The aspirations of the American soul are not aesthetic

Angelica Catalani (1780-1849)


The Skilled Professors of Vocal Music in Europe. 

American Musical Aspirations 
The Scarcity of Tenors
High Prices of Foreign Teachers 
The Italian and the English. 

New York Star 

With the last eight or ten years American singers have felt a strong desire to visit Europe of the cultivation of their voices. If fortunate enough to have rich relatives, they go quietly to Italy and there place themselves under the care of a music master. If less fortunate the complimentary concert is invoked to aid them in their musical studies abroad. For a time it seemed that only ladies went to Europe. The embryo contralto and soprano were sure that once in Europe, with a home on the banks of the Arno, or in Milan or Paris, they would soon become a Catalani or Albani. This impression has taken so deep a root that today the musical pupils in Italy from this country number about four hundred, besides a large number who are in Paris, Vienna, Brussels and London. 

This summer will see another batch of musical pilgrims to this school of Cecilia. Musical instinct and genius do not belong to us as a nation. The aspirations of the American soul are not aesthetic. The practical turn of the American mind precludes a cultivation of a taste for the sublime, an attribute which belongs only to the higher class of vocal and instrumental music. So far in our history we have had no national music; no songs of the people, handed down from father to son; no songs for social circles, distinctly American. There has sprung up among Americans a strong desire to obtain musical fame. This desire has been stimulated by the enormous salaries received by those who have already reached the highest eminence in their profession, Sontag being paid $10,000 for one night: Nilsson, Patti and Lucca $1000 a night; Patti for one little song earning $250; Malibran making in ten weeks the sum of $28.000. Dreams are indulged in that they will one day be able to demand these large salaries, and while entertaining these hopes the head os many worthy young ladies have been turned, and they forget that in some instances the organ of the singer is phenomenal and a large application to study is necessary. Of those exceptional voice were Catalani, Persiani, Bastardella, Farinelli, Bernacchi, Pistocchi, Braham, and of male sopranos, Crescentini, and Velluti Tarquinus. At one time an artist's merit consisted generally in a finished style, and the highest cultivation of the falsetto register in tenor's voices, but there is not a tenor in this country today. If you hand him Rossini's "Stabat Mater" and ask him to sing the aria "Cujus Animam" he will immediately take the pencil and cross out the three upper notes of the last bar and only sing B flat. Yet singers of the latter part of the last century usually sang two notes higher than the score. Farinelli took F in alt, so did Braham, Incledon and Bernacchi. While tenors are thus scarce, sopranos and contraltos are scattered over Europe as plentiful as leaves in Vallambrosa. It would seems if the isothermal line served to class vocalists. The climate and food of the Italians seems admirably adapted to the full development of the voice. The fine sopranos, male and female, came from that country. Sweden, North Germany, North Italy and the north for France have been the birthplace of the finest sopranos—Nilsson, Sontag, Persiani, Jenny Lind, Damaneau, Cinti and M'me Demeric, De Muurska and M'me Gerster were from Hungary. The finest tenors have come from the heart of Italy and the south of France—Nourrit from Montpellier; Rubini from Bergamo; Duprez from Toulouse; Mario, Bettini and Gordono from the center of Italy. Salvi, Benedetti, Mirerate, Tambourini and Benentano were Italian.

The habit and manners of living in this country are not favorable to the development and preservation of the finer soprano and tenor voices. It will be seen that those countries in which fine voices are common to the majority, and remarkable ones are the most frequent, are those in which it is custom to make a moderate use of a pure and natural wine at meals, and where on one would dream of taking a lunch of pies and cakes and remain most of the day with no more substantial food. The peculiarity of the American voice in singing is, distinctively, mezzo-soprano or contralto or baritone. There is every prospect that this class of voice may yet reach that high development which will place Americans at the head of this quality of voice. Already a number of artists have been before the public who are fit representatives of the contralto voice, among whom are the sisters Adelaide and Mathilde Phillipps, Annie Louise Cary, M'me Sterling and Annie Drasdil. Of the finer sopranos we had had M'me Estcott and Albani and Emma Thursby. Many suppose that when young persons are discovered who have fine voices they should forthwith be sent to Italy, as though the air of that country has any influence to improve the vocal organs and impart to the individual in a short time something of the talent and vocal distinction that have been represented beneath its sunny skies. If that were the case America has, in California, a country as balmy and clear as Italy itself. When Colonel Mapelson returned from California, a few years ago, he said: "I never knew that a climate so pure and so much reviling Italy was to be found, as that of California. American has there, truly, an Eldorado for vocalists."

