Foreman’s Historical Perspectives: Garcia, Part II

Returning to Garcia’s Traité, Chapter V:

There is a discussion of the types of defective timbre: Guttural, Nasal, Hollow and Veiled.

The student is advised to open the mouth in a natural smile, and Garcia quotes Tosi and Mancini.

The next section, “The Study of Tones,” starts with what was to become the most controversial aspect of Garcia’s teaching, the coup de glotte. He makes it very clear that the coup de glotte is taken gently on the vowel [a] at the end of a long, slow inspiration, and at the “bottom of the throat” [the 1872 edition adds “right at the glottis”]. He differentiates the coup de glotte from the coup de poitrine, which is like a cough, and causes “loss of a large portion of the breath.”1

This way of starting a sound was much misunderstood, and heavily criticized throughout the 19th and early 20th century literature.

If the chest register does not respond to the coup de glotte on [a], the vowel [i]2 should be employed, since it causes a firmer closure. The tongue should remain low, and the base not swollen and raised toward the palatal arch, nor should the tip of the tongue rise.

In discussing the transition tones of tenors and basses, he insists that the clear timbre be used, but with “rounding,” not “darkening” as the singer ascends in pitch. Avoid the timbre oscure until the clear is mastered. By 1872 he had decided there were three registers, chest at the bottom, falsetto in the middle, and head above that.3

Chapter VI is devoted to “Blending the Registers.” He discusses female voices first, and then male voices. All voices may blend the registers by alternating between falsetto and chest in the area where the registers overlap, for which four exercises are given.

Chapter VII is on “Vocalization (Agilità).” Vocalization in all the forms he mentions equalizes the compass of the voice and develops smoothness throughout the range. He uses portamento in what I believe to be the first use of the modern definition, “passing through all the possible intermediate tones.”

There are many pages of exercises on the various kinds of agility, with the caution to watch the intonation and the release of the final note carefully. The exercises are quite like those found in the various earlier method books, with more detailed analyses of the problems to be encountered.4

The next section is devoted to “The Sustaining of the Voice.” Mastery of the timbres, self-
confidence and intonation make up the “breadth or sustaining of the voice.” Garcia now introduces exercises for the messa di voce, citing Pellegrini-Celoni’s illustration. Garcia believed that the pharynx began the pianissimo “reduced to its smallest dimension, and it will dilate only in direct proportion to the intensity of the tone; then, in proportion to the weakening of the voice, it will return by degrees to its initial form.”5

Various other vocal inflections are discussed, with exercises for repeated notes, appoggiaturas, turns (which are to be executed rapidly), trills (which are a rapid oscillation of the larynx):

I urge students to seek the trill through the spontaneous trembling of the throat, and not through the progressive movement of the two notes.

Garcia then proceeds to give numerous exercises using two notes.6

Part I concludes with a summary discussion of agility and how to compose additional exercises.

In the edition of 1872, Garcia added a chapter describing the mechanism of the voice. The major difference, aside from editorial rearrangement of the order of materials and some clarification, is that sometime after the invention of the laryngoscope in 1855, he decided there were three registers in the voice instead of the two he formerly taught.

Part II is devoted to the application to performing of the mechanics discussed in Part I. Garcia beings by quoting Mémoire de l’Academie des sciences, sur la rapport qui existe entre la musique et la declamation, by Burja (Berlin, 1803):7

The clarity of articulation is, in singing, of the greatest importance. A singer who is not understood puts his listeners to torture, and destroys for them nearly all the effect of the music by obliging them to make continual efforts to grasp the meaning of the words.8


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


  1. The resultant closure of the glottis produces a “medial compression” in the vocal folds which is very like the correct way of starting the messa di voce in the old school, without the advantage that swelling the tone after the “attack” is an isometric exercise which strengthens the medial compression and develops the vocal sound.
  2. The presumption is that he is indicating Italian vowels despite writing in French. In which case the Translator’s note on p. 45 is incorrect in suggesting a sombre form of [a] which does not occur in Italian, and which is in direct conflict with Garcia’s instruction not to use the timbre oscure until later.
  3. In his earliest published document, Mémoire sur la voix humaine, presented to the French Academy of Sciences in 1840, Garcia still describes two registers. We don’t know at what point, or how, he arrived at the three register theory, which was articulated by Isaac Nathan in 1823, as we have seen, and in Galliard’s translation of Tosi in 1743. There were predecessors for the three register theory in Germany (Agricola), but not in Italy. Garcia never mentions the “fourth” or feigned voice which Nathan discusses. Either he did not know of it, or believed it was subsumed in the falsetto. In later years, chest, medium and head became preferred register terms. There is no physiological basis for more than two registers.
  4. A psychologist might suggest that all this advice almost guarantees the problems will be manufactured.
  5. This produces a muffled beginning and ending, as anyone who has mastered the true messa di voce knows.
  6. The exercises for the trill common to most methods prior to Garcia use two notes as well.
  7. Biographical research does not yield results on Burja.
  8. As we have amply demonstrated, this emphasis on articulation goes back much farther than 1803, and is found throughout the Italian literature.



3 thoughts on “Foreman’s Historical Perspectives: Garcia, Part II

  1. Great posts Justin. I have found his writings to be a bit confusing in my readings, but nonetheless useful information. It may be the beginning of the scientific era, but compared to the crap out there today it is far closer to the old italian school.

    Continually Isolatng the falsetto and blending it with chest has given me a lot of vocal colours (timbres). I suspect that is why he swapped dark timbre for the falsetto register and clear timbre for the chest. What I don’t get is this: if this is the beginning for the scientific age, why don’t teachers mix the falsetto and chest?

    Thanks again. I may not comment on every post but I do enjoy them all. It would be great if you did a post on transitional sounds (audio from students would be great).

  2. Also, what do you mean by “muffled” beginning and end of a message di voce? Like a (non leaking) falsetto sound?

    • Hi Steve! According to Foreman, “Garcia believed that the pharynx began the pianissimo “reduced to its smallest dimension, and it will dilate only in direct proportion to the intensity of the tone; then, in proportion to the weakening of the voice, it will return by degrees to its initial form.”

      I suppose that the understanding of a messa di voce is that the vowel (tube) shouldn’t alter its dimensions throughout the course of the tone. The characteristics as described would lead to a beginning and ending that would sound muddy because of the changing resonance adjustment as the messa di voce was executed. At least that is the inference I’m drawing from Foreman’s analysis.

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