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   Chapter 5 No.5

Chopin and Other Musical Essays By Henry Theophilus Finck Characters: 64627

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Why is it that most persons are more interested in vocal than in instrumental music? Obviously because, as Richard Wagner remarks, "the human voice is the oldest, the most genuine, and the most beautiful organ of music-the organ to which alone our music owes its existence." And not only is the sound or quality of the human voice more beautiful than that of any artificial instrument, but it is capable of greater variation. Although a good artist can produce various shades of tone on his instrument, yet every instrument has a well-defined characteristic timbre, which justifies us in speaking, for instance, of the majestic, solemn trombone, the serene flute, the amorous violoncello, the lugubrious bassoon, and so on. The human voice, on the other hand, is much less limited in its powers of tonal and emotional coloring. It is not dependent for its resonance on a rigid tube, like the flute, or an unchangeable sounding-board, like the violin or the piano, but on the cavity of the mouth, which can be enlarged and altered at will by the movements of the lower jaw, and the soft parts-the tongue and the glottis. These movements change the overtones, of which the vowels are made up, and hence it is that the human voice is capable of an infinite variety of tone-color, compared with which Wagner admits that even "the most manifold imaginable mixture of orchestral colors must appear insignificant."

Notwithstanding that the superiority of the voice is thus conceded, even by the greatest magician of the orchestra, we daily hear the complaint that the good old times of artistic singing are gone by, and have been superseded by an instrumental era, in which the voice merely plays the part of the second fiddle and is maltreated by composers, who do not understand its real nature. So far is this opinion from the truth that it must be said, contrariwise, that it is only within the last century-I might almost say the last half century-that composers have begun fully to recognize the true function of the human voice and its principal advantage over instruments.

What is this advantage? It is the power of articulating, of uniting poetry with music, definite words with indefinite tones. Every instrument, as I have just said, has a characteristic emotional tone-color. But the emotions expressed by them are vague and indefinite. A piece of instrumental music can express an eager, passionate yearning for something, but it cannot tell what that something is-whether it is the ardent longing of an absent lover, or the heavenward aspiration of a religious enthusiast. The vocalist, on the other hand, can clearly tell us the object of that longing by using definite words. And by thus arousing reminiscences in the hearer's mind, and adding the charm of poetry to that of music, he doubles the power and impressiveness of his art.

Now, a very brief sketch of the history of solo singing will show that this special advantage of the human voice over instruments was, if not entirely overlooked, at least considered of secondary importance in practice, until Gluck and Schubert laid the foundations for a new style, in which the distinctively vocal side of singing has gradually become of greater importance than the instrumental side; as we see in the music-dramas of Wagner, and the Lieder, or parlor-songs, of Schumann, Franz, Liszt, and others.

Although folk-song appears to be as old as the human race, the history of artistic song, or song written by professional composers for the concert hall, can be traced back only about three centuries. Before that time vocal music was generally polyphonic, that is, for several voices; and a contrapuntal style of music had been introduced into Italy from the Netherlands, which was so complicated and artificial that the poetic text had no chance whatever of asserting its rights and being understood. Now, the modern opera, which was originated about three hundred years ago by a number of Florentine amateurs, although it sprang from a desire to revive the ancient Greek drama, in which music was united with poetry, represents at the same time a reaction against this unintelligible Netherland style. The new opera at first went to the opposite extreme, making the distinct declamation of the text its principal object and neglecting vocal ornamentation, and even melody, on purpose. The famous vocalist and teacher, Caccini, although he taught his pupils how to sing trills and roulades, declared that they were not essential to good singing, but merely a means of tickling the ear, and, therefore, generally to be avoided. He taught the Italian singers how to express the passions, and reproduce the meaning of the words they sang-an art which, according to the Roman, Pietro della Valle, was not previously known to them.

The dry declamation of the first Italian operas, however, was not supported by a sufficiently rich accompaniment to be enjoyable after the first sense of novelty had passed away; and even the gifted Monteverde's ingenious innovations in instrumental coloring and in the free use of expressive discords, could not ward off a second reaction, in favor of song pure and simple, which set in with Scarlatti, the founder of the Neapolitan school, whose first opera was produced a little over two centuries ago. From this time dates the supremacy, in Italy, of the bel canto, or beautiful song, which, however, gradually degenerated into mere circus music in which every artistic aim was deliberately sacrificed to sensuous tone-revelry and agility of execution, the voice being treated as a mere instrument, without any regard for its higher prerogative of interpreting poetry and heightening its effects.

This period of Italian song prevailed throughout Europe until the time of Rossini. And in all the annals of music there is nothing quite so strange as the extraordinary craze which existed during this time for the instrumental style of vocalism. A special class of singers-the male sopranists-was artificially created, in order to secure the most dazzling results in brilliant, ornamental vocalization. Various kinds of trills, grace notes, runs, and other species of fioriture, or vocal somersaults, were introduced in every song, in such profusion that the song itself was at last barely recognizable; and this kind of stuff the audiences of that time applauded frantically. Everybody has heard of the vulgar circus tricks performed by the most famous of the sopranists, Farinelli-how at one time he beat a famous German trumpeter in prolonging and swelling his notes, and how, at another time, he began an aria softly, swelled it by imperceptible degrees to such an astounding volume, and then decreased it again in the same way to pianissimo, that the public wildly applauded him for five minutes. Thereupon, Dr. Burney relates, he began to sing with such amazing rapidity that the orchestra found it difficult to keep up with him. Dr. Dommer justly comments on this story that, for such racing with an orchestra, a singer would be hissed to-day by musical people.

It was not only quick and animated songs that were thus overloaded with meaningless embroideries by the sopranists and the prima donnas that followed them. Slow movements, which ought to breathe a spirit of melancholy, appear to have been especially selected as background for these vocal fireworks. I need not dwell on the unnaturalness of this style. To run up and down the scale wildly and persistently in singing a slow and sad song, is as consistent as it would be for an orator to grin and yodle while delivering a funeral oration.

