Mengozzi’s “Méthode de Chant”

As the result of Mengozzi’s labors the Methode de Chant du Conservatoire de Musique was published in 1803. It bears in addition to Mengozzi’s the names of the members of the government commission appointed to supervise the reform of musical instruction. Both Cherubini and Mehul were members of the supervising commission. So great was Cherubini’s interest and pride in the Methode that he presented a copy to Beethoven on his visit to Vienna in 1805.

The Méthode consists of a collection of exercises, vocalises, and arias, carefully arranged in accordance with Tosi’s plan to “lead the student gradually from the most easy to the most difficult.” Its purpose was to provide a complete system of vocal instruction. By mastering in succession each of the studies which it contained the voice was expected to receive a training sufficient to equip it for the performance of the most difficult operatic music. It was designed to apply equally well, with the necessary transpositions of course, to all voices, high and low, male and female. Beginning with exercises on single tones, it covers successively the intervals of the scale, exercises on scales and scale passages, vocalises which in troduce the various ornaments, and arias with words illustrating the different styles of vocal music. The exercises and vocalises are to be sung on the vowel ah. Students were not admitted to the vocal classes until their musical education had progressed sufficiently for them to memorize the studies contained in the Méthode, and to sing them in correct time. A few preliminary pages are devoted to some general observations on the training of the voice. The only mention of the subject of tone production is a warning against throaty and nasal quality of tone. The teacher is urged to see that the pupils stand in an erect, easy position, and breathe deeply before beginning a phrase. A direction is also given to open the mouth to the proper extent, but this is modified by the following suggestion: “As there is no rule without exceptions, we think it advisable to observe with what opening of the mouth the pupil produces the most agreeable, sonorous, and pure tone, and always to have him open his mouth in this manner.” For the blending of the registers the rules contained in the Méthode agree almost exactly with Mancini’s directions for this purpose. No mention is made of the mechanical elements of tone production, and the control of the voice is left in the traditional manner entirely to the guidance of the ear.

The Méthode gives us a highly satisfactory description of the old Italian system, as it was taught in the last fifty or seventy-five years of its existence. For a complete understanding of the system however the Méthode must be supplemented by a mass of material which had been the common property of vocalists for nearly two hundred years, but which was never embodied in any written treatise.

Taylor, David Clark. “New Light on the Old Italian Method: An Outline of the Historical System of Voice Culture, with a Plea for Its Revival.” (1916).

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