The Lamperti School: Method & Means

Francesco Lamperti (1811-1892) 
He was a man of small stature, and not possessing to look upon. He taught in classes, and I am inclined to the opinion that that system prevailed in the early of this century and most of the century preceding. It was the custom in the early days to bind out the pupil to the teacher for several years, one of the terms of the agreement being the pupil was to receive daily instruction. Now, granting this to be the case, the teachers being successful must have many pupils; they therefore must needs meet together for instruction—and this is in no way unreasonable when we consider that the class met every day for a session of two or three hours. Under those circumstances a pupil would not fail getting even more than what is equivalent to our present mode of two or three half-hour lessons a week. The difficulty of conducting such a system in America is to find pupils who are able to exempt themselves sufficiently from social, home and other duties to be able to give the two hours and a half every day to their work, which they would be glad to give if they were in another country for the exclusive purpose of study, and which, in the manner of living a century and a half ago, was expected and entirely possible to those who had adopted music as a profession. 

Lamperti is said to also have given much attention in his class at the expense of others who were less talented. He was not courtly or impressive in his manner, nor did he exact deference from his pupils. He paid little or no attention to them except in his relation as a teacher of singing. It is said that his method of teaching the high notes was a most easy and natural delivery; the high, light, suspended tone must be taken without effort and once properly formed, increased by the study of messa di voce and agility studies. He ignored entirely the subject of registers. 

Lamperti was noted for his abruptness, but not his unkindness, in the treatment both of pupils and voices. He spoke much in metaphor, and his language was of more an Italian dialect than the pure Florentine Italian, which made it difficult for foreigners, especially those who studied the language in its purity, to grasp the meaning of many of his observations. He inspired his pupils by precept rather than by example, resorting to idealizing and to exciting the imagination to get certain effects, but never giving a tone in illustration. Like many and most of the greatest and most successful voice teachers, he ignored entirely the physical side in his work; preferring to get a tone which could be said to be a cause of a good vocal condition, rather than to first formulate the right condition and look upon the tone as its result. 

What was Lamperti's method? It is not a difficult question to answer. First, recognition of the beauty and charm of simple, natural tones, and the wonderful possibility of such tones being increased and developed in great breadth and power. Second, a keen discernment of what was ideal in art. Third, intimate acquaintance with the standard Italian works and writers, whose compositions must forever stand as models on the score of recognition and loyalty to the limitations of the vocal instrument. 

The old Italian method, the, was, and is, natural tone developed by natural means for natural uses. We hear that the old Italian method is a lost art; we know better. We hear that there is a modern Italian method that is an improvement upon the old; again we know better; Lamperti knew better. 

H. W. Greene, The Etude, 1897, Volume 15, No 7, 192-193.