Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/521

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SINGING.

����Musical decoration, in the form of cadences or passages of agility, adds much meaning to the music in which it is judiciously introduced, and is as reasonable and as consonant with the canons of art as architectural decoration. What- ever the origin or precise meaning of a trill may be, its effect, in the right place and well ex- ecuted, is prodigiously fine. Indeed the result of ornament is often greatly out of proportion to its appearance. When the two sisters Marchisio appeared at Milan about the year 1856 in ' Semi- rainide,' the soprano introduced a little passage at the end of the air ' Bel raggio ' thus,

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and later, in the duet ' Ebben, a te, ferisci ' AUtffro.

���These passages do not look very much on paper, but their effect, executed without the smallest apparent premeditation, and with a spontaneous elan de voix, was simply electric. In the final air in ' Lucrezia Borgia,' in which Lucrezia reproaches the Duke with causing the death of her son, the long descending scales and rising passages give immense vehemence to her agony of grief, and form a striking contrast to the measured sequential passages which Farinelli pro- bably sang without changing his position.

While Jenny Lind was achieving the success we have described in the Haymarket, there ap- peared at the rival house in Covent Garden the famous Alboni, a superb contralto, or rather mezzo soprano, of considerable compass and great flexibility. But during the very reign of the great singers enumerated above there set in a dete- rioration in the art of singing. Its very perfection at that time was, in a way, the first cause of its dectidence. The singer had become all paramount, and opera had again drifted into convention- ality. Numbers of operas were brought out that were weak imitations, first of good works, and then of one another, written chiefly to afford

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| the singer the opportunity for display in arias of stereotyped form encumbered by a great deal of flimsy padding, and the higher forms of com- position were less and less to be found, until at last, as Wagner says, the capacities of the orches- tra were almost entirely ignored, and it sank to the level of a huge guitar. It rose afterwards, in the hands of those who did not know how to use it, to the height of a huge brass band. The reaction was brought about with too much pride and too little temper. The voice, from having been almost exclusively considered, began to be almost as exclusively ignored. As the new style of music required more force than delicacy in its execution, a much shorter and more superficial artistic preparation was needed to give some- thing of a rendering. The possessor of a strong voice, after a few months', instead of a few years' work, entered upon the operatic career with powers not half developed or brought under control, and therefore unprepared to support the greater strain brought to bear upon them. The voice itself necessitated increased forcing to make the required noise, and speedy deterioration was the frequent result. Mara sang the 'Creation' at the Norwich Festival, and was asked how she liked it. She answered that it was the first time she had ever accompanied an orchestra. What would she have said to some modern operas ?

A vocal vice next sprang into existence: namely, a departure from the steadily sustained note. It took two forms, the Vibrato and the Tremolo. The first had been introduced by Bubini, and its abuse was the one thing in his singing which could have been spared. Both are legitimate means of expression in dramatic music, when used sparingly in the proper time and place; but when constantly heard are in- tolerable. They (the Tremolo especially) cause at first a painful sensation by suggesting a state of nervous excitement that must infallibly be ra- pidly fatal ; but this soon subsides, and they are felt to be mere abominable mannerisms, express- ing nothing at all but a direful want of control over the feelings. And there is no greater nuisance in life than cheap tears. Ferri, a baritone who sang at the Scala about 1853, made use of the tremolo upon every note, to such an extent that his whole singing was a bad wobbling trill. Almost all the singers of that time indulged in it. It is said to be the result of overstraining the voice in singing against the heavy instru- mentation. But this is clearly not the case, since many who use it are as fresh at the end of an opera as at the beginning. It is probably some- times used with the view of making the voice carry ; but if it does this, it does it at the expense of intonation. With others it is simply an ex- aggeration, supposed to be ' intense.' It is hap- pily beginning to disappear, thanks to the few who have resisted the fascination of easy popu- larity, and preserved the traditions of the good school, amongst whom our own best concert and oratorio singers have done their full share of good work. Apropos to this substitute for true expression, what are we to understand by

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