The principal teachers for singing in Europe today are San Giovanni and Lamperti, at Milan; Wartel Mara and M'me Viardot, in Paris, and García, in London. Besides these are M'me Marchesi, who has gone to Brussels, and M'me Artot, who has taken her place in Vienna. When it is considered that they have pupils constantly in attendance for instruction, it will be wondered that so so few artists come from their studies. A little over twenty-five years ago Manuel García turned out rare artists in Jenny Lind, Maria Malibran, M'me Marchesi and later Catherine Hayes, but with these exceptions of the hundreds of pupils who have been attending him no one reached the summit of vocal fame. Wartel has furnished only the following artist-singers Nilsson, Trebelli, and later Emma Abbott. M'me Viardot, of Paris, has but two successful singers, M'lle Artot and M'lle Orgeni. M'me Marchesi has produced two great singers in fifteen years, M'me Artot and M'lle Gerster. It will be seen that the teachers cannot create the talent in the pupils, and only really superior voices can make starts in the musical firmament.

These teachers will not accept pupils with common voices unless they are remunerated with large sums of money. The charges for a musical education in Europe are not small items. At the Leipzig Conservatory a good musical education may be obtained for $60 a year, while the Paris Conservatory is free to pupils who have obtained a certain proficiency. But, under a teacher, the expense will be about four times that of the conservatory. Some of the music masters in London charge at the rate of four dollars an hour. Few people knew, while listening to M'me Ricci (M'me Knox), at the Grand Opera House, and at Steinway Hall, lately, that it cost $25,000 to cultivate her voice. It will be seen, therefore, that to go for a musical education to Europe is quite an undertaking.  It may be asked, "Can a thorough musical education he had at home?" We answer yes, except for those who wish to go upon the stage where Italian opera is produced, and in such a case it is necessary to spend that last two years of study in Italy, where every opportunity may be given to catch the proper accent. With this exception, however, a complete musical education may be obtained in this city, where there are a number of eminent teachers who have made reputations in Europe, such as Max Maretzek, Carlberg, Bristow, Errani and M'me Siler, of Philadelphia, and one or two others.

The time necessary for a musical education is usually six years. It has taken ten months to learn the trill. A vocal artist who has spent the six years in study finds, generally, that his whole life afterward must be devoted to study; practice must be kept up regularly, and there is always something to learn.

By a proper selection pupils may be taught effectually music in their native English. The diet is also and important consideration in vocal study. In northern climates oleaginous food is indispensable, whereas, in warmer climates the free use of such food is dangerous. But in temperate climates a judicious combination of the two nitrogenized and carbonaceous food is highly necessary. Food is divided into two classes, and it is necessary for the singer to study carefully their nature. First, we have that which is easily assimilated with the blood, viz: flesh, the white of eggs, farinaceous articles, and milk. The second is composed of substances which contain a large proportion of carbon, such as the fat of meats, gum, sugar and claret wine. Impure wine will surely destroy the voice. The diet should consist of both nitrogenized and non-nitrogenized aliment in due proportions. Though oily food contributes little, if any, to the organization of the solid tissues of the body, it is indispensable for imparting heat.

The most necessary thing essential to a good singer is health. Albani, Grisi, Mario, Badiali, Brignoli, Amadio, Sim Reeves, Morelli, Paropa Ross, Beneventano Patti, Titiens, Nilsson and M'lle Gerster were and are types of good health and good spirits.

The artist-singer must be regular in his habits, prudent as to health, and must live on substantial food. He must practice moderation in all things, but not total abstinence. The singer uses tuple the amount of caloric of any other person, and this must, therefore, be adequately replaced by proper sustenance. If this is not done the loss of the voice will follow and possibly pythisis. The singers will, therefore, find real nourishment in the flesh of animals rather than in vegetables. From the second-class of articles of food he will secure carbonic acid and hydrogen. Fast walking, loud laughing, loud and long reading, skating and dancing, are all injurious to the voice. Exposure to damp air after singing is hurtful. If compelled to do this a small glass of water, with a little sugar and a little claret, will be an excellent preventive.

Public Ledger, Memphis, Tenn: Tuesday Evening, June 18, 1878. 


It's a odd thing really—to read an old article in a paper and find one's self copyediting it, as was the case with the one above. While I corrected some things like the spelling of "Farinelli," I let quite a few other things like "pythisis" stand on their own, if only because one obtains a whiff of the age by virtue of its idiosyncrasies, none-the-least of which is the preoccupation with food and climate. A little claret with water and sugar to chase away the damp night air? Who would have thought?

Everyone who was anyone is represented, that being the big teachers of the time, and if the writer doesn't get all his facts straight, that's interesting too. We forget, in our day and age, that facts are easily distorted by oceans of distance. The six-year figure for a vocal education? That rings true. Of course, this puts the instant gratification approach that many students have in perspective. Then there is the matter of the American soul and its aesthetic education, which I will let the reader ponder without comment.