Wisdom of the Oldest Masters still sounds pretty modern

The wisdom of the greatest masters of the voice (Tosi, Mancini, Manfredini, Caccini) should be known by all teachers who strive to build voices in a healthy and functional way.

I have found more truth, more inspiration, and more VALIDATION of my teaching from the writings of the “Old Italian School”.  Working with Nature is restorative – not destructive.  Proper application of functional concepts rebuilds and restores voices.  It is my hope that with my studio page I can continue to bring these vocal treasures to light and inform others of their merit.

Giambattista Mancini provides a fantastic example of his teaching methods in his 1774(!) book Pensieri e reflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato:

    The blending of the registers must be effected by the strict application of the precepts of study and art.  All the helps of art will nevertheless prove useless, if before anything else the voice is not classified to the proper key.  Unfortunately, now and then, inexperienced teachers have ruined good voices of worthy students, and a good soprano voice has been badly tormented, by making it sing in the contralto register and vice versa.  Art consists in one’s ability to know what Nature intended one to be.  When once the gifts of nature are known, cultivating them easily make man perfect; – just as, when the farmer through experience has discovered the various seeds which are more or less suitable to the diverse kinds of soil. The teachers must be careful not to betray their pupils and the pupils not to pay more attention to the teacher than to Nature.  If this point is overlooked, all the helps of the precepts of art will be completely void.  Take, for instance, a student who has a strong chest voice, and head tones out of proportion, weak and feeble.  In such a voice the break of two registers comes from C-sol-fa-ut (C) of the soprano and goes to D-la-sol-re (D) on the fourth space.  In such cases the head voice is in need of help, because it is separated from the chest, and the way to correct it is to have the pupil at once undertake and fix in his mind in his daily study, to keep the chest tones back as much as he can, and to force the voice little by little against the head just there where it seems to be most unfriendly to him, and thus fix it and develop it with the same strength that the chest tone have already naturally developed.
Here is where the student and the teacher both must be very much in earnest.  The student’s part is to keep that portion of the voice under control that is in itself robust and sprightly, and to render the other portion strong that is by nature weak.  On the part of the teacher it means this: After he has kept the student for some time in this work and he sees that the pupil starts to attack the head tones with more strength and flexibility, then he must let him sing the chest tones with the usual strength, so as to find out to what degree the difficulty has been overcome.  It may be the case that the blending of the two registers has not yet reached an ideal in evenness, nevertheless, I beg the teacher and student to not lose faith, because I am sure in the end success will crown the effort, that it has diminished the pain and effort in taking the notes of so unfriendly a register; this is a good sign and by continuing such practice the difficulty will in time be completely mastered, and all the other tones of the voice will be benefited greatly by this exercise.  This same rule must be applied also in the reverse of the case, when a student has weak chest tones and a strong head register, with the difference that in this case the head tones must be kept back until both registers are found to be even.  Arrived at this point, the student will be glad for the achieved success of having the two registers blended, and with patience and industry, he will then undertake the work that leads to the acquisition of the “Portamento di voce” (the gliding of the voice) so necessary in every style of singing.

Mancini, Giambattista. Pensieri, e riflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato. Nella stamparia di Ghelen, 1774.

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