A question might be raised as to how far the great Italian composers are responsible for this degradation of the vocal art to the level of the circus. The public, it might be argued, wanted the florid style of song; and if Rossini and Donizetti had refused to write in the style admired by them, they would have been neglected in favor of other and less gifted composers. I do not agree with this reasoning. Rossini and Donizetti have revealed enough genius in some of their sparkling melodies to make it probable that, if they had not so often stooped to the level of a taste corrupted by the sopranists, they might have raised the public to a higher standard of musical taste. Rossini, in fact, did introduce many reforms in Italian opera. He enriched the orchestral accompaniments, removed some of the superfluous arias, and for the first time wrote leading solo parts for the bass-an innovation for which he was violently attacked, on the ludicrous conservative ground that the bass could only be properly used as a basis of harmonies. But Rossini's greatest merit lies in this, that he refused to write for the sopranists, and would not even let them sing in those of his operas which were brought out under his own supervision. Furthermore, to prevent the singers from spoiling his melodies with their florid additions, "he supplied his own decorations, and made them so elaborate that the most skilled adorner would have found it difficult to add to them" (Edwards). For thus emancipating the composers from the tyranny of the singers Rossini deserves great credit, and still greater honor is due him for having shown, in his "William Tell," which he wrote for Paris, and in which he discarded the florid style, that when he did have a public which appreciated simplicity of style and dramatic propriety in music, his genius was equal to the occasion. It is a great pity that he did not write several more operas in the style of "William Tell," for it is the only one of his works which has preserved a portion of its former popularity in Paris and elsewhere, thanks to its regard for dramatic propriety.

Like the composers, the singing teachers in Italy consented to adapt their method to the universal clamor for decorative, florid singing. The audiences did not seem to care at all what was sung to them, as long as it was sung with sensuous beauty of tone, and facility of execution; consequently sensuous beauty of tone and facility of execution were almost the only things that the teachers aimed at. This is illustrated by an anecdote concerning the famous teacher Porpora and his pupil Caffarelli, which, although doubtless exaggerated, nevertheless describes the situation graphically. Porpora, it is related, gave Caffarelli a page of exercises to which he confined him for five years. And at the end of that time he exclaimed: "You have nothing more to learn! Caffarelli is the first singer in the world!"

As if facility of execution or technical skill were not the mere beginning of vocal culture-the fashioning of the instrument, as it were, with which the singer must subsequently learn the higher arts of expressing human emotions in tones, of phrasing intelligently, and of pronouncing distinctly, so that the poetic qualities of the text may be appreciated.

In looking over specimens of the vocal music written by Porpora and his contemporaries, we find passages in which a single syllable is extended over one hundred and fifty-eight, and even a hundred and seventy-five, notes. A more atrocious maltreatment of the text, and misconception of the true function of the human voice, could not be imagined. As Mr. H.C. Deacon remarks, "The passages in much of the music of that date, especially that of Porpora, are really instrumental passages ... and possessing but little interest beyond the surprise that their exact performance would create." People did not ask themselves whether it was worth while for singers to go through the most arduous training for five years, for the sake of learning to execute runs which any fiddler or flute-player could learn to play in a few weeks. Look at the fioriture which, to this day, Mme. Patti sings in "Lucia," "Semiramide," etc. She is the only living being who can sing them with absolute correctness and smoothness. Not another singer can do it-whereas every member of her orchestra can play them at sight. Does not this show, once and for all, that this style of singing (which still has numerous admirers) is instrumental, is unvocal, unsuited to the human voice, and should be abandoned forever? Rossini showed his real opinion of it by writing his best and most mature work in a different style; and Verdi has done the same in "Aida" and "Otello," in which there is hardly a trace of colorature, while the style often approaches to that of genuine dramatic song.

The colorature or florid style, however, is only one of the varieties of Italian song. Side by side with it there has always been a charming, melodious cantabile, which in the later period of Italian opera gradually got the ascendancy. This cantabile is often of exquisite beauty, and gives Italian and Italianized singers a chance to show off the mellow qualities of their voices to the best advantage. The very word cantabile emphasizes, by antithesis, the unvocal character of the old florid style. Fioritura means embroidery, while cantabile means "song-like." But now, note how the sins of one period are visited on the next. The evils of the florid style did not terminate with its supremacy. They cast a shadow before, which prevented the real nature of human song from being discovered even after the vocal style had become more simple and rational. During the period in which the vocalists were in the habit of singing from a dozen to a hundred or more notes to a single syllable of the text, they, as well as the public, had become so indifferent to the words and their poetic meaning, that this habit could not at once be altered when the cantabile style came more into vogue. The singers continued to be careless in regard to pronunciation of the words, and the opera libretti were so very silly that the public really did not care whether the singers spoke their words correctly and distinctly or not. Hence even the cantabile style of Italian song continued to be more or less instrumental in character-telling the audience little more about the text than the flute or the violins told them about it.

Mrs. Wodehouse, in her article on song in Grove's "Dictionary of Music and Musicians," calls attention to the injurious action of Italian opera on the English School by breeding indifference to the text. "From Handel's time until a very recent date," she says, "Italian operas and Italian songs reigned supreme in England; Italian singers and Italian teachers were masters of the situation to the exclusion of all others. And the habit thus contracted of hearing and admiring compositions in a foreign and unknown tongue, engendered in the English public a lamentable indifference to the words of songs, which reacted with evil effect both on the composer and the singer. Concerned only to please the ears of his audience, the composer neglected to wed his music to words of true poetic merit; and the singer quickly grew to be careless in his enunciation. Of how many singers, and even of good ones, may it not fairly be affirmed that at the end of the song the audience has failed to recognize its language?"

These remarks are quite as applicable to America as to England. We hear singers every week to whom we can listen attentively for five minutes without being able to tell what language they are singing in. Most of these singers were trained by the Italian method: And yet we are told every day that this Italian method, which has so little regard for the distinctively vocal side of singing, is the only true method for the voice. It is time to call a halt in this matter, time to ask if the Italian method is really the one best adapted for teaching pupils to sing in English. That it is the best and only method for singing in Italian, and for interpreting the style hitherto cultivated by the Italians, no one will deny. But whether it is the proper method for those who wish to sing in English, French, or German, and to devote themselves to the modern dramatic style, is quite another question, which must be, partly at least, answered in the negative.

A careful examination of the situation, leaving aside all national prejudice, will show us that each of the two principal methods, as exemplified by Italian and German singers, has its dark and its bright side, and that the cosmopolitan American style of the future ought to try to combine the advantages of both, while avoiding their shortcomings. The dark side of Italian singing has been sufficiently dwelt upon; let us now consider the bright side.

