copy what is heard. As those who study with me often hear: "That was great! Now do it with your voice, not mine! 

Dow is right about difficulties being overcome. If the student can't discern the difference between what the teacher does (and it better be good) and what they feel and hear (feeling is a vestibular function of the ear), there is no going forward. 

Artistic Singing (1883) by Sabrina H. Dow

Cesare Badiali (1805-1865)
A Boston voice teacher, Sabrina H. Dow was a student of Cesare Badiali, a baritone who sang many Rossini roles, and taught in Bologne after his retirement from the stage. Reaching back further, it is known that Dow's musical grandfather was Eliodoro Bianchi (1773-1848), a tenor who studied in Naples during the same period in which Manuel Garcia (1775-1832) was learning the secrets of bel canto from Giovanni Anzani. While it is not known if both Bianchi and García studied with Anzani, it seems plausible when one considers that the principles outlined in Dow's book mirror those in Manuel García's (1805-1906) A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing (1840). Of course,  il bel canto being  the only thing taught in Italy during the early part of the 19th century, Artistic Singing is all the more interesting.

What does the reader encounter? Concise information regarding clear and sombre timbre, trills, vowel modification, the attack, legato, portamento, messa di voce, breathing, and closed-mouth exercises which were all the rage with François Wartel and Ermina Rudersdorff (who lived in Boston), vocal descendants of García. Dow makes a strong case against humming, which she considers antithetical to Old Italian School teachings. Interestingly, I have in my possession an interview with Pauline Viardot-García, who is asked whether her father taught closed-mouth exercises, to which Viardot-García replies that she never saw him do so.  

Eliodoro Bianchi (1773-1848)
Dow also takes aim at the practice of 'drawing in the stomach' on inhalation, which was taught at the Paris Conservatory, and also found expression in García works. My own García-lineage teacher, having taught "low support and high placement," I have always looked on this matter with a gimlet eye, wishing Garcia would have been more clear, since 'drawing in the stomach' is vague enough to be misinterpreted—i. e. does 'stomach' mean the lower abdomen, the area just under the ribcage, or the actual stomach itself? Of course, one can translate García's original French as 'set the hollow of the stomach,' which is also open to interpretation, while Hints on Singing (1884) clearly states: "Then, and only then, are the ribs raised, while the stomach is drawn in." As luck would have it, when I went looking for more information on Dow (not finding very much, I am sorry to say), I landed on a page of Werner's Magazine that contained a letter by Julia Ettie Crane to Charles Lunn (remember him?), which noted that García "did not teach it." That Brinkerhoff went on about the same matter in a recent post is also food for thought. You see? This is the thicket you encounter when entering the forest of the past. That said: I like this book. Quite a bit in fact. If I were teaching a class on historical vocal pedagogy, I'd make it required reading. 

Find Artistic Singing by Sabrina H. Dow here.  

Photo Credits: Badiali, Wikipedia; Bianchi, New York Public Library Digital Archive.

June 25, 2014

What is Voice Placing?

It seems to me that many students misunderstand what is meant by voice placing. They seem to think that to place the voice means to throw it down into the chest, to the bridge of the nose, the front of the mouth or the top of the head. The word placing, in some respects, is rather unfortunate and has led to such misconceptions. For lack of a more accurate nomenclature we are obliged in singing to use terms that do not represent actual phenomena but only imaginary ones suggested to the mind by subjective sensations. 

I can assure the perplexed vocal student that voice placement and in fact the whole subject of correct voice cultivation is a much simpler process than he would be led to believe by a perusal of our modern literature upon the subject. The numberless discussions and pros and cons about the various phases of this subject are proof of the fact that but few understand the basic principle as it was taught by Lamperti and the great masters before him, since the time of Porpora and Bernacchi. This fundamental idea is: 

Training of the singing voice consists in educating the vocal organ to respond to will, to tone conception and to breath release with absolute spontaneity and without conscious or visible effort. Everything else, registers, resonance, tone locating, articulation, etc., is secondary and self-adjusting when the basic condition is right. I think that any one can grasp the meaning of this definition. Like all great truths, it is very simple. It is the application of it that puts to the test the ability and patience of the teacher and the fitness of the pupil. I believe that much of our modern teaching lacks the understanding of the possibilities of the faithful application of this principle. Too much has been said about breathing in a vague indefinite sort of a way. Much that has been said on the subject is mere repetition of half-truths, an incomplete echo of what the old masters said. Yes, breathing is of prime importance, but it is only one segment in the arch upon which rests the structure of the singer’s art; the other segment is tone attack and legato. The complete and perfect arch we call voice placement upon the breath. 

To define and describe vocal processes is exceedingly difficult on account of the lack of an accepted nomenclature. If your description is expressed in terms of actual physiological processes you are accused of taking an inartistic point of view that is of no real value to the pupil. If, on the other hand, you speak in terms of subjective sensations of the singer or of impressions on the hearer your language is condemned as being intelligible only to yourself and the narrow circle of the initiated. 

True “voice placing” analyzed involves three things: breath control, adjustment of the instrument, adjustment of the resonators. The “placing” of the voice therefore is accomplished: 

First.—By the study of the proper taking. retaining and perfectly controlled release of breath. 

Second.—By the study of a clean-cut induced attack and legato. I use the word induced purposely and significantly. To induce means to lead on by persuasion and not by force. The acquisition of this clean-cut, induced attack is the missing link in modern voice culture. The untrained singer has not, a clean-cut attack because he allows breath to escape before the tone begins. Some teachers and singers, on the other hand, force the attack; they compel the tone to start with the beginning of expiration, by, as Garcia expressed it, a slight cough, that is by the so-called stroke of the glottis, which is nothing more than a pernicious short-cut method. The tone should begin neither with a particle of breath escaping before it, nor with any impulse, it must start out of repose and in singing each tone must be separate and perfect by itself and yet join its neighbor like pearls on a string; no escape of breath between; that is what is meant by legato. 

