Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/103

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and even then boys could not have either the knowledge or authority to enable them to lead the singing, more especially as the chants or hymns were at first transmitted by oral tradition; and females were not officially engaged in the work. The boys probably sang in unison with, at times an octave higher than, the tenor, and the basses in unison with, or an octave below, the tenor, as suited them respectively.

An elaborate classification of voices was not then necessary. Indeed it is most probable that at first the only distinction was between the voices of boys and men, altus and bassus (high and low), the very limited scales then in use coming easily within the compass of the lower part of tenors and the higher part of basses; and it will have been only observed that some men could sing higher or lower than others, while the different qualities of voices will not have been taken into account. If a very low bass found a note rather high, he may have howled it as he best could, or it would perhaps itself have cracked up into falsetto, or he will have gone down instinctively to the octave below, or remained where he was until the melody came again within his reach—ears being not yet critically cultivated. Even now, towards the end of the 19th century, it is not at all unusual to hear amongst a congregation basses singing the air of a hymn below the actual bass part, or soprani singing in the tenor-compass for convenience sake. In a few village churches, and in many Scotch kirks, an after-taste of such early singing is still to be had. But with the extension of the scale and the introduction of a system of notation, and the consequent gradual replacement of the empirical mode of practice by more scientific study, the first rude attempts at harmony and polyphony, diaphony or organum (which see), would necessitate a more exact classification of voices.

The term Baritone is of comparatively late introduction. This voice is called by the French basse-taille, or low tenor, taille being the true French word for tenor, and it is not impossible that, as this word signifies also the waist or middle of the human figure, it may have been adopted to express the middle voice. The addition of a second part, a fourth or fifth above or below the Canto Fermo or plain-chant, would also so much increase the compass of music to be sung, that the varieties and capacities of different voices would naturally begin to be recognised, and with the addition of a third part, triplum (treble), there would at once be three parts, altus, medius, and bassus,—high, middle, and low; and as the medius, for reasons already given, would naturally be the leader who held (tenuit) the plainsong, the term tenor would replace that of medius. Then, as the science and practice of music advanced, and opera or musical drama became more and more elaborated, the sub-classification of each individual type of voice in accordance with its varied capacities of expression would be a matter of course. Hence we have tenore robusto (which used to be of about the compass of a modern high[1] baritone), tenore di forza, tenore di mezzo carattere, tenore di grazia, and tenore leggiero, one type of which is sometimes called tenore contraltino. These terms, though used very generally in Italy, are somewhat fantastic, and the different qualifications that have called them forth are not unfrequently as much part of the morale as of the physique. Although not only a question of compass but of quality, the word 'tenor' has come to be adopted as a generic term to express that special type of voice which is so much and so justly admired, and cannot now be indicated in any other way.

The counter-tenor, or natural male alto, is a highly developed falsetto, whose so-called chest voice is, in most cases, a limited bass. Singers of this class down to the beginning of the 17th century came principally from Spain, they being afterward chiefly superseded by artificial male alti. One of the finest examples of counter-tenor known in London at the time of writing this article is an amateur distinguished for his excellent part-singing. Donzelli was a tenore robusto with a voice of beautiful quality. It has been the custom to call Duprez, Tamberlik, Wachtel, Mongini, and Mierzwinski tenori robusti, but they belong more properly to the tenori di forza. The tenore robusto had a very large tenor quality throughout his vocal compass.

It is not easy to classify precisely such a voice as that of Mario,[2] except by calling it the perfection of a tenor voice. Mario possessed, in a remarkable degree, compass, volume, richness, grace, and flexibility (not agility, with which the word is often confounded in this country, but the general power of inflecting the voice and of producing with facility nice gradations of colour). Historical singers are generally out of the usual category, being in so many cases gifted with exceptional physical powers. Rubini, a tenore di grazia, physically considered, was endowed with an extraordinary capacity of pathetic expression, and could at times throw great force into his singing, which was the more striking as being somewhat unusual, but he indulged too much perhaps in the vibrato, and may not improbably be answerable for the vicious use of this (legitimate in its place) means of expression, which has prevailed for some years past, but which, being now a mannerism, ceases to express more than the so-called 'expression stop' on a barrel organ. But it must be said of Rubini that the vibrato being natural to him, had not the nauseous effect that it has with his would-be imitators.

Davide, who sang in the last half of the 18th century, must have been very great, with a beautiful voice and a thorough knowledge of his art. [See vol. i. p. 434.] His son is said to have been endowed with a voice of three octaves, comprised within four B flats. This doubtless included something like an octave of falsetto, which must have remained to him, instead of in great part

disappearing with the development of the rest of

  1. Baritone may etymologically be considered to mean a heavy voice, and as the principal voice was the tenor, it may be taken to mean heavy tenor, almost equivalent to Basse-taille.
  2. Died at Rome Dec. 11, 1883.