July 7, 2014

Mrs. Campbell Meets Madam Marchesi

Courtesy Harmonie Autographs 
What I Saw and Heard in the Vocal Studios of Paris


Shakespeare calls music "A Heavenly Maid." From his time to now music has been likened to everything divine; but not until the twentieth century has it ever been called evil. A degenerate Frenchman writes: "Music, as such, is not necessarily a good thing; indeed it may be, and often is, distinctly evil. In itself it may be degrading and vile." (From " Immoralities of Music") 

Can you for one moment conceive of music as evil or immoral? Utterly impossible, inconceivable. It can be used in an artistic or in a trivial manner, but unaccompanied with pantomime or words —evil, never! I will not allow the words common or vulgar to be applied to it. It reminds me of the Englishwoman who was questioned about a person. "Was she bad? Worse—she was vulgar."

I hotly protest against music being classed by any man as immoral. A woman could never be guilty of such degeneracy. I believe music to be the highest expression of art, and singing to be the best expression of music. No other instrument responds so quickly and unerringly to the feeling of the artist as does the voice. It is the personal factor; it is born of the breath of life, and reaches from one human soul to another. If all the world could sing together, such a chorus would rise that every discord and dissonance would be swept out of the world.

But to my subject. On the steamer, going over, I met a young woman from Boston, who also was going to Paris. I afterward met her in the studio of M. Haslam, where she had drifted.

I met there, also, Miss Ruby Cutter and Mr. Savage, both from Boston, who assured me no other teacher in Paris, nor in the world, could compare with M. Haslam. Loyalty to a teacher is a very desirable quality in pupils, unless it resolves itself into the assertion that one human being can absorb all the vocal knowledge of the world. One can no more do that than they can go out in the sunshine and absorb all the rays of the sun. There will always be a few faint rays left for other seekers.

These three sang for me several well-known arias, in good voice, but not very finished style. We seem, just now, in the transition from the old to the new. There is no middle ground for the voice to express itself, but it will come, and the men to make it. I met a young American, Mr. Rogers, with a fine baritone voice, who sings superbly. He has appeared in the Castle Square Opera Company in New York. He was in Paris for French diction, with a view of appearing at opera comique, where pure diction is more necessary than in grand opera. Dialogue often occurs in opera comique, and it is torture to the French to hear their language imperfectly spoken. His voice was very much admired, also his acting. When he inquired of the director if his diction were not as good as that of Miss G., a young American who was appearing in opera comique, he was answered: "Ah, much can be forgiven a beautiful young woman that would not be tolerated in a man." Here is the keynote of Paris—artistic Paris—all from the sensuous standpoint, the lower level.

I have no quarrel with the French for demanding pure diction, but the standards should be the same for man and woman.

I was touched to the heart while there to learn of the many vocal wrecks all over Paris, mostly American girls, whose friends, with more generosity than judgment, had sent them there for study. It is often vocal and moral death to send these girls there, unchaperoned, with little money, and little beyond a pretty voice. I reiterate what all great singers say: "Keep your girls at home." The only conditions under which I would allow a girl to go would be a voice beautiful beyond question, well trained here, good knowledge of music, harmony, piano, sight-reading, a fine sense of rhythm, shading and expression, a good education, fine appearance, firm health, fundamental knowledge of French, German, and Italian, enough assured income for at least five years. This, I mean, for an aspirant to an operatic career. Having all this, she may come to the front—she may not. With less than this equipment, you will see at a glance, like the eye of the needle, how difficult it is to enter in.

I met, in the studio of Signor Trabadello, a young girl who had studied in Vienna for three years. "All wrong," says Signor T. "You must begin all over again."

In the studio of M. Edmond Duvernoy, a teacher of the Conservatoire of Paris, a young American who had been five years in Germany, who was prepared to appear in light opera, like "Lucia." For some reason he appearance was not made, and I now found her studying for grand opera, her present teacher saying her voice was a dramatic soprano. She sang an act from 'Lohengrin" with great earnestness and dramatic fervor. But I detected a strain, a loss of bloom of voice, which was also reflected in face and form. It went to my heart to see it. I predict she will not be heard outside of small circles, and yet here she was, with all the determination and eagerness possible, entering the new field. The bloom and freshness of the California girl had vanished, and what had she gained in its place? Whether the German or French teacher was right remains to be proved.