Italy owes much of her fame as the cradle of artistic song and "The Lord's own Conservatory," to climatic and linguistic advantages. Thanks to the mild climate, men and women can spend most of their time in the open air, and their voices are not liable to be ruined by constantly passing from a dry, overheated room into the raw and chilly air of the streets. The Italians are a plump race, with well-developed muscles, and their vocal chords share in the general muscular health and development; so that the average voice in Italy has a much wider compass than in most other countries; and an unctuous ease of execution is readily acquired. Their language, again, favors Italian singers quite as much as their climate. It abounds in the most sonorous of the vowels, while generally avoiding the difficult U, and the mixed vowels ? and ü, as well as the harsh consonants, which are almost always sacrificed to euphony. And where the language hesitates to make this sacrifice, the vocalists come to the rescue and facilitate matters by arbitrarily changing the difficult vowel or consonant into an easy one. In this they are encouraged by the teachers, who habitually neglect the less sonorous vowels and make their pupils sing all their exercises on the easy vowel A. No wonder, then, that the tones of an Italian singer commonly sound sweet: he makes them up of nothing but pure sugar. Characterization, dramatic effect, variety of emotional coloring, are all bartered away for sensuous beauty of tone; and hence the distinctive name for Italian singing-bel canto, or beautiful song-is very aptly chosen.

Now, sensuous beauty of tone is a most desirable thing in music. Wagner's music, e.g., owes much of its tonic charm to his fine instinct for sensuous orchestral coloring, and Chopin's works lose half their characteristic beauty if played on a poor piano, or by one who does not know how to use the pedal in such a way as to produce a continuous stream of rich saturated sound. Hence the Italians deserve full credit for the attention they bestow on sensuous beauty of tone, even if their means of securing it may not always be approved. Nor does this by any means exhaust the catalogue of Italian virtues. As a rule, Italian singers have a better ear for pitch, breathe more naturally, and execute more easily than German and French singers, whose guttural and nasal sounds they also avoid. The difference between the average Italian and German singers is well brought out by Dr. Hanslick, in speaking of the Italian performances which formerly used to alternate with the German operas in Vienna: "Most of our Italian guests," he says, "distinguish themselves by means of the thorough command they have over their voices, which in themselves are by no means imposing; our German members by powerful voices, which, however, owing to their insufficient training, do not produce half the effect they would if they had been subjected to the same amount of training. With the Italians great certainty and evenness throughout the r?le; with the Germans an unequal alternation of brilliant and mediocre moments, which seems partly accidental."

It is this element of accident and uncertainty that lowers the value of many German singers. Herr Niemann, for instance, has moments-and, indeed, whole evenings-when his voice, seemingly rejuvenated, not only rises to sublime heights of dramatic passion, but possesses rare sensuous beauty; while on other occasions the sound of his voice is almost unbearable. Niemann, of course, is fifty-eight years old, but many of the younger German singers too often have their bad quarter-hours; and even Lilli Lehmann-whom I would rather hear for my own pleasure than any other singer now on the stage-emits occasionally a disagreeable guttural sound. Nothing of the sort in Mme. Patti, whom Niemann no doubt is right in pronouncing the most perfect vocalist, not only of this period, but of all times. I, for my part, have never cared much for the bel canto as such, because it is so often wasted on trashy compositions. Yet, when I heard Mme. Patti for the first time in New York, I could not help indulging in the following rhapsody: "The ordinary epithets applicable to a voice, such as sweet, sympathetic, flexible, expressive, sound almost too commonplace to be applied to Patti's voice at its best, as it was when she sang the valse Ombra Leggiera from 'Dinora,' and 'Home, Sweet Home.' Her voice has a natural sensuous charm like a Cremona violin, which it is a pleasure to listen to, irrespective of what she happens to be singing. It is a pleasure, too, to hear under what perfect control she has it; how, without changing the quality of the sound, she passes from a high to a low note, from piano to forte, gradually or suddenly, and all without the least sense of effort. Indeed her notes are as spontaneous and natural as those of a nightingale; and this, combined with their natural sweetness and purity, constitutes their great charm." A few months later, when Patti gave one of her innumerable farewell performances, I was again forced to admit that she is the greatest of living lyric sopranos, but took the liberty to express my conviction that "the charm of her voice is almost as purely sensuous as the beauty of a dewdrop or a diamond reflecting the prismatic colors of sunlight."

Patti, in a word, is the incarnation of the Italian style. Her voice is flawless as regards beauty of tone, and spontaneity and agility of execution. Moreover, she avoids the small vices common to most Italian singers, such as taking liberties with the time and the sentiment of the piece for the sake of prolonging a trill or a loud final high note, and so on. At an early stage in her career she followed the custom of the time, and lavished such an abundance of uncalled-for scales and trills and arpeggios and staccatos on her melody, that even Rossini entered a sarcastic protest; but in her later years she has conscientiously followed the indications of the composers. At the same time, she has shown more and more anxiety to win laurels as a dramatic singer. But here the vocal style which she has exclusively cultivated has proved an insuperable obstacle. Although free from the smaller vices of the Italian school, she could not overcome the great and fatal shortcoming of that school-the maltreatment of the poetic text. She could not find the proper accents required in operas where the words of the text are as important as the melody itself; and she has failed therefore to give satisfaction even in such works as "Faust" and "A?da," which are intermediate between the old-fashioned opera and the music-drama proper. I have been often surprised to hear how Patti, so conscientious in other respects, slights her texts, obliterating consonants and altering vowels after the fashion of the Italian school. Having neglected to master the more vigorous vowels and expressive consonants, she cannot assert her art in dramatic works. Her voice, in short, is merely an instrument. "Bird-like" is an epithet commonly applied to it by admirers. Is this a compliment? A dubious one, in my opinion. The nightingale's voice is very sweet, no doubt, but it is no better than a flute. A bird cannot pronounce words and sing at the same time. The human voice alone can do that-can alone combine poetry and music, uniting the advantage of both in one effect.

