Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/516

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


504

��SINGING.

��great measure what a singer makes it. If our language, as it is too often spoken or sung, contained no more objectionable sound than a Hanoverian lady's guttural, we should be very fortunate.

Enough has been said to show that all the purer and more sonorous parts of language in general are Italian. We thus arrive at a first reason why singing should have naturally flour- ished in Italy. The unsatisfactory treatment of our own language is a first reason why it does not flourish as it ought with us. In using foreign languages we dread affectation, and are glad to comfort ourselves with the reflection that the world at large will not recognise our defects. Whom ought we really to consider the many who may not recognise the defects, or the one or two natives who may be present ? Dread of affect- ation must be got over by careful study and habit.

From the foregoing tables it will be seen that, for singing purposes, the elements of language are reducible to a small compass. It is very important that a standard of pronunciation should be established, and individual peculiarities eli- minated from language that is to be sung. In our daily intercourse we tolerate and involun- tarily approve peculiarities (provided they are not too glaring) in those with whom we are in sympathy, the peculiarities themselves bringing the individuality home to us. But the ear is not then seeking the gratification of a special sense possessed by almost every human being in his different degree, and by many ani- mals, susceptibility to the charm of musical sound. The moment we come to music, its catholicity requires that its rendering should be unalloyed by anything that can interrupt its flow into the soul. Individualities of timbre must of course exist, but there is that within us which accepts and morally assimilates these characteristics; provided, again, they are not so marked as to counterbalance other and fitting qualifications. Peculiarity and indistinct- ness of pronunciation are two great and well- known barriers to the adequate enjoyment of Tocal music; the first because it is constantly drawing the attention from what ought to be almost ethereal, and the second because it sets the hearer thinking what it is all about, and the moment he begins to think he ceases to feel.

Another cause for the developement of sing- ing in Italy was the necessity for finding the best singers for the Papal service, in which females were not permitted to take part. Boys were employed as in our own cathedrals, and counter-tenors, or falsetto-singers, chiefly Span- iards. But as solo-singing increased in import- ance, the counter-tenors no doubt began to realise the fact that by cultivating the falsetto they were ruining their more robust registers, and the fact became more and more patent that as soon as a boy was beginning to acquire some cultivation of taste his voice left him. This led to the custom of preventing the voice from breaking, by artificial means. In the case of

��SINGING.

these singers there was hardly any cessation in the course of study from early to more ma- ture years. There was not the total stoppage of work, the enforced interval of two or three years for the voice to settle, and the recom- mencement under totally different conditions. The long course of uninterrupted study would bring the art of vocalisation to perfection, and these perfect singers, who were afterwards intro- duced upon the stage, became, as the art pro- gressed, models of style and execution (according, be it understood, to the taste of the period), and furnished many of the best singing-masters. The first victim of the brutal custom alluded to was the Padre Rossini, admitted into the Pontifical Chapel in 1601, and nearly the last was Crescentini, who died in 1846. The last Papal falsetto singer was Giovanni de Sanctos. who died at Rome in 1625. In addition to the influences already named, ecclesiastical au- thority would have its effect, at any rate in the early stages of study, in exacting the neces- sary application on the part of students.

Subordination to teachers existed in times gone by, and the gradual developement of volume of voice and the power of exact execu- tion, without the sacrifice of quality, and the cultivation of taste (the abstract of judgment, a sense of proportion and fitness) were the results. The observance of the second golden precept in studying singing, ' Work for quality, and power will take care of itself,' has not been sufficiently carried out in later times.

At a not very remote time no females were permitted to appear on the stage at Rome in any entertainment, operatic, dramatic, or choro- graphic, the singing parts being filled by the best-looking artificial soprani and contralti that could be found. It is an injustice to ascribe to individuals of this class a deficiency, necessarily, of intellectual power or of personal courage. History sets this question quite at rest. Nor are defects in the powers of articulation peculiar to them. Not one in a hundred, scarcely, of ordinary mortals is free from some failure in this respect.

Very little seems to be known about solo singers before the beginning of the 1 7th century, the period in fact at which they were really re- quired. Caccini, the composer, and his daughter are said to have been both fine singers. The monodic form growing with Caccini and his immediate successors brought with it, of neces- sity, a corresponding growth of the vocal art. The great stride made by Monteverde and Ca- valli towards the modern opera, their amplifica- tion of the orchestra, and the improvement of the recitative by Carissimi and others, gave so great an impulse to the study of using the voice, that in a comparatively short time there was without doubt some very fine singing, if music of the middle of the I7th century had adequate interpretation ; and if not its continued produc- tion would speedily have come to an end. Amongst the cantatas of Luigi Rossi in the British Museum, is one in particular, ' Gelosia '

�� �