The Feigned Voice (La voce finte)

Isaac Nathan was an Australian composer, singer, music publisher, and teacher who wrote the Misurgia Vocalis, and was considered the “Father of Australian Music.” Born to a cantor father, he claimed to study with Domenico Corri, an Italian composer, impresario, music publisher, and voice teacher. Corri had a significant connection to the great bel canto school owing to the fact that he studied with Nicola Porpora, one of the greatest voice teachers in history. Porpora was responsible for the voice training of several of opera’s greatest singers including Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli.

In the Misurgia Vocalis, Nathan describes a peculiar vocal sound for the first time in recorded history which he describes as such:

I am aware that the falsetto is considered a feigned voice – but the quality of the sound to which I allude is not that which is produced in the throat, and already distinguished under the name falsetto; nor is it the voce di testa.

Nathan asserted that the registers of the voice need to be connected by “il ponticello,” or the “little bridge.” He asserted that the unification of the registers,

cannot be accomplished without the aid of the feigned voice, which may be justly considered the only medium or vehicle by which the falsetto can be carried into the voce di petto.

For Pierfrancesco Tosi in 1743:

Whoever would be curious to discover the feigned voice of one who has the Art to disguise it, let him take Notice, that the Artist sounds the Vowel i, or e, with more Strength and less Fatigue than the vowel a, on the high Notes.

From a functional training perspective, this would make perfect sense as the vowels /i/, and /e/ tend to elicit a more head-dominant response from the voice than the more-open and chest-friendly /a/ vowel.

For Edgar Herbert Caesari, the term ‘pharyngeal’ voice was his preferred nomenclature for this peculiar vocal sound, and it became his primary technique for building the top voice of male singers. He described it as a secondary ‘layer’ in the voice, between the true falsetto and the ‘basic’ or chest voice.  His approach was to move on a single tone from falsetto, into the pharyngeal, and then into the basic or chest voice. This was done by exercising the pharyngeal voice for quite a time, until it was strengthened to the point that it could be carried down into the chest voice.

New York City voice teacher and author Cornelius Reid, writing in “A Dictionary of Vocal Terminology” in 1983, had this to say:

The term “Pharyngeal Voice” was coined by the twentieth century Englishman E. Herbert Caesari to describe the tonal quality that results when the falsetto is in the process of being transformed into the head voice. Herbert-Caesari accurately believed the so-called “pharyngeal voice” to be the combined product of a special type of vocal fold formation and a “tuned” oropharyngeal resonance adjustment.

The concept of the pharyngeal voice as formulated by Herbert-Caesari would seem to be identical with the ‘feigned voice’ described by Isaac Nathan in his Misurgia Vocalis, and is quite clearly a device for combining the two register mechanisms, the chest register and the falsetto. Pedagogically, the development of the coordinated falsetto or “pharyngeal voice” is most desirable, since the combined activity of the register mechanisms significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to produce the upper tones, greatly enhances vocal flexibility, and ultimately leads to upper tones of rare freedom and beauty.

For Daniela Bloem-Hubatka, these sounds could be demonstrated in the recordings of great Jewish cantors, from whose lineage Nathan was a member:

We see how clearly [Isaac] Nathan describes the phenomenon of the registers with their localities of acoustical manifestation. He mentions a fourth voice that he calls the “feigned voice,” practiced by the Jewish singers and called the “voice of a child.” Nathan describes it in detail: “a species of ventriloquism, a soft and distant sound produced apparently in the chest, and chiefly in the back of the throat and head – an inward and suppressed quality of tone, that conveys the illusion of being heard at a distance … formed at the back part of the head and throat, just above the glottis, where the uvula is situated.” He considered that Jewish singers who cultivate this special vocal sound “possess that peculiar sweetness of voice that has ever distinguished them from other singers.” We can hear this “voice of a child” on the CDs of the Jewish cantors Berele Chagy and Gershon Sirota. Jewish singers like Tauber, Schmidt and Tucker, who was originally a cantor, all possess this “peculiar sweetness of tone”; they are honey voiced.

To hear audio examples of these cantors, I’m including the following recordings of the singers mentioned above.

In the excerpt above, the peculiar sound of the voce finte as described by Isaac Nathan can be heard around the 1:00 minute and 2:51 mark, respectively.

(In the excerpt above, the voce finte can be heard at the 1:30 mark, as well at 2:25)

Recordings of Gershon Sirota can be found through the following tracks on Spotify. While not demonstrating the voce finte, his recording of “Veshmoru” demonstrates a dazzling facility and flexible vocal sound; rich and full complete with a trill!  Another worthy recording is the “Halbein Chatoenu“. Sirota was known as the “Jewish Caruso,” and for good reason!

When exercised to the maximum (over a period of about 4 years, depending on the voice) these two mechanisms (falsetto and pharyngeal) when amalgamated, are capable of producing a head voice of extraordinary power.

The pharyngeal voice without any admixture of CHEST or FALSETTO, has a certain quality of steely intensity which is the REVERSE of beautiful particularly when produced FORTE.  Mixed with the falsetto or the chest (and better yet with BOTH) it assumes considerable importance.

Unless there is adequate elimination of the vibrating mass of the vocal cords as the pitch rises, the pharyngeal mechanism CANNOT ENGAGE and participate in the operational network.

In a future post, I’ll share some of Herbert-Caesari’s insights on how to exercise and develop this pharyngeal voice/voce finte.


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