On the other hand, have you ever heard anyone compare the voices of Lehmann, Materna, Sucher, or Malten to a bird's voice? Of course not; and the reason is obvious. The point of view is different. Although Lilli Lehmann's voice is almost as mellow in timbre as Patti's, and much richer and warmer, we never think of it as a bird-like or vague instrumental tone, but as a medium for the expression of definite dramatic emotion. And herein lies the chief difference between the Italian and the German schools. An Italian adores singing for its own sake, a German as a means of definite emotional expression.

Now, whether we look at nations or at individuals, we always find that simple beauty of tone and agility of execution in artistic singing are appreciated sooner than emotional expression and dramatic characterization. Hence it is that the Italian school came before the German school. Even in Germany, a few generations ago, the Italian school was so predominant that German composers of the first rank-Gluck, Weber, and Beethoven-found it difficult to assert their influence against it. In Vienna, during the season of 1823, the Rossini furore was so great that none but Rossini's operas were sung; and in Germany almost everyone of the three dozen big and little potentates supported his own Italian operatic company. To-day you look in vain through Germany or Austria for a single Italian company. The few Italian operas that have remained on the repertory are sung in German translations by German singers, and all of these operas together hardly have as many performances in a year as a single one of Wagner's.

Here is a revolution in taste which may well excite our astonishment, and arouse our curiosity as to how it was brought about. It was brought about by the courage and perseverance of a few composers who, instead of stooping down to the crude taste of the fioriture-loving public, elevated that taste until it was able to appreciate the poetic and dramatic side of music; and it was brought about with the assistance of German singers, notwithstanding the great disadvantages, climatic and linguistic, under which these labor in comparison with Italian singers.

Although the Germans are a more robust nation than the Italians, with more powerful muscles and voices, their climate is against them, leading to frequent throat troubles which endanger the beauty of the voice. Hence, the gift of mellow, supple song does not come to them so spontaneously as to the Italians. About a thousand years ago, an Italian compared the singing of some German monks to the noise made by a cart rattling down a frozen street; and even Luther compared the singing in cathedrals and monasteries at his time to the "braying of asses." At a more recent period, Frederick the Great, on hearing of the proposed engagement of a German singer, exclaimed: "What! hear a German singer! I should as soon expect to derive pleasure from the neighing of my horse!" Beethoven knew that the chief reason why he could not compete with Rossini on the stage was the lack of good German singers. He often lamented the inferiority of the German to the Italian singers, and one day exclaimed to the organist Freudenberg: "We Germans have no sufficiently cultivated singers for the part of Leonora; they are too cold and feelingless. The Italians sing and act with their whole souls." Nevertheless, Beethoven refused to adapt his music to the style of the Italian singers-fortunately; for, if he had, it would now be as obsolete as most of Rossini's and Donizetti's.

When Berlioz made his famous tour in Germany, matters had somewhat improved, to judge from the following remarks in his "à Travers Chants:" "They say that the Germans sing badly; that may seem true in general. I will not broach the question here, whether or not their language is the reason of it, and whether Mme. Sontag, Pischek, Tichatschek, Mlle. Lind, who is almost a German, and many others, do not form magnificent exceptions; but, upon the whole, German vocalists sing, and do not howl; the screaming school is not theirs; they make music." Nevertheless, about the same time, Liszt complained that a perfect training of the voice such as he admired in Viardot Garcia, had almost become a legend of the past; and only eight years ago, an excellent German critic, Martin Plüddemann, wrote that "Germany has many good orchestras and not a few excellent pianists, even among amateurs; but a city of 100,000 inhabitants seldom has ten vocalists whose voices are tolerable, and of these two or three at most deserve the name of artists."

When Richard Wagner made his preparation for the great Nibelung festival in 1876, he had the greatest difficulty in securing a sufficient number of competent interpreters for the different r?les of the trilogy, though he had all the German opera companies to choose from. His private letters and essays are full of lamentations regarding the rarity of singers able to interpret, not only his works, but those of Weber, Gluck, or Mozart. Good singers, he says in one place, are so rare that the managers have to pay their weight in gold and jewelry. But the cause of this, he continues, is not the lack of good voices, but their improper training in the wrong direction. German teachers have tried to adapt the voices of their pupils to the Italian canto, which is incompatible with the German language. "Hitherto," he says in another place, "the voice has been trained exclusively after the model of Italian songs; there was no other. But the character of Italian songs was determined by the general spirit of Italian music, which, in the time of its full bloom, was best exemplified by the sopranists, because the aim of this music was mere enjoyment of the senses, without any regard for genuine depth of feeling-as is also shown by the fact that the voice of young manhood, the tenor voice, was hardly used at all at this period, and later only in a sopranistic way, as falsetto. Now, the spirit of modern music, under the undisputed leadership of German genius, especially Beethoven, has succeeded in first rising to the true dignity of art, by bringing within the sphere of its incomparable expressiveness, not only what is agreeable to the senses, but also an energetic spirituality and emotional depth." Evidently, he concludes, a singer trained in the spirit of the old-fashioned, merely sensuous music, is unable to cope with modern dramatic music, and the result is the failure and premature collapse of so many promising singers, who might have become great artists had they been rationally instructed.

Misinformed or prejudiced critics have told us countless times that Wagner assigned the voice a secondary place in his works because he cared less for it than for the orchestra, and did not understand its nature and uses. The fact is that no one can read his essays, especially those on Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and on Actors and Vocalists, without being impressed with his unbounded admiration for the voice, and his practical knowledge of its highest functions and correct use. As a vocal teacher, Wagner has perhaps never had an equal. A few words from him regarding tone emission, breathing, or phrasing, have often sufficed to show to a singer that a passage which he had considered unsingable, was really the easiest thing in the world, if only the poetic sense were properly grasped and the breath economized. It is difficult to realize how much of their art and popularity the greatest dramatic singers of the period owe to Wagner's personal instruction. Materna, Malten, Brandt, Tichatschek, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Niemann, Vogl, Winkelmann, Betz, Scaria, Reichmann, and many others have had the benefit of his advice; and if Wagner could have carried out his plans of establishing a college of dramatic singing at Bayreuth-a plan which was frustrated by the lack of funds-the cause of dramatic art would have gained immeasurably. We speak with scornful contempt of the Viennese of a former generation, who allowed a rare genius like Schubert to starve; but posterity will look back with quite as great astonishment on the sluggishness of a generation which did not eagerly accept the offer of the greatest dramatic composer of all times, to instruct gratuitously a number of pupils in his own style and those of Gluck, Mozart,

and Weber.

