Art Of Singing:
Natural Tone Production
Vocal Hygiene From The Musical Point Of View
Peculiarities Of Tone Incident To Different Nationalities
Anatomy, Physiology And Hygiene Of The Vocal-organs
Hygiene Of Voice
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Peculiarities Of Tone Incident To Different Nationalities
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Music in every branch is international, though still maintaining national peculiarities in musical form as well as in vocal tone and method. For that reason, in this chapter I have thought it well to treat briefly the vocal characteristics of different countries, in the hope that it will be of interest to the newcomers in the profession. Indeed, considering the enormous influence exerted upon tone production alone by varying languages and climates, to say nothing of national traditions, the usefulness of such knowledge can hardly be overestimated.
Italian Tone.—For centuries the Italians were recognized in all the world as the best singers. They were and are today the best paid and most admired of all the nationalities for their purity of tone and their powers of lyric expression. The words bel canto are known all over the world to those interested in music and singing. Bel canto means "beautiful singing," and de-scribes not a method or system of producing tone but rather the kind of tone produced. In my opinion the glory for the development of that type of beautiful singing which our generations have learned to call bel canto should be equally divided between the classical Italian composers and singers of the earlier periods.
The characteristics peculiar to the composers of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are: clarity and simplicity of construction, serenity and depth of feeling. Caldara, Bononcini, Benedetto Marcello, Lotti, Martini, Paisiello, Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Cimarosa, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, etc., all carefully observed in their compositions the possibilities and characteristics of the voices for which they were writing. In their works the words and melodies were welded to form one indissoluble whole. Little wonder that singers educated under the influence of a school of composition, simple, unaffected, yet replete with genius, guided by real masters patient and willing to work, living in a wonderful atmosphere and climate, speaking a language which is in itself a song, became that which the composers wanted them to be masters of bel canto or beautiful singing. Such is the world's heritage from those fathers of the Italian school of singing.
There is no precise, technical way to describe or literally to photograph an emission of vocal tone, which explains why our generations have not and cannot have an exact idea of the tone production of the golden days of Italy's most artistic singing.
With all my love, admiration and gratitude for Italy, the country which gave me my start and the happiest moments of my career, I claim that the principles which led to the creation of bel canto (beautiful singing) are not of Italian invention or creation. Bel canto exists in all the world, in Russia, France, America, Spain, etc. a fact well proved by the great singers of those countries. Bel canto is the property of that great invisible power Nature. Italians were the first to comply with her laws and so were rewarded with the glory which their singing justly brought to their country.
The logical conception of a beautiful, or call it bel canto, tone is a tone which requires the least of effort and gives the maximum effect; a tone in which vocal effort is distributed equally to all the active and resonating surfaces of the human throat; a tone in which it is as impossible for the singer as for the hearer to detect which part of the vocal organ gives the most powerful reinforcement, the vocal equilibrium being so well maintained; a tone in which articulation is in perfect harmony with all other functions of the vocal apparatus, and is easily understood by the audience; a tone which produces only outside effect, in which the whole room, hall or auditorium is properly sonorized. In short, a tone which will deliver the melodic message in the way nature intends.
This is my opinion of the bel canto or beautiful tone, and I repeat, it can only be produced naturally and in accordance with the singer's individuality.
French Tone.—The French classical composer, like his Italian brother, had much respect for the human voice. The floating, melodious line was of first importance, while the accompaniment, although ingeniously arranged, was of secondary consideration. With the exception of the heroic, dramatic operas of Meyerbeer, written for exceptional voices (and perhaps a few others of minor importance), Gounod, Bizet, Berlioz, Offenbach, Massenet and scores of others have given due consideration to the possibilities and characteristics of the human voice.
The well cultivated French tone has the same qualities as the good Italian tone. It is round, well sustained, even and has splendid carrying capacity. To an untrained ear it may sound different, but the difference is the result of the French language, which has an abundance of nasal sounds, the proper pronunciation of which is very favorable for tone production.
German Tone: Singing one night a heavy Wagnerian part and the next some light operetta is certainly the primary cause of the present vocal conditions in Germany. Classification of voices by their timbre and temperament is practically unknown in Germany. No distinction seems to be made there between the lyric and dramatic qualifications of singers. They must sing everything in the repertoire and even the contracts are worded that way. "Everything" is rather embracive, all will agree, and as there is no human being able to do "everything" well, some vocal incongruities quite naturally arise.
From a purely vocal point of view the German language lends itself little to singing, though I admit there are some differences of opinion upon that point.
It is, however, my belief that to some extent Wagnerian music is responsible for the decadence of German vocal tone.
Singers of such parts as Kundry, Siglinde, Isolde, etc., soon feel and show the effects. The beauty of the voice gradually disappears, the necessary velvet in the quality is suppressed, the whole vocal machinery loses its freedom, and the constricted, tired throat produces a tone to which Slavonic and Latin races can hardly listen. It is a fact that in Wagner's works the instrumentation and the orchestra are given first thought, and the singer's tone and effects are secondary.
