Manuel Garcia–The Grand Old Man of Music

Manuel Garcia was born in Madrid on March 17, 1805. His has been not merely a long, but an active life, and is unequaled in respect of its duration in the records of musical art. It amazes one to think that he was an infant 7 months old when the battle of Trafalgar was fought, was 10 years of age at the date of Waterloo, that England has had 5 sovereigns in his time; that it is 84 years since his “beautiful soprano voice changed into a no less beautiful tenor”; and that nearly 80 years have rolled away since he made his début as a dramatic tenor in Paris; and that it is actually 75 years—three-quarters of a century—since he retired from the operatic stage; 72 years since he lost his father, and just half a century since he invented the laryngoscope, and about that time since he settled in London. And now, on the eve of his entering upon his hundredth year, he is wonderfully well.

Manuel Garcia is a fine example of heredity. His family were musical. His father was one of the most accomplished musicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A born artist, he made his début at Cadiz, when only 17, in an operetta of his own composition. He was the great “primo tenore” whom Murat, when King of Naples, placed at the head of his palace choir; for whom, in 1816, Rossini specially composed the part of Almaviva in “II Barbiere di Siviglia”; who a little later took London by storm, and who astounded New York in 1827 by producing no fewer than 11 new Italian operas within a single year. His eldest daughter was the inimitable Maria Garcia, better known as Malibran, while his younger daughter, still surviving, was the distinguished Pauline Garcia (Madame Viardot). He was not less an instance of heredity in that, like his father, he was an excellent teacher of music, and was active in that profession for over 7 decades in Paris and London.

The first essential of longevity, according to the authorities, is to start life with a good constitution. No doubt that was Manuel Garcia’s endowment; but it was not evident in 1829, when he quitted the operatic stage because “his physique was not equal to the strain.” But there is a second condition, hardly less essential, an active life in a pursuit that gives pleasure. It is the elixir of existence to be happily employed. The human organism is like an electrical machine and wholesome pleasure recharges the battery and there is perhaps no employment so life-giving as the artistic. Darwin, Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, despite chronic indisposition, reached each a great age. Manuel Garcia loved music and loved to teach it, and he had his reward in training vocalists and histrions of historic fame.

Manuel Garcia has the happy satisfaction of having given to the service of mankind a most valuable instrument—the laryngoscope—which he invented 50 years ago. As a teacher of music he long desired to know more about the organs concerned in the production of voice. So far back as 1840 he had submitted to the French Institute a “Mémoire sur la Voix Humaine,” but he desired to know the science of the voice still, more intimately. “I longed,” he says, “to see a healthy glottis exposed in the very act of singing”; and he wondered how this could be done, and so wondering, he invented the laryngoscope. This is how it happened, to quote his own words:—

“One day in the autumn of 1854 I was strolling in the Palais Royal, preoccupied with the ever-recurring wish, when suddenly I saw the two mirrors of the laryngoscope in their respective positions as if actually before my eyes. I went straight to Charrière, the surgical instrument maker, and, asking if he happened to possess a small mirror with a long handle, was supplied with a dentist’s mirror. Returning home, I placed against the uvula the little mirror (which I heated with warm water and Carefully dried), then flashing on its surface with a hand mirror a ray of sunlight I saw at once the glottis wide open before me, so fully exposed that I could see a portion of the trachea. From what I then witnessed it was easy to conclude that the theory attributing to the glottis alone the power of engendering sound was confirmed, from which it followed that the different positions taken by the larynx in front of the throat have no action whatever in the formation of sound.” But far beyond the end Garcia had in view the laryngoscope has been a boon to mankind. Several years passed before even the medical profession awoke to its value; now it is used the world over for examination of the throat and upper portion of the windpipe, and must in the past half-century have contributed to the saving of thousands of lives.

It was not, however, until 1895 that Manuel Garcia severed his connection with the Royal Academy of Music, and afterward he continued to instruct private pupils. Some of his friends are inclined to attribute the excellent health enjoyed by the veteran musician to his wonderful powers of digestion. It is said that even after he was 80 years of age Manuel Garcia relished a lunch consisting of hot buttered rolls and strong tea.—London Daily Telegraph

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