Leaving out of consideration the instructions which they personally received from Wagner, the greatest dramatic singers of the time may be regarded as self-made men and women. Experience taught them their art, other teacher they had none; for it is only within a few years that a few teachers have begun to realize that the old methods of instruction are partly incorrect, and partly insufficient for the demands of contemporary art. Such teachers as Mme. Viardot-Garcia and Mme. Marchesi have done much good, and trained many excellent lyric vocalists; but Mme. Marchesi herself admits that the great demand to-day is for dramatic, and not for lyric, singers. Formerly, it was the bravura singer who bought dukedoms with his shekels; to-day, with the solitary exception of Patti, it is the dramatic soprano or tenor that gets from $500 to $1,000 a night. When will teachers and pupils wake up and recognize the new situation? When will American girls cease flocking by the hundreds to Milan to learn such r?les as Lucia or Amina, for which there is now no demand, either in Europe or America, if we except the wild Western audiences to which Emma Abbott caters. A good Elsa or Brünnhilde will get an engagement ten times sooner than a good Lucia; and young vocalists whose voices have not sufficient volume and power to cope with German dramatic music, will do well to devote their attention to the better class of French operas, for which there is a growing demand, as the French style has always been much more like the German than like the Italian, owing to the great attention paid by French composers, especially since the days of Gluck, to vigorous declamation and distinct enunciation. Wagner especially recommends the works of the older French schools as a preparation for his own more difficult operas.

Director Stanton, of the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York, is obliged every summer to make a trip to Germany and look about for dramatic singers wherewith to replenish his casts. As a number of American singers have already won fame here and abroad, the time no doubt will come when he will be able to find the dramatic singers he needs at home, and when opera in English will have supplanted foreign opera, so far as the language is concerned. But until that happy epoch arrives every aspirant to operatic honors cannot be too strongly urged to begin his or her studies by learning the French and German languages. Almost all the greatest singers of the century have been able not only to sing but to speak in several languages. Above all things, students of song should learn to speak their own language. Mr. H.C. Deacon remarks that "no nation in the civilized world speaks its language so abominably as the English.... Familiar conversation is carried on in inarticulate smudges of sound which are allowed to pass current for something, as worn-out shillings are accepted as representatives of twelvepence.... When English people begin to study singing, they are astonished to find that they have never learned to speak."

Mr. Deacon's strictures do not apply in all their force to Americans, for the average American speaks English more distinctly than the average Englishman; yet there is room for vast improvement in the enunciation of our singers. Now, the great value of the German style to English students lies in this, that it emphasizes above all things the importance of correct and distinct speech in song. Julius Hey, of Munich, who has just published a vocal method which will mark an epoch in the teaching of singing, devotes the whole of his first volume to an analysis of the elements of speech, and to exercises in speaking. The second and third volumes contain vocal exercises for male and female voices, while the fourth volume, which has just appeared, discusses the special characteristics of the German dramatic method, and gives detailed instructions for the development and training of each variety of voice, together with an appendix in which some of the most popular operatic r?les are analyzed and described. It is a book which no teacher or student who wishes to keep abreast of the times can afford to be without.

Although Herr Hey is a disciple of Wagner, he is a cosmopolitan admirer of all that is good in every style of the past and present. In the elaborate scheme for the establishment of a conservatory in Munich which Wagner submitted to King Ludwig, he dwells on the fact that every student of song, whatever his ultimate aims, should be instructed in Italian singing, in conjunction with the Italian language. Herr Hey, too, admits that there is no branch of the Italian method which the German teachers can afford to ignore. In the emission of a mellow tone, the use of the portamento, in the treatment of scales, of trills, and of other ornaments, and in facile vocalization in general, all nations can learn from the Italians. But the Italian method does not go far enough. It does not meet the demands of the modern opera and the modern music-drama. It delights too much in comfortable solfeggios, in linked sweetness long drawn out, which soon palls on the senses. The modern romantic and dramatic spirit demands more characteristic, more vigorous, more varied accents than Italian song supplies. These dramatic accents are supplied by the German method, and in this chiefly lies its superiority over the Italian method.

Herr Hey uses a very happy comparison in trying to show the bad consequences of relying too much on the Italian principles of vocal instruction which have been current until lately in Germany as in all other countries. Students, he says, are taught to fence with a little walking-cane, and when it comes to the decisive battle they are expected to wield a heavy sword. A most happy illustration this, I repeat, for it indicates exactly what vocal teachers of the old school are doing. They choose the easiest of the vowels and the easiest melodic intervals, and make the pupils exercise on those constantly, ignoring the more difficult ones; and the consequence is, that when, subsequently, the pupils are confronted with difficult intervals in a dramatic r?le, they sing them badly and make the ludicrous protest that the composer "doesn't know how to write for the voice;" and when they come across difficult vowels they either change them into easier ones, and thus make the text unintelligible, or else they emit a crude tone because they have never learned to sing a sonorous U, I, or E (Latin).

The German principle, on the other hand, is that all vowels (and the German language has a greater number of them than the Italian) must be cultivated equally, the difficult ones all the more because they are difficult. Herr Hey has found in practice that not only can the vowels which at first sound dull and hollow, like U, be made as sonorous as A (Ah), but that, by practising on U, the A itself is rendered more sonorous than it can ever become by exclusive practice on it alone. Not only does the German method in this way secure a greater variety of sonorous vowel sounds, useful for the expression of different dramatic moods, but the registers are equalized, and there is a great gain in the power and endurance of the voice, which is of immense importance to-day in grand opera.

Prof. Stockhausen, the distinguished vocal teacher, recently remarked in the Frankfurter Zeitung that "the mezza voce is the natural song, the constant loud singing being only a struggle with unequal weapons against our modern orchestra." No doubt he is right. But the orchestra has become such an important factor in modern opera that musicians would be unwilling to have it reduced in size-the tendency being, in fact, the other way; and at the same time opera is such an expensive luxury that it can only be made to pay in a very large theatre, which obliges the singers to have stentorian voices. Consequently, the German method, which develops the power and the sonority of the voice on every vowel, is the method of the future, all the more because the English language, which is the world language of the future, is even more difficult for vocal purposes than the German, and calls for similar treatment.