These are two I personally met, but I heard of scores of others from friends, who invariably said: " Can you do nothing to keep your girls from coming here?" Even Madame Marchesi, whom they accuse of being very mercenary, said: " Don't let your girls come over here until they are a success at home. Keep them until they know something of music. They must learn it some time, somewhere, and it had better be at home with proper surroundings. Keep your girls at home," she urged, with genuine earnestness, gesticulating with shoulders and hands, as only French shoulders and hands are capable of. "You have great talent over there. I don't see why you should, in your savage country, but you have." I replied: " Perhaps we have not worn out out spontaneity and enthusiasm by over-culture until we are attenuated. There is very small space on the point of a needle." She made no reply. It is impossible for the French to conceive anything outside of Paris.

When I was in Paris many years ago, there was a rather patronizing manner toward us, and we accepted it as a just measure of ourselves. To-day I find it different. A young American girl taking first prize in the Salon, another taking a prize in the Violin School of Conservatoire, and two young girls in opera comique, one in grand opera, another to enter this year right from Madame Marchesi's studio.

It gives an American a sense of well-doing in art, right in the very heart of Paris. Such an one is pardoned a feeling of pride, hard to subdue into the former modest effacement we were wont to assume. The hospitality I met with, from a musical point of view, was most gracious and delightful. I spent less time in the studios of M. Trabadello and Sbriglia than in those of M. Duvernoy and Madame Marchesi. My interviews with M. Bouhy were very agreeable. I was impressed with his sincerity and honesty. Both he and the two last named were to leave town sooner than M. Duvernoy and Madame Marchesi, and were not able to offer me the advantages I met with at these studios. Madame Marchesi showed me most generous hospitality musically, and I have nothing but warm praise for her and her pupils. She is a wonderful woman, near eighty. She looks about sixty. She is full of vigor, enthusiasm and vivacity such as one rarely sees in younger women.

Her repartee, her sarcasm, her humor, are virile and forceful to a marked degree. One pupil remarked: "You know, Madame, I knew music perfectly when I came to you—not singing, but music." Madame towered in her rage above her, and said: " Mon Dieu! Here is one who knows an art perfectly. She should be put in a glass case and exhibited to the world as a 'rara avis.' Oh, my dear child, the greatest in the art would never say that." She raged on until the room fairly smoked with her indignation. She was something unique in her scathing words, but the sublime egotism of the girl (not an American, I am glad to say, though it sounds as though it might have been) was hardly ruffled. I was compelled to say, " But, Madame, she does not mean all it seems to imply." Afterward Madame said to me: "Ah, but that young girl loves herself very much, and I can never bring her to see her ignorance."

One morning I had the pleasure of meeting Madame Blanche Marchesi, who had run over from London for a few days. She told me she was to appear at Covent Garden in August in " Tristan and Isolde," and I shall have the pleasure of hearing her then. She is a magnificent looking woman, almost twice the size of her mother. I have dwelt long upon these experiences, for until now they have been the most interesting. Madame Marchesi has never before allowed an outsider to hear her give lessons, and I am profoundly grateful to have had this unique privilege. She urges, pleads, threatens, all in one breath, and follows with gestures of face and expression.

It has recently been the fashion, or whatever you call it, to abuse her; but when I hear the work of her pupils, hear them sing with full, pure tone, true intonation, intelligence, feeling, and above all, a pure legato, so rare in singers of to-day, I cannot but metaphorically raise my hat to her and cry: " Grand, you are a woman in a million. Long may you wave."

The next studio invaded was M. Duvernoy, who granted me the freedom of his studio as graciously as did Madame Marchesi. I heard him give lessons by the hour. He is a man of charming manners, speaking no English, but expressing, as do the French, so much by gesture and facial expression, that at times language seems merely an accessory and not a necessity. I found a group of girls, among them one American and one Canadian. It is refreshing, and at the same time pathetic, to see a group of eager young girls, each striving, longing and dreaming for the ever-receding, ever-alluring, fascinating siren, Fame.