Third.—By acquiring such freedom about the throat in tone production that the resonating cavities can spontaneously and automatically adjust themselves to each tone. The acquisition of this freedom depends entirely on the breath control and the induced adjustment of the instrument just spoken of. 

Within the resonance chambers of the voice each tone has its focus of vibrations but it is a most pernicious modern fallacy to suppose that voice placing begins by assuming the right focus to be in a certain place and to send the voice there. It begins with producing first the fundamental conditions necessary for good singing: these conditions relate to breath control and development of internal laryngeal adjustments by study of precise attack, steady tone and legato. When these conditions have made it possible to sustain the voice on the breath, and not until then should the consciousness of the resonance focus he allowed to play a leading part in voice development and control of tone quality. What I mean to imply is, that it is more important to learn to sing on the breath than it is to develop a big resonant tone or what is often called a forward tone; that during the tone building stage of training all the attention should be directed to breath control, attack, legato and steadiness of tone. 

Importance of Study on "Ah.” 

I have compared breath control and attack to the two segments of the arch upon which rests the whole art of singing. In the building of this arch the pure Italian “ah" is used as a keystone. The fundamental work of voice training must be made on this vowel, because it is the only one that has an open relaxed position of the throat, a position that allows unhampered vocal adjustment within the larynx and favors breath control for the reason that it is formed in the back part of the throat. The hold back on the breath is best acquired when practicing on “ah." The quality of the “ah” sound is to the teacher a sensitive index and to the pupil a reliable guide to right position and production. The slightest change in the quality of this vowel indicates unsteadiness or tension. To sum up what I have tried to set forth in these remarks I would say: 

I. The term voice placing is misleading and it might be well to strike it from our vocabulary. 

2. In the final analysis voice “placing" is not so much a placing or locating of tone as it is a development of breath controlling power and of the fine adjustments of the vocal instrument. 

3. The whole subject is much simpler than modern theories would make it appear, but the application of the principles calls for exceptional talents on the part of the teacher and perseverance on part of the pupil. Teaching singing is an art at least as great as the art of singing itself; in fact, there are more great singers than there are great teachers. The wonderful results of great teachers have been achieved not alone by virtue of great tone perception and musicianship, but by hard, conscientious work, an alert ear, an ever-watchful eye, a never relaxing exactitude, and the infinite patience of creative genius.

What is Voice Placing by Lena Doria Devine, student of the great Milanese maestro, The Etude, April, 1908, 259.

June 24, 2014

Trivulsi: Interesting Facts About the Great Master of the Old Italian School of Singing

Blanche Roosevelt (1853-1898)
I had read the name Trivulsi (also spelled Trivulzi) in passing a handful of times in reference to Francesco Lamperti, yet could find nothing about him. The little that I knew revealed him to be a vocal genius and invalid. What caused the latter? I had no idea. It was only after delving into early issues of Werner's Magazine that I obtained more information in the form of "narration of truth in the form of fiction" from Blanche Roosevelt (who appears in my recent post on the teaching of Mme. Clara Blinkerhoff), and found my way to Stage-Struck, or, She Would be an Opera Singer (1884). It seems Roosevelt made a tour of European voice teachers, first studying with Pauline Viardot-García in Paris, then Trivulsi in Milan after not taking a liking to Lamperti. Trivulsi having provided the basis for an operatic career, Roosevelt appeared for a number of years in London, Paris, and New York, before turning her attention to literary pursuits, crafting her experience into a tale, one rich in detail both personal and pedagogic. Her life ended at forty-five years of age, a year after a carriage accident in Monte-Carlo killed her driver and caused injuries from which she never recovered.


Trivulsi belongs to a class of music-teachers of the past century, or perhaps farther back even than that, when Hasse taught the beautiful Faustina, and Nicolo Porpora brought out Mingotti, a rival songstress, whose beauty and talent were afterward renowned throughout Europe. The early part of the nineteenth century was very prolific in great masters. There was Rassini, in Naples, and Nozzari, the clever man who taught the great Rubini after his father's preliminary lessons; the old Garcia, in Paris; Romani, in Florence; and Vannuccini, who instructed the contemporaries of Pasta and Grisi. Still later come Pauline Viardot and Manuel Garcia, Mme. Leonard, Mme. de la Grange, Mme. Marchesi, and Mrs. Kenneth. 

Of the later teachers of the old school was Trivulsi. He came of a musical family. His father was one of the finest amateurs of the day; his aunt was Garssini, the first female contralto to sing on the stage; and Giula Grisi was his cousin. Trivulsi was a little younger than his friend Rubini, and his voice was a beautiful tenor, although not, like Rubini's a phenomenal one. They studied with the same masters; but Trivulsi learned most with his friend, from whom he was inseparable.

When quite a young man, he was court singer to the Austrian emperor. His sensitiveness, extreme intelligence, gentlemanly manners, and sympathetic person were no mean accompaniment to his vocal talent. One day he felt indisposed, and had a sore throat, which grew so alarming in it symptoms that a court-doctor was called in. The doctor immediately performed an experimental operation, with the deplorable result that the cords in the throat contracted, paralysis set in, and the young artist became in incurable invalid. 

Poor Trivulsi, after a terrible illness, retired with his wife to an obscure provincial town, where he lived for more than thirty years, unknown and forgotten. His sad story had passed from the minds of all his contemporaries. He heard of their brilliant careers, but nothing came in interrupt the monotony of his existence; and he spent his time studying with unwearied diligence. At length he could stand it no longer, and returned to Milan. He began to give lessons; as so good-hearted was he that poor students profited by his instructions, without taking any remuneration from them. The old cripple outside of Porta Garibaldi was soon recognized as one of the first masters of Italian singing in the world. Many had thought him dead; and when it burst upon Milan that Rubini's old friend was still alive and willing to teach, his rooms were thronged from far and wide. 

He had never been able to walk or even sit up; and he was a strange picture as he lay upon his little iron bed. His head was unnaturally large, and being very bald made it seem still larger. His face was a vast area of pallid flesh, with a hundred lines like cobwebs running diagonally across it. His eyes were large, luminous, and sad; and his mouth of a peculiar shape, with a curve in the middle, whilst the inferior kip stretched away and dropped at the corners. His features were quite flat, as they they had been distorted by illness. His head was one-sided, and his neck scarcely noticeable. He wore a blouse of dark twill, spotlessly neat, and hanging like a sack form a yoked or gathered throat-barn. It was like an old-fashioned prison-garment, such as Marguerite wears in "Faust;" and the sleeves, very wide and short, fell away from a shapely arm, which was strangely muscular, white and blue-veined, like that of a young Hercules. His wrists were tiny, and his hands long and slender. They were kept with perfect care, and he looked fifty years younger than his face. He was never without a snuff-box, the gift of his royal protector. For years he had not used it; but now that is no longer brought back his youth with too terrible vividness, it was his constant companion. His pillow was dark; his bed dark; and there were yellowish sheets on week-days, and white ones on Sundays. Fifty little birds passarelle, hopped and chirped around him; and although their real home was in the corner, they spent most of their time perched on his bed. They were on the best of terms with a huge black cat which sat on his pillow and looked like a familiar spirit. Above his head, on the wall, hung a portrait of one of his ancestors, Cardinal Trivulsi—a chef-d'oeuvre.

The maestro was susceptible to atmosphere influences; and when the wind blew strong and cold from the Alpine range, he shivered and trembled so that the whole bed shook, and the birds flew screaming into the corner.  Anyone entering at that moment would have found it hard not to believe himself in some magician's cave, with a wizard exorcising the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. The hand holding the snuff-box went ceaselessly up and down on the cover lid, whilst the other vainly endeavored to hold on to the side of the iron bed; his teeth chattered, his lips quivered, his eyeballs protruded from their sockets, his head went backward and forward like a pendulum and his whole body shook convulsively. So nervous was he, that the sight of strangers produced the same effect; and yet the impression produced by this quaint being after the first shock of surprise was over, was almost a pleasing one. There was something so kind and so sympathetic in his glance, that there was a positive magnetism in it. The soul within him lit up the weird form, until it inspired confidence and invited affection. Although his voice was weak and quavering, he talked with wonderful charm. He had a memory which went back to Rubini's debut, and the scoldings his father gave him because at ten he was not an accomplished tenor.

Trivulsi thus found himself, at eighty, loved by all, and adored in his home. His charities were boundless, and many a panatone at Christmas-time found its way with beef and wine to a poorer neighbor. 


Frederico stuck a few chords. Annabel started, and begged the tenor to continue his lesson, if she did not disturb him by being there. McBuffin assured her of the contrary. In fact, the maestro like his pupils to acquire the habit of singing before strangers. 

The lesson went on; the young man attempted a high note, then stopped, or rather the note stopped. 

"How strange!" he faltered, "I can never get that tone." 

"Poor young man! How can you expect to get it, taking it in that fashion? You all want to sing Rubini's phenomenal notes—not as he did, but as it would please to to do. A tenor nowadays must have four kinds of voice to be satisfied with himself. Rubini's notes were all head." 

"Don't tell me that!" amazedly. 

"Yes, caro Buffino. His was a head-voice, after the middle C. It is a gross error to think that he always sang chest-notes; on the contrary, he rarely sang a chest-note higher than A flat, and then they were so blended with the head-voice that only consummate musicians could tell the difference." 

"Well, I take a head-note." 

He commenced. "Vaw—p—" with a full yell was the result. 

The maestro trembled. 

"Buffino mio, thy intention was good, but thy note was bad. A falsetto is not a head-note. Rubini was incapable of perpetrating a falsetto. You young tenors all make the same mistake. Sing—ah— Patience. Open thy mouth, and sing it so." 

The master dropped his surf-box. His eyes shone with a faint light; he opened his mouth, and sang the note as it should have been. The voice, though worn, was still true, and of the exact quality of tone that McBuffin had tried to produce. It was a sweet, even sound, like a feeble note from a lute; perfect, but fleeting.

McBuffin tried.

"Again," said the maestro; "again. Ah! that is more like it. Again. No. Well, we will rest of today. Tomorrow we will take up the same thing, and you must be patient. The same thing until it is perfect."

"Tomorrow, maestro? Humph! How many times have you said, "'We will take it up tomorrow?'"

"Ah! many times. I have said it to myself for sixty years. But to you not long, have I?"

"Yes. Not long to you, perhaps; but to seems long to me. You must think me an ass."

"Oh! Buffino mio."

The maestro's eyes twinkled diabolically, and he daintily tapped the cover of his snuff-box.

"Yes, an ass! or nearly one. I will tell you what it is. I begin to think that it is all right; the fault is not in me, but in my organ. I am not less ambitious, but I think that to sing those notes as Rubini did, one needs but one simple thing—Rubini's voice."

"Caro mio Buffini, thou are nearly right; but, like all young singers, until thou hast a decided way of thine own, it will alway be better to follow in the steps of the great masters. Only know how Rubini took his notes, and try to take them the same way. He was my friend; he taught me. I was not Rubini, and yet I often sang exactly as he did."

"I wish I could have heard him. It would not take long to imitate him."

"Ah! imitate him. A useful thing to know how to do, but not always to depend upon it." 


The maestro heard Annabel's voice, and, to her amazement, he made her sing the same exercise that she had learned with Garcia. She expressed her surprise. 

"Dear child, it is not strange. The Italian school is the Italian school the world over. We have all been taught in the same way. You have been started right. It is a grand beginning for a young artist. 


Annabel spent much time at the maestro's. She sang without heart, and she studied but listlessly. 

One day she burst into tears, and declared that she would give it up. "Everything goes wrong, dear maestro." she said. "I seem to sing worse every day; and I know I shall never be a great singer." 

Trivulsi looked affectionately at her: then spoke. 