In the treatment of consonants, the German method marks a still greater advance on the Italian method. Professor Ehrlich thinks that the reason why Italians care so much for melody and so little for harmony is because they are too indolent to make the mental effort which is required to follow a complicated harmonic score. They are, certainly, too lazy to pronounce any harsh or difficult consonants, and the Italian language therefore presents a picture of sad effeminate degeneracy compared with the more vigorous Latin and even Spanish. Now the English language and the English character have much more of German vigor and masculine strength than of the Italian dolce far niente: hence, the English vocal style of the future will have to be modelled after the German style, which, instead of shirking difficult consonants boldly tackles and utilizes them. It will never be possible to sing so sweetly in the English and German languages as in Italian; but it is possible to sing with much more vigor, dramatic definiteness, and variety of emotional expression.

At the same time, the harshness of the consonants in German and English song must not be too much emphasized. Wagner has shown in his music-dramas, and Hey in his vocal method, that by means of a proper division of syllables and correct articulation, the harshness of consonants can be toned down as much as is desirable. On the desirability and effectiveness of strong consonants Liszt has some admirable remarks in speaking of the Polish language, which is noted for its melodious beauty, although it bristles with consonants: "The harshness of a language," he says, "is by no means always conditioned by the excessive number of consonants, but rather by the way in which they are united; one might almost say that the weak, cold color of some languages is due to the lack of characteristic and strongly accented sounds. It is only an unharmonious combination of dissimilar consonants that offends a refined ear. The frequent return of certain well-united consonants gives shading, rhythm, and vigor to language; whereas the predominance of vowels produces a certain pallor in the coloration, which needs the contrast of darker tints."

Those who are always ready to insist on the superiority of the Italian language for song, would do well to ponder these remarks of Liszt, who knew what he was talking about, as he spoke a number of modern languages fluently. And when they have done that, they should procure a few of Wagner's later vocal scores and note the extremely ingenious manner in which he has made the peculiarities of German consonants subservient to his dramatic purposes. I refer especially to his use of alliteration-the repetition of a consonant in the same or in consecutive lines. This not only insures a smooth, melodious flow, but enables the composer to heighten the effect of any situation by choosing consonants that harmonize with it. What, for instance, could be more delightfully descriptive than the words sung by the three Rhine daughters as they merrily swim and gambol under the water in "Rheingold:"

"Weia! Waga!

Woge, du Welle,

Walle zur Wiege!


Wallala, weiala, weia!"

One need only look at this, without understanding the language, to feel the rhythmic motion of the water, and imagine the song of the merry maidens. Again, in the famous love duo in the "Walküre," note the repetition of the liquid consonants, the l's and m's, which give the sound such a soft and sentimental background. Does it not seem incredible that the Italian operatic composers should have ignored such poetic means of deepening the emotional color of their songs?

But this is by no means all. In the same scene in "Rheingold" to which reference has just been made, the ugly Nibelung Alberich appears presently and tries to catch one of the lovely maidens. But they elude his grasp and he angrily complains that he slips and slides on the slimy soil. Note the slippery character of these sounds:

"Garstig glatter

Glitschriger Glimmer!

Wie Gleit ich aus!

Mit H?nden und Füssen

Nicht fasse noch halt'ich

Das schlecke Geschlüpfer."

There is a real Volapük for you-a world language which all can understand, for it is onomatopoetic realism.

Of course it is not "beautiful;" but is that a reasonable objection? What would you say to an artist who painted dramatic battle-scenes, but made all the soldiers' faces as pretty as he could and adorned with sweet smiles? That is precisely what the Italian opera composers have done in stage music; and it is because Wagner taught the singer to express not only sweet sentiments but all dramatic emotions, whether harsh or agreeable, that his new style marks an epoch in the evolution of the art of singing. At the same time, even these harsher passages in Wagner's vocal music are not really ugly, that is, disagreeable to the ear, when properly sung. Just as a homely face becomes attractive when it expresses a vivid emotion, so the harshest vocal measures in the realistic music-drama become a source of enjoyment if they are sung with expression.

Unfortunately, there are only a few artists as yet who have sufficiently caught Wagner's intentions to be able to sing in this manner. Carl Hill, who created the part of the magician Klingsor at the Parsifal Festival, in 1882, was one of these exceptions. He reflected the spirit of the gruesome text assigned to him so admirably that Wagner was delighted; but afterward he complained that Hill's fine impersonation was not so widely appreciated as it deserved to be; and why? Apparently, because Klingsor's melodic intervals were not pleasing, nor his sentiments sympathetic.

We must conclude from this that, in regard to dramatic singing, many opera-goers are still a good deal like the honest Scotchman who, on his first visit to a theatre, climbed on the stage and administered the villain of the play a sound thrashing; or, like the Bowery audiences, which applaud the good man in the play, no matter how badly he acts, and hiss the villain, though he be a second Salvini.

Until operatic audiences begin to understand that singing is commendable in proportion as it gives realistic expression, not only to sweet and pleasing moods, but to various kinds of dramatic emotion, the full grandeur and value of Wagner's vocal style cannot be appreciated. A real epicure does not care to eat cakes and candy all the time; he loves olives and caviare too. These may be acquired tastes, but all taste for high art is acquired. And the time is, apparently, not very distant when Wagner's realistic vocal style will no longer be caviare even to the public at large, but will be more enjoyed-even when it gives expression to emotions of anger, jealousy, and revenge-than the cloying, sugar-coated melodies of Bellini and Rossini, or those meaningless embroideries which even some of the best of the older Italians (Tosi, for example) regarded as the most beautiful part of song.

The great enthusiasm frequently shown at performances of Wagner's operas in other countries as well as in Germany, seems to argue that the public at large has already entered into the real spirit and meaning of the Wagnerian style of singing. But numerous experiences lead me to believe the contrary. Allow me to quote, for example, an extract from one of those letters, abusive or censorious, which musical editors receive almost daily. "Is it not undeniable," writes a correspondent, "that as long as the world lasts, one of its greatest delights will consist in listening to the music furnished by the human voice? The more highly cultivated, pure, sweet, and flexible the voice, the more the enjoyment derived. And is it not equally true that Wagner's style of music discourages singing of this sort, or, in fact, singing of any sort? Are not the principal features of Wagner's operas the orchestra, acting, and general mise-en-scène, and does not singing, pure and simple, have but little part in it?"