The young Canadian girl has a very promising voice, a rich, full mezzo. She has a fine presence, expressive features and bounding health. If she can stand the strain of the hot-bed life of Paris, after the free and invigorating one to which she was born, she will be heard from. Sleeping-rooms, hermetically sealed, impure air, and, worse than all, indifferent and lax moral standards, are mighty factors to be dealt with, and woe to the girl who leaves her high ideals at home. I spent hours in the studio, watching and analyzing the methods used to overcome defects. I heard the same old mistakes which every vocal teacher meets with. I could recognize the same corrections and suggestions, and saw the almost hopeless look upon the face of M. Duvernoy as the same faults and mistakes continually occurred, in spite of his insistent corrections. The weather was very hot, and occasionally I caught a glance from M. Duvernoy, as much as to say: "Ah, Madame, you know so well how it is, but it is so hot, and really she is stupid. I pray you pardon me if I allow this to pass unreproved." I pardoned him at once, for I had been through it all "lo, these many years." His studio has a small stage to facilitate and supplement his work.

He gave me also the rare privilege of visiting the conservatory classes, where I heard advanced pupils, whose voices had been selected from the whole conservatory. I heard some young men with fine, ringing, dramatic voices, and when you use that word "dramatic" you express what the French adore above everything. They do not ask so much, "Is a voice beautiful?" "Is it pure in tone?" "True in intonation?" but "Is it big?" "Can he or she sing 'big' tone?" This forcing of the tone causes the loss of the bloom, and no amount of power can compensate for that.

Another word, that much-abused word, "Temperment." If, to force the instrument, until there is not the slightest beauty of tone left, to sing with exaggeration, if this is to possess temperment, why, the present French singer has it. It seems a fashion at present, and one which for the sake of all that is fine and noble in the vocal art, I hope will soon pass away. I heard some fine men's voices. But I found the French man's voice far superior to the French woman's. It is only the exceptional voice that can stand the strain put upon it by the French vocal teacher.

In conclusion, if you ask me what I gained musically in Paris, I would say, a firmer conviction of my own countrymen and women as teachers, the coming greatness of our own singers, that pupils or singers need not go to Europe to sing well, that our girls can reach a high excellence here, that unless one is to enter opera, there is no need of leaving America. I learned that I could trust my girls in the hands of home teachers, men and women, the last, preferably, for girls; convinced that there will be far fewer vocal arid moral wrecks by so doing. Home will protect them from the snares and pitfalls of a foreign city. Over there, they do not yet comprehend the pure-hearted, fearless American girl, who all her life has met only the genuine, manly respect for womanhood, with which the American man, above all men, surrounds his womenkind, mother, wife, sister, sweetheart.

There is a hope that in good time we will have a national school of opera, where our own lovely voices can be trained, without the ordeal now necessary to be gone through. I gathered hints and helps from the various teachers whom I visited, and return confirmed in all the good I have evolved from my own experiences.

Sidney Lanier writes: "To make a home out of the household, given the raw materials, to wit, wife, children, a few friends, and a home, two things are necessary. These are, a good fire and good music." And inasmuch as we can do without fire for half of the year, in this beautiful climate of ours here in California, I may say that music is the one essential. Music means harmony, harmony means love, and love means God.

Proceedings and Report of Council of Education, California Teacher's Association, 1903, 284-289. 


Shocking, isn't it, to read reports from the beginning of the 20th century, and realize that nothing has changed. Students are still screaming their guts out, the result being loss of bloom in the voice. Was it ever thus? Only last night I had a long conversation with a colleague about a highly successful singer who's once beautiful voice is now being pushed over the edge of the cliff. It's sad, but no less true now as it was then: managers and intendants want singers to have huge voices, when, in fact, the voice is the voice is the voice. It can grow of course. But you know something is wrong when loud has replaced lovely. 

Not shocking are the methods of Madam Marchesi, which have long been the subject of these pages. Should the reader desire to experience their practical application, I know a smart fellow who lives in New York.

Lastly—Mrs. Campbell (1845-1922) was one of the first successful voice teachers in San Francisco. She grew up in Portland, Maine, and later sang at Grace church in New York City, where she studied with Anchille Errani, a student of Francesco Lamperti.  In the 1870's, she travelled to Europe and studied with Pauline Viardot-García, François Wartel and Anna Bishop. The "Mr. Rogers" Campbell mentions in the article above later taught at the Juillard School of Music alongside Anna E. Schoen-René. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments.