The Eighteenth Century School of Singing

by Vernon Lee, from Etude Magazine:

The aim of the old school of singing was not, like that of the modern, to teach the manner in which a certain number of pieces should be sung; its aim was to form an artist able, at a first reading, to give any song in any style the very best and most individually original interpretation. The master had meanwhile obtained, by the familiarity of years, the most intimate acquaintance with all the resources, all the defects, all the characteristics of this voice which he had himself developed out of its germ, equalized, patched up, moulded into homogenous existence, nay, almost created; and this knowledge he gradually shared with his pupil, who got to know with the most absolute precision the whole structure and mechanism of his own voice. Of his voice and of his own voice; for the singers and singing-masters of the eighteenth century was supremely indifferent to the physiological structure of the vocal organs, as they were supremely indifferent to the qualities of the voice in the abstract, about which modern teachers know so much with so much certainty. Music masters did not study anatomy and write books, like Signor Corelli’s “Cronaca di un Respiro,” teaching boys and girls scarcely knowing how to open their mouths the exact structure and functions of all the minute parts of chest and throat connected with the emission of the voice; they were satisfied with getting out a good voice, they cared not out of what interior organs. Mancini, who piqued himself upon being a learned man, never got further than the palate, the windpipe, and the lungs in his knowledge of vocal anatomy. The mechanism which was studied was not that of the throat, but of the voice; instead of looking into the sound-producing apparatus, the singing-masters of the eighteenth century listened to the sound itself; they corrected and developed the voice, but ignored the organs which produce it, persuaded of the fact (so often overlooked in our scientific generation) that as long as the action is good, the machine may be left to itself.

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