If the writer of these questions had asked them in Wagner's presence I believe that Wagner would have jumped up and boxed his ears. Nothing so irritated him as this notion that the singing in his operas is subordinate to the orchestra, or, in other words, that he puts the statue in the orchestra and the pedestal on the stage. As early as 1850, he complained to Liszt about his friend Dingelstedt, who, in his article on the first performance of "Lohengrin," had expressed a similar opinion. And many years later, in writing of Schnorr von Carolsfeld's wonderful impersonation of Tristan, he begs the reader to note that the last act of this work contains "an exuberance of orchestral devices, such as no simple instrumental composer has ever had occasion to call into use. Then assure yourself," he continues, "that this complete gigantic orchestra, considered from an operatic point of view, is, after all, only related as accompaniment to the 'solo' part represented by the monologue of the vocalist, who lies on his couch; and infer from this the significance of Schnorr's impersonation, if I call to witness every conscientious spectator at those Munich performances, that, from the first bar to the last, the attention and interest of all was centred on the vocalist actor, was chained to him, and never allowed a single word of the text to escape through a momentary absence of mind; and that the orchestra, as compared with the singer, completely disappeared, or, more correctly speaking, seemed to be a constituent part of his song."

I have never had the privilege of hearing Schnorr, but I heard Scaria repeatedly at Bayreuth and Vienna, and he always impressed on me, in the manner here described by Wagner, the supreme importance of the vocal part in his scores. Not a word of the text was lost, and in the most difficult intervals his voice was always beautifully and smoothly modulated. He enabled me to realize for the first time, the truth of what Wagner said regarding his vocal style, in the following words: "In my operas there is no difference between phrases that are 'declaimed' and 'sung,' but my declamation is at the same time song, and my song declamation." Scaria's method also afforded an eloquent illustration of the wonderful manner in which, in Wagner's vocal style, the melodic accent always falls on the proper rhetorical accent of each word of the text, which is one of the secrets of clear enunciation. He emphasized important syllables by dwelling on them, thus producing that dramatic rubato which Wagner considered of such great importance in his operas that, when he brought out "Tannh?user" in Dresden, he actually had the words of the text copied into the parts of all the orchestral players, in order that they might be able to follow these poetic licenses in the dramatic phrasing of the singer. This dramatic rubato is, of course, a very different thing from the freedom which Italian singers often allow themselves on favorable high notes, which they prolong, not in order to emphasize an emotion but to show off the beauty and sustaining power of their voices.

Scaria, unfortunately, was never heard in opera in this country. But we have had Materna and Niemann and Brandt and Fischer, and Alvary and Lehmann, who have given us correct ideas of the German vocal style. Surely no one can say, on listening to Lehmann's Brünnhilde, or Fischer's Hans Sachs, or Alvary's Siegfried, that the vocal part is inferior in beauty or importance to the orchestral. When Alvary sang Siegfried for the first time in New York, he presented a creditable but uneven impersonation, not having sufficiently mastered the details of the acting to feel quite at ease, and not being able to husband his vocal resources for the grand duo at the close. But at the end of the season, at the eleventh performance, he had become a full-fledged Siegfried, acting the part as by instinct, while his voice was as fresh at the close of the opera as at the beginning: thus affording a striking proof of Wagner's assertion, that the greatest vocal difficulties of his r?les can be readily mastered if the singer will only take the pains to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the text and the dramatic situations. Alvary spent a whole year in learning this r?le, availing himself of the hints given him by Herr Seidl, who has the Wagnerian traditions by heart; and to-day he might, if he felt so inclined, amass wealth and win honor by travelling about Europe and singing nothing but this one r?le. Vienna and Brussels made strenuous efforts to entice him away from New York after his great success as Siegfried.

This success is the more gratifying and encouraging because, previously, he had been only a second-rate singer. It was his conscientious and prolonged study of the German vocal style that enabled him to win his present lucrative and honorable position. If there were a few more young singers like him the operatic problem might be considered solved, for it is the rarity of well-trained singers that causes all the financial embarrassment in our opera-houses. They are so scarce, that as soon as one is discovered he is hurried on the stage, after a year's hasty preparation, and if his untrained voice soon gives out-as it must under the circumstances-the blame is laid on Wagner's shoulders. But, as Mme. Lucca remarks, "neither Wagner nor any other composer spoils the voice of any one who knows how to sing." She thinks that at least six years of faithful study are necessary to develop the voice in accordance with artistic principles. Herr Hey is somewhat more lenient, three years of thorough training sufficing, in his opinion, as a preparation for the stage. Much, of course, depends on individuals, and the number of hours given to study every day. In the old Italian vocal schools, two centuries ago, the pupils were kept busy six or eight hours a day, devoting one hour to difficult passages, another to trills and to accuracy of intonation, others to expression, to counterpoint, composition and accompaniment, etc. They often practised before a mirror in order to study the position of the soft parts in the mouth, and to avoid grimaces; and sometimes they sang at places where there was a good echo, so as to hear their own faults, as if some one else were singing. Yet, as we have seen, the main stress was laid on agility of technical execution, whereas the modern German method, without in the least neglecting technique, calls upon pupils to devote more attention to the principles of soulful expression and dramatic accentuation. A singer who wishes to appear to advantage as Euryanthe or Lohengrin or Tristan must not only be entirely familiar with his own vocal parts but he ought to be as familiar with the orchestral score as the conductor himself: for, only then, can he acquire that ease which is necessary for producing a deep impression. As he has not the conductor's advantage of looking on the printed score while singing, he must therefore have an excellent memory. As Dr. Hanslick remarks, "the artists who sing 'Tristan and Isolde' by heart, if they do nothing more than sing the notes correctly, deserve our most sincere admiration. That they can do to-day what seemed almost impossible twenty years ago is indeed Wagner's achievement, an achievement which has hardly been noted hitherto." Let me add that in modern German music, everything is difficult to the singer-the consonants of the language, the unusual intervals and accents, the necessity of being actor and singer at the same time, etc. Hence we ought to be charitable and condone an occasional slip. But the average opera-goer in this country is anything but charitable. If one of these dramatic singers, thus hampered by difficulties, makes the slightest lapse from tonal beauty (which may be even called for) he is judged as unmercifully as if he were a representative of the bel canto, whose art consists in a mere voice without emotion-vox et pr?terea nihil. This is as unfair as it is to judge Wagner's dramas by the music alone, and is, indeed a consequence of this attitude.