"Come and sit beside me, dear Annabellina, and we will have an oral lesson. First of all, let us be very frank with each other. Dost thou think thyself that thou has any talent? And canst thou define the difference in singers, in studying, between a career and a pastime? For an amateur, any one would consider thee a marvel. As a professional, thou wouldst hardly pass for one." 

She flushed. "Dear maestro, I know I seem very impatient; but will you tell me what I must do to become a singer; and the difference between a professional and an amateur? I should think that good singing would be good singing the world over, whether by one or the other. What is the difference?

"First let me speak of thyself. I tell what what to do when thou art here; but there are many hours of the day when thou must study by thyself and try to apply my teaching. The mischief is done when the pupil studies alone. Before beginning to learn operas, there is the mechanical training required for the voice. The student should sing exercises for an hour each day—half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon. Sing first a slow scale of with notes, then one of nine. Agility in the voice can only be acquired in one way. It all must be in exact time and measure. For example, we will say that the pupil cannot sing the scale of F perfectly. In a certain tempo it may go all right. A real artist should never say, I can sing this scale and not that. If he possess the mechanical power to do one, he must be able, should his throat have been well trained, to do the other; for the note is born is his head before he gives mechanical expression to the sound by his voice. In fact, the throat is to the singer what the violin is to the violinist, the flute to the flutist, and the piano to the pianist. Usually, the moment that a singer attempts to vary the time, the execution falls to pieces. This is wrong. Excellence should not be remarked in one way more than in another. The throat has no right to do one thing better or worse than another, only as it has been taught, it being a perfectly mechanical organ. To acquire vocal agility (to use the technical term) a pupil must sing a scale very slowly in the same tempo for a week, and on no account go faster the last day than the first. During the second week it must be a little faster; then during the third a title faster—this also for a week; then during a fourth week still faster. At the end of the month the pupil finds that he is able to sing four times as fast as he did in the first week. This is the way to begin study; but smoothness of execution and perfection are only attained by singing scales and exercises in the different tempos for weeks, and months, and years. No cadenza or exercise should be sung without putting it in specified time, accenting it, beating the measure with the exactitude of a metronome; nothing should be left to change or inspiration. A person may be more disposed some days than others; but the throat, if in proper condition, should be trained so that it cannot go wrong on any day.' 

"But, dear maestro, some sing exquisitely although they have studied little; though, in fact, they have never been regularly taught. How is this?" 

"I never knew any great singer who did not slave for years in the beginning, and who did not keep up the most rigorous training of exercises, after even the greatest success. Chance may bring one artist to the front by his success in one particular rôle, and he may subsequently fail in all others. He may be bad in every succeeding thing as he had been in every previous one; but if he be a trained singer, he will show his training in every part he sings, whether he win applause or not. This is to be an artist; his throat knows no difference, but will go as it has been taught. Is is always ready. He takes his part, he portions out each phrase, each measure, and commences to study. If an air comes to him by ear, he rejects it and does not pay attention until he learns it in its place, with its proper time and sentiment. Everything is by rule and in order with the professional singer. An amateur may have a better natural voice than a professional; but as he has not by hard study and long practice mechanically reconstructed his throat and converted it into a musical instrument, he will never be able to equal the professional. His throat will never be subservient to his talent. 

"Cara Annabellina, amateurs rarely sing very well. They pay not attention to detail; their voices are so uncultured; that they often fail in expressing what they wish, owing to their throats being unable to respond to the calls that are made upon them. They have little idea of time, and no knowledge of phrasing. They say, 'Oh, I only sing for pleasure;' and they forget that one either sings well or badly. Nothing is no annoying as a mediocrity; and I sometimes think that is the real definition of the word dilettanti. In the first place, the reason is that they cannot, or will not, devote enough time to necessary study; a little hard work goes a great way, but it must be serious. An amateur sits down at the piano, and says, 'Now I will have a good practice.' One scale is taken up and down, perhaps twice, without an idea of whether it is in one tempo or another; or whether one not is exactly like another; or whether it can be of use after a cadenza. A few arpeggios are then rushed through. After this comes a song without words, followed by some grand aria, in which the mistakes of one day are conscientiously related the next. Tired out after the hour's bad study, they never look at their piano until the next day; when the same thing is again gone through. Of course, when I compare artists and amateurs I mean real artists."  

"But the other class you named, maestro?" 

"Not the besotted vain aspirants who give themselves two years in which to become singers, who learn a number of operas, who never hear a new aria but they decide it was written for their voice, and buy it at once; who mistake obstinacy for assiduity, memory for talent, and perseverance for true application; who have learned a quantity of rôles, but count still more success on their assurance. 


Trivulsi was a great master when Lamperti was still a young man. Lamperti swept the aisles of the college; and when lessons were over, he used to say to Trivulsi," How may I also teach people to sing?" Then the master gave him lessons, and in a short while he heard that his sweeper and accompanist (he had gradually got to be this) was a professor in vocal music. Just think of it! Trivulsi was delighted, and always said, "He was a good sweeper; he may also be a good teacher. But one thing is certain; he is a very clever man." 


Trivulsi, like all great teachers, never neglected the classic masters. According to him, they alone knew how to write for the voice. In this day and age of general emancipation, piano-players compose operas and teach singing; but the so-called modern music, which is but the mechanism of perfectly constructed scores, has little to attract or sustain the voice. An artist nowadays must oust a hundred instruments. She accompanies the band; it is no longer a question of the band accompanying her. She must shriek, scream—anything to make herself heard. Verdi commenced the sensational school; but things have gone far beyond him that his worst is now good in comparison. A modern opera means one strain of melody, began at the sixth, finished before the third-second. This one theme is dragged through five long acts, each act serving more completely to disguise and confuse it. One spends an evening listening, perspiring, laboring, struggling, trying to catch and retain one complete phrase; then, when the opera is ended, the listener feels a neuralgic pain in his temples, and as though his teeth were falling out of his head. When he complains, on coming out of the opera, that he cannot carry away one single air, and that there is not one glimmer of inspiration, he is told airs are vulgar, inspiration a mistake of the past; that this harmony is correct, and that perfection in music consists nowadays in disobeying no rule of composition, and in having perfectly orchestrated scores.

