March 7, 2017

Klein Defends Garcia

Mr. Hermann Klein, at Beckstein Hall on Monday afternoon, made a praiseworthy attempt to absolve the late Manuel Garcia from responsibility for that much-discussed vocal euphemism the "coup de la glotte," or at least the effect as it is generally understood. It is not to be denied that this method of attacking a note carries with it obvious evidences of futility. It has ruined many a singer's voice, but so have many other methods; only they are not all so acutely unpleasant in practice. In view of Mr. Klein's explanations, principally concerned with the correct translation of the word "coup" (which, of course, is not to be rendered "stroke" or "shock), I do not presume Garcia to have been guilty of all that he has been credited with in this particular point. But certainly if the broad vowel "a," without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming an expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte." The broad "ah," unhelped, is seldom at the command of the budding singer, and any persistent attempt to secure it prematurely can only have the most unsatisfactory results. 

This is all by the way, however. I am primarily interested in Garcia as the inventor of the laryngoscope. This idea should have occurred to a medical man, not a singing teacher. If historical records have any value, the art of brilliant accurate vocalism left off with the arrival of the ingenious instrument which permits of an intimate examination of the larynx and trachea. It is fairly obvious that the extraordinary vocal exercises to be found in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercandante and others (in other directions one might also include Handel, Mozart and Beethoven) were only written because they could be sung with a convincing facility. It fact, many of the famous singers were not entirely satisfied with the ornate material offered of the exercise of their abilities. Elaborate cadenzas received additional embellishment, and difficulties were piled on difficulties by the artist, only to show how easily they could be overcome. The famous singers who revelled in these mellifluous displays knew nothing whatever of the physiological aspects of their art, and their teachers were equally ignorant. A work like Rossini's "Barber" cannot be performed nowadays as it was written with any pretensions to successful vocalism. If the composer had been compelled to accept renderings similar to those attempted during the last twenty years or so, his demands on his singers would have been entirely unjustified and history must have played us false. If not, we are justified in attributing the bad, undecided, ill-conceived methods of vocalisation current all the world over at the present day to the invention of the laryngoscope and the consequent advent of the "voice-producer" and the professor of the "scientific method." 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 10, 1911: page 11. 

Sir,—The remarks penned by your esteemed musical critic last week on the subject of my "Causerie" at Bechstein Hall would seem to impose upon me a double duty, namely, to persevere in my endeavour to "absolve" Manuel Garcia from responsibility of the misuse of the "coup de la glotte," and now also to whitewash his memory for the sin of having invented the laryngoscope. So much for the spirit of scientific research; the effort to penetrate one of the mysteries of nature the desire to tell man something about himself that he did not know before! Unlucky teacher of great singers! I cannot believe he had a notion, when he was giving new discoveries new names and striving hard to arrive at the truth concerning his art, that he was heaping up a pile of trouble and preparing the ground for a harvest of misunderstanding and false ideas. 

Well, suppose a singer had invented the laryngoscope. Is your critic so sure that it would not have fallen into the hands of the physiological singing master? Might not the throat doctors have turned and said, "We know now exactly how the vocal apparatus does its work, and are consequently far better qualified than anyone else to give instruction in the proper matter of using it?" They would have claimed the laryngoscope as a purely medical instrument and persuaded every vocal student to go to them first and to the musical man afterwards. Who would have profited by that? 

But Manuel Garcia gave no heed to these things. His great object was to find out by what mechanism the voice was formed. If he incidentally discovered a little instrument that proved to be a boon and a blessing to humanity in the hands of the throat surgeon, be sure he was grateful, and that he had not the least desire to convert the singing teacher into a professor of laryngeal anatomy. It was not his fault if people read into his words more than he intended to convey. He was not to blame if a new race of teachers employed mechanical aids which he himself never employed with or on his pupils. He could not be held responsible of the modern miracle-man of the vocal art proffered "royal roads" to success (and failure), whilst he continued to tread the slow, steady old path which alone, as the often declared, could lead to the goal achieved by the incomparably brilliant vocalists of his own time. Believe me, it is the impatience and unreasonableness of the latter-day student, far more than the advent of the laryngoscope, that marks the new era of singers to whom the roulades and fiorituri of the old Italian school present insurmountable difficulties.

On the other hands, I admit, it is not hard to trace some of this deterioration to the "voice-producer" and the "professor of the scientific method" referred to by your critic. Only it is about as fair to blame Manuel Garcia's invention for the existence of these people as it would be to hold the discoverer of chloroform responsible because burglars occasionally make use of that drug for their nefarious purposes. Blame rather the medical men who first make pathological studies with the aid of the laryngoscope; then, after publishing their observations in a form that the layman could understand, gradually took the singer and the "scientific teacher" into their confidence, and so emphasised the physiological aspect of the voice that the writings of Garcia assumed by degrees a fresh import and became less the means to an end than the end itself.

The doctors I refer to were the late Sir Morell Mackenzie and Mr. Lennox Brown; their books, respectively, "The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs" and "Voice, Song and Speech." The latter paved the way of my old friend Emil Behnke, with his ingenious but mistaken idea of the guttural attack and the "Koo-Koo" method. Surely all this has led may voices to disaster and ruin. Yes, says your critic, "If the broad vowel 'a' without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte.'" What sort of "coup'? Give me the opportunity, and I will gladly at any time demonstrate to "C," with the throat and voice of an untrained singer, in less than half an hour, how the perfect attack can be obtained on the pure vowel "a" by the simple process that Manuel Garcia himself taught—a process that is the reverse of that which is commonly supposed to constitute the so-called "coup de la glotte"!

Yours obediently, Hermann Klein 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 17, 1911: page 15. 

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