Historical Perspectives: 1840-1900, An Introduction

As I continue work on this blog, I will categorize posts into specific areas for ease and interest to the reader. One of these will be called ‘Historical Perspectives,’ where important historical information will be culled for its usefulness to modern pedagogical thought.

One of the missing pieces of much academic voice pedagogy training (in the quest to understand anatomy, physiology, acoustics, and such) is the lack of research into historical pedagogical thought: tracking what was known, searching for understanding of how voices might have been trained according to the surviving manuscripts, as well as a thorough and analytical reading of the historical record. This blog has always hoped to remedy that by putting before the reader information that has largely been rejected in toto or simply ignored by more modern voice trainers. 

To begin, I’m going to begin excerpting the monumental work of Edward Foreman, including his footnotes. In my opinion, NO one has traced the history of vocal pedagogy with such breathtaking scholarship.  Foreman does NOT ‘deify’ any particular pedagogical figure. This gives his writings a more clinical, objective, and analytical view of the historical record. Foreman does not put Manuel Garcia II on a pedagogical pedestal as some sort of “Vocal Jesus,” –  an objective view which this blog author also shares. These criticisms will be seen in the posts to follow.

If I say that the 19th century is littered with conflict over how to train the voice, don’t think for a moment I’m not describing a battlefield of international dimensions. Once the laryngoscope had been invented by Garcia (about 1850-5)1, and “scientists” realized they could actually watch the vocal folds in action, scientific interest in the vocal function and its training developed rapidly. The ability to see the movements of the vocal folds fueled the natural desire to know more about how and why these actions took place.

It’s more than likely that a great number of the members of the vocal teaching profession wanted to find ways to shorten the training period. In Garcia’s own case, there can be little doubt that he was also searching for the mechanical basis for the failure of his own voice when he was in his mid-20s.2

The general availability of the Traité in translation makes it possible to select brief sections for consideration, in order to establish the manner in which his teaching influenced the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th century through his pupils. The interested reader may peruse the whole for details.

The extraordinary outpouring of books on singing in the second half of the 19th century will result in considerable condensation, just because of the sheer numbers.3



  1. The exact date is hard to ascertain. The paper he presented to the Royal Society was published in the Society’s “Proceedings” in 1855, and in Laryngoscope in 1905 on the occasion of his centenary. The Mémoire sur la voix humaine, presented to the French Académie des Sciences in 1847 preceded the invention of the laryngoscope and the visual examination of laryngeal function. There is a Chronological Bibliography—fairly complete—in Traité, vol. II.
  2. It must have been a considerable shock to him, as the son and pupil of one of the leading teachers and singers to lose his voice. This was not a common event, and it was not occasioned by illness or accident, but by simple overuse of an obviously defectively trained instrument. We can only guess at his state of mind as he picked up the pieces of his life and moved forward. He attempted to re-study the voice in Italy, and perform in public once more, but complete failure ensued, so he studied navigation and was about to embark on a ship when dissuaded by his mother. He then enlisted in the quartermaster corps of the French army in the invasion of Algeria (1830). Upon his return from North Africa, he was attached to a military hospital. Here he had the opportunity to observe firsthand the physiology of the voice, and soon after must have begun teaching again. The biographical entry in NGDM is flawed in several details, dates of publications, etc.The translation of the Traité by Donald V. Paschke, published in 1975 and 1984, is much more accurate, although in his list of editions he has missed the Italian translation by Alberto Mazzucato, Milan, n.d., ed. 108814-15, and another English edition, much condensed, Garcia’s New Treatise on the Art of Singing, pub. Hutchings & Romer, London, n.d. The title page lists him as “Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music,” so the date must be after 1848, when he took up his duties there.
  3. For those wishing an overview of the period, Monahan, op. cit., is highly recommended. I used to like the article on “Voice Teaching” in Grove V, by Franklyn Kelsey. Upon re-reading it, however, I find it an inaccurate mish-mash of sketchy information about the Italian teaching methods and spurious science.


Foreman, Edward. Authentic Singing: The history of singing. Vol. 10. Pro Musica Press, 2001.

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