Blanche Roosevelt in her book, "Stage-Struck: or, She Would be an Opera Singer."

June 23, 2014

The Elder García's System

Manuel García (1775-1832)
Garcia’s method of teaching singing was formed on the excellent model of those old musicians, the traces of whose style are daily vanishing even in Italy. This system did not consist of directing the practice of the pupil to a variety of fioritura, which, like the fashions of the day, enjoy an evanescent favor, and are soon forgotten. Garcia’s system of instruction was founded on principles whose superiority has been acknowledged in all ages of the musical art; those principles which have been studies by Grassini, Colbrand, Pisarono, Pasta, and other distinguished ornaments of the Italian stage. To those principles, seconded by high intelligence in their application, we are indebted for the most brilliant talent that has shed lustre on the musical drama of the present day—the talent of Maria Malibran.

The first objects to which the young singer should direct attention are: To equalize what may be termed the instrument of the voice, by correcting those imperfections from which even the finest organ is not exempt; to draw breath quietly and without hurry; to prepare the throat for emitting the tone with clearness and purity, swelling the note gradually but boldly, so as to develop the utmost power of the voice, and finally to blend the notes in such a manner that each may be heard distinctly, but not abruptly. In regard to practice, Garcia use to say; “Those who wish to sing well should not practice without knowing how to practice. It is only by learning the secret of practice well that there is any possibility of learning to sing well.” The student should be careful not to fall into the defects of the old French method, by which one note was allowed to die away with a false expression of languid tenderness, and to fall, as it were, en daillance on the succeeding tone. To blend the tones of the voice according to the best Italian method, the note should first be emitted in a straight line (to employ a figurative expression), and then form a curve, the intermediate tones being given merely by sympathetic vibration, and the voice should again fall on the required note with decision and clearness. It is very difficult to give a perfectly clear and satisfactory explanation of the operation of a mechanism, the hidden motion of which can only be guessed at from the vague observations of singers themselves. All conclusions, therefore, respecting the phenomena of the voice, must be drawn from very obscure sources. All persons, except singers, must regard these conclusions as mere metaphysical obscurities, and even to the majority of those who practice the art of singing, the management of the voice is rather the result of mechanical dexterity than of observation or reasoning. Whatever be the quality of the voice, the singers should take special care for the upper notes, and avoid too much practice upon them, for that part of the voice being the most delicate, its quality is most easily injured. On the contrary, by practicing more particularly on the middle and lower notes, they acquire strength, and an important object is gained (which is in strict accordance with one of the essential principles of acoustics), namely, that of making the grave tones strike the ear with the same degree of force as the acute tones.

To the adoption of this rational rule is ascribed the great superiority of the Italian to the French school of singing. By softening the upper tones, and giving strength to the lower and middle tones, either by dint of the accent of the voice, or the accent proper to the words, the ear is never offended, and the music penetrates to the soul of the hearer without any of the harshness which shocks and irritates the nerves. In like manner the demi-tints in a beautiful picture, by blending the colors one with another, charm the eye by producing a vague appearance of reality.

Exercises for strengthening the low and middle notes of the voice are more important for sopranos than for voices of any other class; first, because, in general, that part of the voice is most flexible; and next, because the transition form voce de petto to the voce di testa tends to deteriorate the purity of some tones, and to impart a feebler, or, if the expression be allowed, a stifled effect to others. It is, therefore, requisite to keep a continual practice of the defective note with the pure note which follows or precedes it, in order to obtain a perfect uniformity in their quality. This practice was one of the greatest difficulties which Maria Garcia had to surmount, the lower notes of her voice being strong and well tones, while the notes of transition were feeble and husky.

One important point in this method is the secret of developing the voce de petto in soprano voices. Garcia was convinced that breast-tones existed in all voices of that class, but that the only difficulty consisted in the art of developing them.

In proportion as the voice of the pupil improved, it was Garcia’s custom to prescribe exercises more and more difficult until every obstacle was surmounted; but he rarely noted done a set passage for his pupils. His method was to strike a chord on the piano, and say to them: “Now sing any passage you please;” and he would make them execute a passage in this way ten or twenty times in succession. The result was, that the pupil sang precisely that which was suited to his voice, and suggested his taste. Solfeggi exercises, performed in this way, presented a character of individuality, being suggested by the feeling of the moment. Another advantage of this mode of practice, was that the pupil gained a perfect mastery over his voice by dint of exercising his own aspirations, and that he was at liberty to follow the dicates of his own taste without fear or hesitation.

Garcia never permitted his pupils, whilst they were in the course of tuition, to sing vocal compositions with words; he confined them strictly to solfeggi. But when he considered any one of them sufficiently advanced he would say: “Now you are a singer: you may try anything you please—like a child out of leading-strings, you can run along.” It may be added, that Garcia invariably applied his principles most rigorously to those pupils to whom he found the highest hopes.

Werner's Magazine, March 1885: 38


When reading through an old journal like Werner's Magazine, one often encounters articles like the one above which appear without attribution, yet contain information that suggests the writer knew, or talked to someone, that had intimate knowledge of the subject at hand. In this, the researcher has to be on his game. I knew this passage sounded very familiar, yet could not remember where I had encountered it before. The answer came in the curious business about the formation of tones, which sent me in search of Memoirs and Letters of Madam Malibran (1840) by the Countess de Merlin, who was a student of García. Turning to chapter four in volume one, I saw that Werner's had quoted a long passage. You can read both volumes by using the links below.

Lastly, it is my observation that García's teaching of voce di petto is, conceptually speaking, the very sum of Herman Klein's "Singing Position," which is contained in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia, and forms the basis of García's method. 

June 20, 2014

The Old Italian Method by Mme. Clara Brinkerhoff

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
There is nothing like the old Italian Method. What is it? It is, first of all, a thorough knowledge of articulation and natural breathing,—profound for the grand voice, for grand subject; the lateral, less deep, less quantity of breath for light voice, for light subjects. Just here I would say that I have never yet had a pupil in vocal music whom I was not obliged to teach the alphabet of articulation—vowels and consonants,—in order that she might comprehend breathing and articulation for singing with pure enunciation. The names of the letters are nothing.

In replying to the paper read by Mr. F. W. Root at the recent meeting of the M. T. N. A., in New York, under the head of "The Italian and German Schools of Voice-Culture," I would say that therein he referred to my remarks made at Cleveland, last year (without, however, mentioning my name), during the discussion of the essays of Mme. Luisa Cappiani and Mr. Charles R. Adams, both distinguished teachers of their speciality and in their respective cities. Mme. Cappiani's nationality I do not know, but she professes to teach the Italian Method. Mr. Adams, I am informed, is an American, claimed by Boston, but whose best days have been devoted to singing in German opera, and he very naturally has formed and teaches the German School. 

I put in a claim for a distinctive school of the old Italian against the modern Italian or any other school, claiming it is the only truly catholic method. As a vocalist as well as a teacher who has been trained, so to speak, in all the famed methods—(1) old Italian, (2) German, (3) French, (4) English song and oratorio, (5) modern Italian, (6) Spanish,— I feel competent to speak or write on this term "custom," in place of a written work. Vocal exercises really have no relation to the customary way people sing in certain countries. I say that the old Italian method is catholic, as its ground-work covers all nationalities and all schools. Just here comes in Mr. Root who, in his essay already mentioned, says that there is no such thing as an old Italian method, because he finds no written work on the voice, by Porpora or others who produced great pupils in singing; and, therefore, there was not any special old Italian method, except the climate and the language. In that case why not do the climate and the language produce such singers now? If it be really true that there is no traditional method or old Italian school, I make my claim right here, that if there is no Italian method, then there is a CLARA BRINKERHOFF METHOD; by which she forms the voice and ear, cultivates the affections, enlarges the imagination, develops both mind and body agreeably to the laws that should govern them, whenever any of these requisites are found lacking in the pupil. But to make these ideas understood, oral and vocal examples are necessary. One might be a very pleasing singer in comic opera, or in concert, church or parlor, and still have no right to expect success on the operatic stage in what is known as grand opera, and the pupil should be so informed. 

Apropos, Blanche Tucker, now known as Blanche Roosevelt, was living in Chicago, in 1872. I was in the city at that time on a professional visit. Mr. Billings called on me and asked me, as a great favor, to give my judgment on the voice and capacity of a young lady by the name of Blanche Tucker who, he said, desired to become a grand opera singer. Her friends proposed to send her to Europe and pay all her expense. I saw the young lady, looked at her, heard a very thin voice of sweet quality, saw she was pretty as thousands of other girls of 18 years are, very sweet-tempered, no physique to make a singer of, no stamina to fight the terrible temptations of life for a young girl alone in a foreign land. I thought I noticed a lack of appreciation of the great undertaking of what was before her as a priestess in art—its abnegation, its necessity of mental strength and control, —and only a weak desire to be admired for personal beauty or voice. I decided that this was a case of knocking at a door she could not really enter in—she might stretch and clutch that door with her delicate fingers, but would only get them badly pinched. A flirty girl lacks the absolute honesty of purpose that is a first requisite for a great singer, and which may be called stamina, mental and physical—mental poise. It is not necessary to say more than that her musical career bore out the fact of how correct my judgment was. She was not suited for grand opera. Could any method possibly have done more for her? She missed it for nonsense! She had one salvation—near her at Milan was old Lamperti. But he has the reputation of being severe, and Blanche did not want to hear severe things, and so did not visit him. 

I sent one pupil to Europe, D'Arona, with a magnificent voice, method and youth, in order to study action and with more zeal and less self-consciousness that she had exhibited. She wandered about, taking lessons there in the modern screaming Italian school, from teacher to teacher; she tore her throat to pieces, had her tonsils cut, and had hemorrhage of the throat for some time. At last, when she got better, she was persuaded to go to Milan and consult old Lamperti. To her great astonishment she found she had to turn back, forget the screaming, and sing as she had been taught by me. Florenza D'Arona said she sprang to her feet in anger and exclaimed, "Have I spent four years in Europe to come to you to be put back to singing just as Mme. Brinkerhoff taught me?" He replied that he did not know me, but that if I had taught her to sing as he was then directing her, I taught the old Italian method. So it seems as if there really is one! The lady has sung in opera since very successfully, but her voice shows a slight hollowness which I have always perceived in persons who have been so unwise as to have their tonsils operated upon. It is wrong and wicked even for quinsy sore throats; there are medicines which open them like a sponge and heal them up again. The tonsils are necessary, and so is the uvula—never allow them to be cut. The system is out of order in these cases; rectify that, and all will be well. 

Jenny Lind, whose wonderful voice charmed everyone who heard her, was still faulty, if judged by the Italian code. Her vocal organs were very fine, resonant; but the clavicular or shoulder-movement and flat-chested singing made her often at fault, when deep breathing would have given her greater ease. But she could or would not understand. She received only the comprimaria diploma for singing, not prima donna. Notwithstanding this, her grand conception in sacred music, her absolute perfection of attack in pitching her voice, and her lovely ballad-singing will keep her ever foremost as the beloved singer, in this country, although she was a Swede of humble birth. Her irritable disposition gave one the impression that she was a woman of great intensity in her nature, and she would have been very great in opera if she had not been balky in temper. J. Wrey Mould saw her in opera many times in England, and says that she filled her rôles well. My own opinion, from what I remember of her, is that she was lacking in phrasing and could not shade the voice in the way it is necessary to do where the breath required in "Norma" beginning Casta Diva, in 12-8 time. She was always compelled to "break the phrase, just as Germans singers do when they feel inclined, as they rarely use deep breathing. The French invariably sing timbre claire, which, being narrow, does not require one-half the breath necessary for using the voice more sombre, the point of vibration being entirely different. 

Nilsson was a pupil of Wartel, of French school. When first here she sang nasally and with the extremely narrow stream of sound which belongs to that school. We all know how he annihilated Emma Abbot's grand voice, and what he gave in return for it. In concerts this might have been passed over, but it would not do for Italian opera in which Nilsson desired to appear. Therefore, Nilsson's manager placed her under the charge of Bonsoni, who, if I remember rightly, was here at that time; and he endeavored to broaden the sounds, partially succeeding, but not sufficiently for very grand music. Her acting is exceptionally fine, although artificial, not coming from the internal sense of fitness. 

We have a right to make critiques, for the young singers have no guide but the public singers; as a usual thing, it is their faults the amateur copies and not their virtues. Mme. Schröder-Devrient had the credit of being very great upon the lyric stage, and to have had a thorough mastery of the old Italian school, of breathing and phrasing, for they necessarily go together, and are always accompanied by expression and perfect coloring, because the vital contact is made, as I have heretofore explained, at the great ganglion of nerves, acting upon the diaphragmatic breathing in contradiction to the light suspiro which is constantly passing our lips; while deep breathing is always inhaled through the nostrils, although the lips be parted to be ready for articulation and utterance. Say we take breath for the words sung on do, do, do, in "Non e Ver;" we have taken breath and now raise the tip of the tongue to the front of the roof of the mouth for n, not for from the teeth, at the same moment that the lips prepare the shape of the vowel (which also corresponds to the opening of the glottis, if the breathing be deep); as soon as the vowel is uttered, the tongue leaves the roof of the mouth, and then at the expiration of the time for the sound on o, the tongue goes back to the roof and makes the final n.  The tongue, leaving the n, is ready, without movement except at the middle of the tongue touching the teeth, to give the Italian e. Then the lips and the teeth form the v, followed by the same process as in the first e,  and the tip of the tongue rolled for the final r—ver. In the old Italian method there is no pressure around or about the throat; the breath in sound flows out, and the remainder, not converted to sound, acts as an impelling force, controlled by the diaphragm as to intensity and quality.

Whoever denies that this word method or methods, as used by vocalists, does not mean, in its truest sense, an habitual way, instead of a book of vocal exercises, has yet to learn the very first technical terms peculiar to vocal nomenclature; the Italian way or school, the German way or the English way; for we cannot deny that the Enlish school of method did have a very peculiar way of delivery in songs of the Handel type, and that we have had exponents of the habitual way or method (used even by Sims Reeves) very frequently in our concert-rooms, oratorios and operas. The "waw-waw" utterance describes it near enough for all intents and purpose, and has been used by very excellent artists—considered apart from this singular method of delivery. Edward Shepard was one of the most noted that I now recall. Ernest Perring could call to mind a great many more. I dare say. Santley is an Englishman who, where here, delivered his voice according to the old Italian method in singing; that is to say, his breathing, instead of following the modern Garcia-Italian method which draws in the abdomen, was just the opposite, bearing gently toward to belt as a baby or an Indian breaths. Garcia probably learned from his pupils that they preferred the other way, and he succumbed to the money interest. Panseron taught the same; women, who were corseted tightly, could not breath any other way; and, as one of our famous teachers, who could afford to keep his carriage and ride to his lessons, told me; "Madame, you are right, but chat vill ze ladee day, if I say, "Mees, you are too tight, I vill make undone your corset, as you, madame, can do?" She vill say, "Sare! leave dis house, vaten; get out quick, you insult!" So, I say nothing, and takes papa's monee." Which goes to prove that lady pupils should be taught by a lady teacher and not by a man; at any rate, while voice-forming and correct phrasing is being imparted to the pupil, as handling is absolutely necessary where what should be involuntary action, to be felt off as soon as involuntary habit of breathing is formed for the pupil by the teacher's aid. Women who select the stage for their career, need not be squeamish about this, as it is nothing to what will follow when they learn stage-action—honi soit qui mal y pense in this profession; but it is not best to try experimentally with young society-girls, or thoughtless girls, who do not know that to the men they come in contact with, the slightest glance of the eye, toss of the head, move or touch of the hand,—all mean something that ignorant, if not innocent, persons never heard of, but, at the same time, lead men on, especially in foreign cities where girls often go to study music. But we cannot treat of this matter without very careful touch. Blanche Roosevelt has done something to open the eyes of the blind, in her book; and I will only say here, keep your children at home, you parents who contemplate sending them abroad. In every part of this country there are excellent teachers. I have a knowledge of what I say, having sung in 18 or 20 states, in various cities, and I know that America is full of talent, and that no one need go away to study. The foreign schools were open to me as auditor, in 1861, and that was my decision then as now, after passing through them.

The musical atmosphere is the point most necessary to be obtained here. Every effort should be made to gain this in every town through this country—more social music, less money and piano-house intermeddling; more interest in its growth, shown by suitable concert-rooms for resident talent. Break down with fire and sword all opposition to music per se; create not a revival, for it has not greatly existed, but an absolute craze for song; keep the freedom of artist from trade-pressure. Then we shall not need to go to Italy and herd like animals and live like Bohemians in disorder, in order, as they say, to sing with solid and expression, for the find dramatic feeling lies within ourselves, and so do health and strength, not in Italian air. Of course, all pure lines of blood hold their own characteristics obstinately. Germans pure, who do not know other nations by their language or contact, will never shine as singers in the Italian method of the Porpora school. Neither can they thoroughly understand Delsarte who was vocally taught by a disciple of Porpora, and through this teaching and unfortunate loss of voice following youthful carelessness, at length decided to become a teacher of the voice and a dramatic educator; but he was not at any time a writer to any extent on the theories he taught his pupils. He gave them practically as the ideas came to him, while teaching and feeling the need of these methods for various pupils. These theories now come to us by this medium. The pupils tell us what Delsarte told them, and one and all of them desire to make his philosophy clear to the minds of those who desire to know it. Just so Porpora who, though well known as a composer of instrumental and vocal compositions, evolved out out his own consciousness wherein the singers were at fault, and condensed all vocal exercises to what was purely needed for showing the capacity of the vocal instrument and its power over the emotional, inner life.