The masterpieces of Wagner have created a new school of music which considers the human voice from a different point of view than did Schumann, Schubert or Mozart. The present German composer lacks certainly the genius of the creator of the Wagnerian school, but seems to consider a human throat as an additional wind instrument in the orchestra.
The German classical composers have all the vocal characteristics of the Italian and French of that period. Therefore, beneficial to the voice, yet in the operatic field at present it is hard for a singer to fight for recognition against a score of trumpets, trombones and drums. From the vocal point of view, conditions in Germany are discouraging; they ought even to be summed up as instrumentally overpowering.
Hebrew Tone.—The cantor can be termed the real preserver of Hebrew melodies. The operatic and concert stage have heard some wonderful Jewish singers, but the individuality of their race was subordinated to the requirements of the art as embodied in the different languages in which they had to sing and consequently lost.
The cantor's way of singing, as also the music itself, is traditional. A special school for cantor singers does not exist, but each cantor gathers around himself a few good ,voices, to whom he imparts his knowledge. The training is done by the simple method of imitation.
The voice of an average cantor is very expressive. A certain sharpness of glottic quality is felt throughout the range. Vocal effort is concentrated on the glottis and the vocal cords, in-stead of being distributed all over the parts of the vocal organ. The voice rings more than carries, and when brought out invariably loses that which it gains in sonorousness. The verbal tone is largely sacrificed for the vocal effect. This production causes nervousness of the vocal cords, with a consequent escape of unsonorized air.
A cantor who wishes to impress his congregation must bring his voice as near to the lament as possible, for the Hebrew composition was inspired by suffering. The lament is produced by a certain spasmodic action of the vocal machinery, similar to the cry of a child. A child can scream or sing the whole day without injury, so long as its voice is manifesting joy and happiness, but the same child will become hoarse very quickly when crying in sorrow or anger. This illustrates the principal reason why cantors' voices wear out quickly. The voice of an old cantor (there are exceptions, of course) is full of tremolo and often flat. Their particular style of music does not permit them to sing properly and with effect the modern standard concert and operatic music. The unnatural, anti-physiological use of the vocal organ is easily noticeable after the cantor has sung a few selections. His throat becomes overheated and manifests a slight irritation sometimes causing a cough. But nothing can possibly diminish the beauty and value of Hebrew religious songs.
Russian Tone.—Turgenev, one of the greatest Russian writers, characterizes the Russian folk-song thus : "The aching, melancholy song which wanders from sea to sea throughout the length and breadth of Russia will, once having been heard, forever echo in your heart and haunt the recesses of your memory."
But not always is Russian folksong full of melancholy; in fact real Russian folksong, centuries old, is rather full of wildness and ruggedness, characterized by frequent and sudden dynamic gradations and changes in rhythm. The melancholy song which Turgenev describes comes from Little Russia or Ukrania.
The Slavonic is probably the most emotional music in the world, and the older its melody, the greater the spirit of romance. From the very beginning of history the Russians have been a singing people. They have worked and danced and played to the accompaniment of music. This may be the reason why Russia possesses the most wonderful untrained choruses. It is indeed a pleasure to hear the deep and manly basso (and even contra-basso) voices united in peculiar combinations with fine tenors who are not afraid to use often their falsetto tones.
Much time is devoted in Russia to the training of church choirs, and the singing is an integral part of the service.
The voice which is liked best in Russia is the basso. The principal singer in a Russian church must have a speaking and singing voice of thunder. These voices are usually short in range, Ind, owing to low vibrations, have a very dark and chesty quality. Their carrying power is limited.
The love of Russians for the basso voices had a certain influence on the Russian operatic score. Contrary to the operatic habit of other nations, in which nearly always the tenors are given the honors as principal characters, the Russian operatic composers have written many works for bassos and dramatic baritones.
The Russian cultivated tone seems to be placed not entirely in the front of the mouth, and is sup-ported strongly by chest and mask resonance, a sort of "bronze" quality being obtained at the expense of carrying powers.
Little Russia furnishes almost all the tenors to the Russian operatic stage.
The tone production of Russian women singers can be compared to that of the Italians.
The Russian language answers all vocal requirements splendidly, and is of great help to the singer.
Polish Tone.--One hundred and fifty years of slavery in a nation of thirty million population, divided by three oppressors, forbidden to sing or play its national music, has had but little effect on the musical development of Po-land.
The names Chopin, Moniuszko, Wieniawski, Paderewski, Stojowski, Hoffman, are sufficient to give Poland one of the leading places among the musical nations of the world. Poland has several first-class opera companies and symphony orchestras. Of all the European folksongs, Polish folksongs are certainly the richest in melody and variety of rhythm.