It has been too much the habit in America and in England to sneer at German singers; and it is customary if a German singer has a good mellow voice to attribute that to his Italian method, while his shortcomings are ascribed to the German method. This, again, is as absurd as it is unjust; for, as I have endeavored to show, the real German method, by insisting on an equal treatment of all the vowels, develops a richer and more sonorous voice than the Italian method; and, indeed, the reason why powerful dramatic voices are so rare among Italians, is because of their one-sided preference, in their exercises, for the easiest vowels.

When Mendelssohn travelled in Italy he noted that there were very few good singers at the opera-houses, and that one had to go to London and Paris to find them. To-day few of them can be found even in London and Paris; and, indeed, I could easily show, by giving lists of the famous singers of the past and present, that the Italians constitute a small minority as compared with the German, French, and Scandinavian singers of the first rank. The custom so long followed by singers of all nationalities of adopting Italian stage names has confused the public on the subject. And, finally, I could name a dozen German singers who have won first-class honors in Italian opera; but where is there an Italian Tannh?user or Brünnhilde or Wotan? All honor, therefore, to the versatility of German singers, who, like Lilli Lehmann, for instance, can sing Norma and Isolde equally well.

And still more honor to the German composers who have restored the true function of song. Everybody knows that in the popular songs, or folk songs, of all nations, including the Italian, the words are quite as important as the melody. It was only in the artificial songs of the Netherland school and the Italian opera composers that the voice was degraded to the function of a mere inarticulate instrument; and it remained for Wagner, following the precedence of Gluck, to restore it to its rank as the inseparable companion of poetry. And what led him to do this was not abstract reflection but artistic instinct and experience. He does not even claim the honor of having originated the true vocal style, but confesses with pride that it was a woman, Frau Schroeder-Devrient, who first revealed to him the highest possibilities of dramatic singing, and he boasts that he was the only one that learned this lesson of the great German singer, and developed the hints regarding the correct vocal style unconsciously given by her.

It must not be forgotten, however, that side by side with the music-drama and partly preceding it, another form of vocal music grew up in Germany, which in a very similar manner restored the voice to its true sphere as the wedded wife of poetry. I refer, of course, to the Lied, or parlor song, to which, indeed, I might have devoted this whole essay, quite as well as to the music-drama, if there were anything in Italian music that might have been compared to the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Brahms, Liszt, Rubinstein, etc.

As Sir George Grove poetically puts it, in Schubert's songs "the music changes with the words as a landscape does when the sun and clouds pass over it. And in this Schubert has anticipated Wagner, since the words in which he writes are as much the absolute basis of his songs as Wagner's librettos are of his operas." Liszt, too, notes somewhere that Schubert doubtless exerted an indirect influence on the development of the opera by means of the dramatic realism which characterizes the melody and accompaniment of his parlor songs (such as the "Erl King," the "Doppelg?nger," etc.)-a realism which becomes still more pronounced in Schumann, Franz, and Liszt, in whose songs every word of the poem colors its bar of music with its special emotional tint, instead of merely serving, as in the old bel canto, as an artificial and meaningless scaffolding for the construction and execution of a melody.

This parallel evolution of the parlor song and the music-drama cannot be too strongly emphasized: for the same tendency being followed by so many of the greatest geniuses (some of whom are not Germans) affords cumulative evidence of the fact that the German style (which, as I have explained, includes all that is valuable in the Italian method) is the true vocal style, the style of the future, the style which cosmopolitan American art will have to adopt. I have been told that since the revival of German opera in New York, the Italian teachers in the city have lost many of their pupils. Obviously, if they wish to regain them they will have to adopt the best features of the German method, just as the Germans have adopted all that is good in the Italian method. It cannot be denied that the pupils turned out by the average vocal teachers are quite unable to sing a Franz or even a Schubert song correctly and with proper emotional expression. Now, it is evident, as Ehlert says, that "that art of singing which abides with the bel canto and is unable to sing Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann, has not attained to the height of their period. It becomes its task to adapt itself to these new circumstances, to renounce the comfortable solfeggios and acquire the poetic expression that they accept."

The famous tenor Vogl, a contemporary of Schubert, wrote in his diary the following significant words: "Nothing shows so plainly the want of a good school of singing as Schubert's songs. Otherwise, what an enormous and universal effect must have been produced throughout the world, wherever the German language is understood, by these truly divine inspirations, these utterances of a musical clairvoyance! How many would have comprehended, probably for the first time, the meaning of such expressions as 'Speech and Poetry in Music,' 'Words in Harmony,' 'ideas clothed in music,' etc., and would have learned that the finest poems of our greatest poets may be enhanced and even transcended when translated into musical language." It is humiliating to be obliged to confess that good schools of singing, the absence of which Vogl deplored, are still lamentably rare, although he himself, by his example, did much to develop the correct method. We have just seen how Wagner obtained valuable hints from Schroeder-Devrient. Similarly, we find that Schubert learned from his friend Vogl, who alone at first could sing his songs properly, and by showing that they could be sung encouraged Schubert in developing his original style.

It seems to me that these facts ought to be extremely gratifying and encouraging to students of vocal music, because they refute the notion that vocalists can only be interpretative and not creative, and their fame and influence, therefore, merely ephemeral. On the contrary, they can, like Vogl and Schroeder-Devrient, even aspire to guide composers and help to mark out new paths in art: which surely, ought to be more gratifying to their pride than the cheap applause which the sopranists and prima donnas of the bel canto period used to receive for the meaningless colorature arias which they compelled the enslaved composers to write, or manufactured for themselves. And there is another way in which singers of the new style can become creative. Chopin speaks in one of his letters of a violoncellist who played a certain poor piece so remarkably well that it actually appeared to be good music. Similarly, a good vocalist (like Fr?ulein Brandt, for instance, who is very clever in this respect) can put so much art and feeling into the weaker parts and episodes of songs and operas as to make them entertaining where they are naturally tiresome. When we bear in mind these high possibilities of singing, we must admit that there is no nobler profession than that of a conscientious vocalist-a profession without which some of the deepest feelings that stir the human soul would remain unknown to the world.

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