What necessity for years of singing-exercises when the pupil understands that it is the elasticity of the material voice that is fluent and not the muscles of the throat, that control of the breath makes the swell, and that control of the breath makes the portamento with the additional care of carrying all sounds on the vowel purely and touching the other note before the consonants are enunciated; they always, according to their nature, closing and finishing the sound at once. If there is a diphthongal sound, the second one is not made until it reaches the adjoining sound-tone, because it splashes or forces overtones. This is the old Italian method. The principle can be carried out in singing, in very language, and at once relives it of hissing, nasal, and guttural sound and all other imperfections. The German words, Du bist mein Leibe, Du bist mein Wonn, are as beautiful words to sing, if sung with old Italian method of articulation, as any other words (witness Tietjens's singing it); if we accept that peculiar something in every language that we call countenance in the individual, and which comes from character and birth-prejudice. The children of mixed marriages undoubtedly form a different quality of voice and manner of singing. A Presbyterian face, in an American girl, may show to the close observer French and Spanish blood in the veins, but the little town has had its influence arising a little from climate, also from school, Sunday school and church-surroundings. To make this pupil sing with expression, as she can and ought, this mask of countenance and mental impressions must be broken up, and the real woman, so long being a prisoner, will shine through. This is what music does for the individual; wakes up the whole being, thrust aside prejudices of toilet and food, and brings a unity of purpose, thought and action into the singer, shows up littleness, broadens the character and teaches how to love God and be thankful for his great gift—song.

Mr. Root says: "The old Italian is not and never has been a scientific system of voice-culture." Dear Mr. Root, let me call your attention to a religious fact: to bath in the river Jordan was too simple a way to receive religion. "Scientific system" only means to know the way to do it; and, as you observe, is very commonplace, because human nature is commonplace. Wherein do we differ from one another? Therefore, the great master Porpora, master of Porporina, who took his name to honor it, looked wholly to nature for proper means to bring out the true singer. Nature did not conceal the vocal process, even if there be no method in her workings. Is is as clear in its science as mathematics; a good billiard-player knows just where to strike, in order to carom. Mario was as certain in his delivery of sounds as the greatest billiard-player; he was a true exponent of the old Italian school. If you desire to know if any singer has the old Italian method, look well at the mouth in profile; if you see much movement of the mouth or jaws, he who does so has not yet learned how to sing it, because this modern method of breathing disjoints the vocal instrument, humping the shoulder blades, and disfigures the back. The old Italian method requires but very little movement of jaw. The modern method causes tremolo, also keeps the jaw in constant motion while forming sound. In the old Italian method the lower jaw falls gently, opening the mouth, when taking breath through the nostrils, and this act places the vocal apparatus in condition for song, and the lips, tongue and teeth for articulation.

The insensible or half breathing does not require a change of position, and the chest-bone should reman arched while singing. Del Puente, a Spaniard, is a singer of this school; all his tones are equally good and melodious; so were Mario's; enunciation, phrasing and delivery being perfect in both cases just quoted. The muscles under the lower lip assist in sustaining the sounds, as they are not really finished till passing the lips which give the last polish. The old Italian method has one peculiarity. The very first exercises are taught comprehensively; in some cases a violin is used. Say we begin on C (do) sharp. Next comes D (re) natural, then follows D sharp; next we sing E (mi) natural. But where is E sharp? Here occurs the first real knowledge of the structure of the musical scale or gamut the pupil learns. The European accepted scale is then formed of C natural, C sharp, D natural, D sharp, E natural, F natural—showing where half tone occurs—then F sharp, making a whole tone, G natural, G sharp, A natural, A sharp, B natural, C natural. The second semi-tone occurs, as we see, at seventh, there being no B sharp proper. When this form of structure is understood by the pupil to remain intact although advanced, say by placing the tonic or rather starting-point at the C-sharp semi-tone, the pupil will then form groups of two notes and semi-tones followed by three tones and semi-tones in such a comprehensive way that he will have an interior or brain-keys not possible to those who learn by beginning the diatonic scale instead of the chromatic, and look upon a chromatic scale as great difficulty, and it really is so to those who do not begin properly. But the pupil, who has the voice so formed, learns what singing is,— that it represents feelings, even at the earliest stages, and he does not overtax the throat; he learns that no motion of the jaw is required to reach even the octave of any note he can sing; he directs the will to lengthen or broaden the aperture of the glottis; all the rest occurs naturally. A wide open mouth is always a weakness in singing and belongs to psalm-smiters' time, when the majority thought great noise was singing, as the salvation army do to-day. Although they mean well, the result is pandemonium.

219 East 18th Street., New York City

Werner's Magazine, September, 1885


Clara Brinkerhoff (1828-1901) has a rather curious history in regard to the Old Italian School of singing, her mother having studied with Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora. Like Pauline Viardot-García, who's father died when she was eleven, Brinkerhoff's mother died when her daughter was twelve, whereupon the young girl studied voice with Madam Arnault, a student of Marco Bordogni (who's book of scales can still be found, the latter having also taught Madam Rudersdorff, the teacher of Emma Thursday). 

Readers of VoiceTalk will be familiar with Frederic W. Root, who made an address to which Madam Brinkerhoff responds with great style, and in doing so, gives the reader something of the methods of the Old Italian School. Madam Brinkerhoff shoots from the hip, not holding back anything, for which the modern reader can be grateful, since she tackles everything from Jenny Lind, Manuel García, breathing, opening of the glottis and mouth, chromatic studies (rarely done in the studio today), the manner in which diphthongs should be executed, and a great deal more. Hers was a practical science which depended on forthrightness. 

Find more about Clara Brinkerhoff here.

Photo credit: Library of Congress