Although a distinctively Polish tone production does not exist, Poland has given to the world such singers as the inimitable songbird, Madame Sembrich, the de Reszke brothers, Leliwa, Didur and many, many others. In Italy, France, Russia and Germany, Polish singers are highly respected and loved.
A cultivated Polish singer has all the characteristics of the Italian and French artists. Poles are known all over the world as fine musicians and linguists, the latter accomplishment being in a measure the result of the foreign oppression suffered by Poland.
English Tone.—In England, ballad, oratorio, church and concert singing is much preferred to grand opera.
The temperament of the English people is very different from that of the Latin races and this fact certainly is manifested in the musical appreciativeness.
The Italian spontaneous nervous singing is little cared for there. The English public likes a smoother style, more finished in detail.
De gustibus non est disputandum.— (There can be no discussion regarding tastes.) This old Latin proverb can be fairly applied in this case.
No single person has sufficient knowledge and impartiality to justify him. in passing judgment on the question as to which of the national tastes is more nearly musically correct and interesting.
England's vocal art has a past of its own glorious and rich. Together with Canada and Australia, she has given to the world an unusual number of splendid singers.
The habit of combining sight reading with singing seems to be very much in favor in England, and singers often sing with their scores in hand.
Irish Tone.—The marvelous folksongs of this little country are undoubtedly responsible for the fine vocal talent produced by Ireland. I consider Ireland's greatest tenor, John McCormack, a real master of bel canto. Anybody listening to him will recognize the qualities possessed by the glorious old Italian Masters.
Scandinavian Tone.—The musical culture of Scandinavians is very old. As a result Scandinavia has produced such geniuses as Grieg, Sinding, Lassen, Kjerulf, etc.
Italian and German influence on the music of Scandinavian countries is noticeable. In the sixteenth century, G. Wasa engaged for his court Italian singers who remained there for many years.
In 1782 Gustav III constructed the Opera House in Stockholm.
Of the score of especially fine singers produced by the Scandinavian countries the most celebrated seems to have been Jenny Lind, pupil of Manuel Garcia, and known all over the world as the "Swedish Nightingale."
A mathematical exactness is demanded from singers and musicians there, and the public often listens to the operas with the scores in hand.
Tyrolese Yodeling.—There is a special and very characteristic kind of singing, little known in America but very much admired by the peoples of certain parts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which is called Tyrolese Yodeling. It consists of rapid and sharp jumps in octaves and arpeggi. To foreigners it sounds effective and sympathetic. It is, however, very destructive to the voice, as in the high notes the larynx is in a too widened position, and in the low notes the tension on the trachea is far too great. Many of the yodelers have markedly hoarse speaking voices.
The Tyrolese yodelers often apply pressure to the larynx, as they claim it helps in the production of the very high head tones.
Oriental Tone.—Arabs, Syrians, Greeks, Persians, Turks, Hindoos, etc., have a music of their own. No matter how hard we may try, we shall not be able to enter into their melodies. The songs we know under the names of oriental melodies have nothing to do with their music, just as the "Geisha" has nothing to do with the music of Japan.
My analysis of their tone is based on observation of several prominent oriental singers during my phonograph experience.
Although their vocal tone has nothing of interest for us, except for analytical scientific purposes, I advise all to hear some of the oriental records.1 Their voices are very much pinched. The women sing in a chesty, throaty manner and when hearing these singers one involuntarily feels that their voice may break at any moment.
Spain and Portugal.—For centuries Spain and Portugal have furnished talent to the operatic centers of the world. The opera companies are highly patronized there, and strongly sup-ported by the governments.
Garcia, the inventor of the laryngoscope (and rightly called "father of the vocal art"), was a Spaniard, as were Malibran, Viardot, Gayarre, etc. Spain seems to have specialized in supplying tenors and coloratura sopranos to the operatic stage.
The Spanish singers have the same characteristics as the Italians their work lying along the same line of opera.
The Spanish language, full of hard vowels, is not favorable for tone production.
South American Tone.—South America, consisting mostly of Spanish-speaking countries, is in general very musical, and devoted to opera. In paying the singers, South America is a dangerous rival of her northern sister. The Colon of Buenos Aires seems to be the most beautiful theater in the world, but unfortunately, possesses poor acoustic properties. There are always several traveling Italian Opera Companies in South American countries.
American Tone.—It would be a great injustice to America if all the poor singing heard here should be called "American Tone." This tone is the result of misplaced American confidence, and is fabricated generally in the studios of European or American "would-be" vocal masters.
America is full of exponents of the singing of methods of different countries, and we have vocal teachers of all nationalities, consequently there is nothing which can be pointed to with assurance as "American tone."
Americans have all the necessary qualifications of great singers splendid voices, education, musical feeling and ambition.
Already America holds a very high position among the nations as a producer of great singers, and I am quite sure that this country shortly will take the lead. I see much more talent now than I did ten years ago when I first sang with the Boston Opera Company, while it is equally true that on my last visit to the continent I saw much less talent all over Europe than there was ten years ago.