February 7, 2018

Cappiani's Aliquot Tones

In my essay upon Voice Culture, which I had the honor of delivering before you at Cleveland, three years ago, I laid particular stress upon the placing of the tones. To explain this more clearly I must enter slightly into anatomy, but not the anatomy of the larynx; for I consider it wrong to burden the pupil’s mind with this, and it often results in throaty tones. 

Luisa Cappiani (1835-1919)
The tones must be produced on the principle of the Aolian harp—the air-harp—the strings of which, placed in a window, resound as the air passes through, and thus vibrations are developed, and perfect tones produced. In the same manner the human voice must be produced. The air, rising from the lungs, passes through the vocal bands causing them to vibrate and thus give forth tones conceived by the brain. If these vibrations are allowed to come directly through the mouth, without first touching the sounding-board—which consists of the nasal bones forming by its vomer, ethmoid, and turbinated bones, with the superior maxillary, an acoustic chamber—the tone will be vulgar and rough, bare of sympathy and devoid of aesthetic expression.

On the contrary, when the air-column above the vocal bands, colored with the tone, is guided behind the tonsils up the pharynx into the sounding-board, above described, the vibrations are so multiplied that the aliquot tones are awakened by the different shape and thinness of these aforesaid bones.

From this harmonious mixture of the over-tones the voice receives its beauty, mellowness, strength, and the individual quality of the voice, which the French call timbre de la voix. These tones may be compared to the tones drawn from an “Amati” violin by a fine performer. Once, when I was in the museum upon the Island of Veglia, in the Quarnero, where these violins were manufactured, I asked the question: “Wherein consists the great value of these instruments?" The answer was: “In their sympathetic tone produced by the fineness of the wood and the curves in the sounding-board." The same is the case with the simple hunting-horn, (corno da caccia), the curves of which develop its over-tones, producing, by this mixture of mellowness and strength, its wonderful, harmonious tones.

When the tonsils are in a healthy condition they favor the guidance of the tone into our sounding-board, the vibrations of which must then be brought downward, through the teeth—which form a secondary sounding-board,—and out of the mouth, in a perfect, melodious, clear, flute-like tone, placed before the mouth as the soap-bubble is placed outside the straw. When the tonsils are cut out, the above-described process of pure tone- production becomes extremely difficult; in some instances the difficulty can be overcome by a decided forward inclination of the body, which position aids the column of air from the lungs to take the right direction to the sounding-board, as Patti does, and she, surely, knows how to produce the sweetest tones.

I do not approve of having the tonsils cut out, even when diseased; of course, when the tonsils are so much swollen that suffocation is imminent, rather lose the tonsils than your life. Dr. Clarence Rice, a throat specialist of New York, says that “even with the most skillful surgery, there remains a risk of changing the compass of the voice."

I feel it my duty, on this occasion, to make clear this point, so important to all in my profession, as last year I was not allotted the time to fully express myself. The tonsils, situated as they are between the pillars of the pharynx, are frequently attached to these pillars, and when they are completely extirpated by the surgeon's knife, and especially if the operator is inexperienced, or careless, there is great danger of wounding these muscles, which are in front and behind the tonsils. The ante-pillar (the palato-glossus muscle), and the post-pillar (the palato-pharyngeus muscle), although they are properly interested in deglutition, yet in drawing the pharynx upward, they are really exterior muscles of the larynx. If these pillars are wounded by the knife of the operator, and thus shortened by cicatrization, they are known to produce changes both in the coin pass and quality of the voice. Another point, if tonsils which are adherent to the pharyngeal pillars are wholly removed, these muscles are frequently lengthened, and thus they lose a portion of their power of tension, and so the voice is lowered in pitch. 

In my experience I can name a number of prominent singers with their tonsils cut out, who illustrate this statement, and are obliged to transpose their arias about an entire tone, or a small third. I insist that in adult singers where the voice is settled, if the tonsils are so large as to interfere with proper breathing, articulation and swallowing, only a portion of the tonsils should be removed, and that not by knife, but by electric cautery or by astringent applications.  

To return to the over-tones, I will close with the historical fact relating to Johann Sebastian Bach, who, when his soprano voice was changing to a basso voice, sang, for a short period of time, in octaves—two tones at the same time—a phenomenon which has puzzled musicians ever since. I have recently formed a theory explanatory of this phenomenon, which is as follows: With adolescence the vocal bands become filled with blood, which is the cause of the disturbance of voice at this time of life, and only when—after a period of time which cannot be filied—this blood is absorbed, and the vocal bands again become perfectly white, does the male voice become settled. With Bach this absorption may have been reluctant, or incomplete, leaving, for this short time, just one drop of blood on each vocal cord, on the very same place, thus dividing them unequally; the longer part giving the slower vibrations and basso tone, the shorter part giving the quicker vibrations and the higher octave of the firat in one and the same breath, thus producing two tones, relative to each other, at once, by the same larynx. 

To avoid miscomprehension I must add, that in saying the tone should be guided up in the nasal bone, I do not mean that it should come down through the nostrils. Not at all! This were nasal singing. I will repeat that the tones must come from the nasal bone through the teeth, outside of the mouth, where the sharp-cut consonants, with the sustaining power of the vowels, in whatever language, give  finish to the declamatory part. I am often told that teachers direct their pupils to “bring the voice into the roof of the mouth;" this is an error, there being only one thick bone, the hard-palate, with which it is impossible to develop the different overtones of the same relationship, which consist—according to Helmholtz—of octave, third, fifth, and even second. 

It is the nasal bone with its many minute bones of different shapes, fully described above, all set to trembling, which forms the acoustic chamber; and by this sounding-board, with its aliquot tones, every voice becomes ennobled and beautified—I would like to say, receives its soulful, sympathetic quality, its aesthetic expression in a heavenly tone.

Luisa Cappiani, “Aliquot Tones and Surgery of the Throat.” The Voice, 1887, August, page 126-7. (An essay read at the Meeting of the Music Teachers’ Association, Indianapolis, July 7, 1887.)

Luisa Cappiani, who has appeared on these pages before, was a student of Francesco Lamperti, and wrote an interested book—Practical Hints and Helps for Perfection in Singing, which you can find on the download page in the right hand column. 

Cappiani isn't shy about voice placement in her address made above, which is, after all, the substance of her meaning regarding aliquot tones and their guidance to the nasal bone. Her explanation of its auditory nature follows research done by Helmholtz, which modern voice science places under the heading of psychoacoustics.

It should also be noted that Cappiani's mention of a "sounding board" finds equivalence in the teachings of Blanche Marchesi: the daughter of the famous voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi who studied with Manuel García. The old Italian school being what it is, one should not be surprised that the principle of voice placement was taught by both the García and Lamperti schools, and found particular expression in the writings of García's student—Herman Klein. Klein himself was the first chairman of the newly formed National Association of Teachers of Singing in New York City in 1906—which claimed Cappiani as one of its founding members. 

Click on Cappiani's link below for more information on her teaching.

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