Style in Singing
by W. E. Haslam
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Copyright, 1911 By G. SCHIRMER



"Of making many books there is no end." Surely, the weary observation of the sage must have an especial application to the literature of Song.

One could not number the books—anatomical, physiological, philosophical—on the Voice. A spacious library could easily be furnished with "Methods" of Singing.

Works treating of the laws governing the effective interpretation of instrumental music exist. Some of them, by acknowledged and competent authorities, have thrown valuable light on a most important element of musical art. Had I not believed that a similar need existed in connection with singing, this addition to vocal literature would not have been written.

In a succeeding volume on "Lyric Declamation: Recitative, Song and Ballad Singing," will be discussed the practical application of these basic principles of Style to the vocal music of the German, French, Italian and other national schools.


2, rue Maleville, Parc Monceau, Paris, July, 1911.


In listening to a Patti, a Kubelik, a Paderewski, the reflective hearer is struck by the absolute sureness with which such artists arouse certain sensations in their auditors. Moreover, subsequent hearings will reveal the fact that this sensation is aroused always in the same place, and in the same manner. The beauty of the voice may be temporarily affected in the case of a singer, or an instrument of less aesthetic tone-quality be used by the instrumentalist, but the result is always the same.

What is the reason of this? Why do great artists always make the same effect and produce the same impression on their public? Why, for instance, did the late Mme. Tietjens, when singing the following passage in Handel's Messiah, always begin with very little voice of a dulled quality, and gradually brighten its character as well as augment its volume until she reached the high G-[sharp] which is the culmination, not only of the musical phrase, but also of the tremendous announcement to which it is allied?

[Music: For now is Christ risen, for now is Christ risen.]

This last tone was delivered with the full force and brilliance of her magnificent voice, and was prolonged until the thrill produced in the listener became almost painful in its intensity. Again I ask, why did this world-famous singer perform this passage always in the same way? Unreflecting people may reply vaguely that it was because the artist "sang with expression." But what constitutes "expression" in singing? No great artist—no matter what the vehicle or medium through which his art finds manifestation—does anything at random. "The wind bloweth where it listeth" only in appearance; in reality, it is governed by immutable law. Similarly, the outward form of an art is only apparently dictated by caprice and freedom from rule. The effective presentation of every art is based on well-defined and accepted principles. And it is with the earnest desire to throw light on this most important phase of vocal art, that I present the principles of "Style in Singing."





CHAPTER I: Elements of Vocal Training 1

Emission of Voice 2

CHAPTER II: The Value of Technique 7

CHAPTER III: Analysis of Style 12

Colour 14

Accent 21

Intensity 27

Phrasing 32

Portamento 37

Variations of Tempo 41

CHAPTER IV: Tradition 44

Pointage 61

CHAPTER V: Repertoire 91

CHAPTER VI: Conclusion 98




If the practical education of the singer be analyzed, it will be found to comprise four fundamental elements:

(1) POSE: or Emission of voice;

(2) TECHNIQUE: or the discipline of the voice considered as a musical instrument;

(3) STYLE: or the application of the laws of artistic taste to the interpretation of vocal music;

(4) REPERTOIRE: or the choice, in the literature of vocal music, of works most suited to the voice, temperament and individuality of the particular singer.

I have classed these four elements in their relative order. They are, however, of equal importance. Until the Pose and Technique of a voice are satisfactory, attempts to acquire Style are premature. On the other hand, without Style, a well-placed voice and an adequate amount of Technique are incomplete; and until the singer's education has been rounded off with a Repertoire adapted to his individual capabilities, he is of little practical use for professional purposes.

* * * * *


Great natural gifts of temperament and originality may, and sometimes do, mask defects of emission, particularly in the case of artists following the operatic career. But the artistic life and success of such a singer is short. Violated Nature rebels, and avenges herself for all infractions of law. A voice that is badly produced or emitted speedily becomes worn, and is easily fatigued. By an additional exertion of physical force, the singer usually attempts to conceal its loss of sonority and carrying-power. The consequences are disastrous for the entire instrument. The medium—to which is assigned the greater portion of every singer's work—becomes "breathy" and hollow, the lower tones guttural, the higher tones shrill, and the voice, throughout its entire compass, harsh and unmanageable.

In view of its supreme importance, it is scarcely necessary to dwell upon the self-evident fact that this foundation—Emission, or Placing of the voice—should be well laid under the guidance of a skilled and experienced singing-teacher. Nothing but disappointment can ensue if a task of such consequence be confided, as is too frequently the case, to one of the numerous charlatans who, as Oscar Commettant said, "are not able to achieve possibilities, so they promise miracles." The proper Classification, and subsequent Placing, of a voice require the greatest tact and discernment. True, there are voices so well-defined in character as to occasion no possible error in their proper Classification at the beginning of their studies. But this is not the case with a number of others, particularly those known as voices of mezzo-carattere (demi-caractere). It requires a physician of great skill and experience to diagnose an obscure malady; but when once a correct diagnosis is made, many doctors of less eminence might successfully treat the malady, seeing that the recognized pharmacopoeia contains no secret remedies.

Let the student of singing beware of the numerous impostors who claim to have a "Method," a sort of bed of Procrustes, which the victim, whether long or short, is made to fit. A "method" must be adapted to the subject, not the subject made to fit the method. The object of all teaching is the same, viz., to impart knowledge; but the means of arriving at that end are multiple, and the manner of communicating instruction is very often personal. To imagine that the same mode of procedure, or "method," is applicable to all voices, is as unreasonable as to expect that the same medicament will apply to all maladies. In imparting a correct emission of voice, science has not infrequently to efface the results of a previous defective use, inherent or acquired, of the vocal organ. Hence, although the object to be attained is in every case the same, the modus operandi will vary infinitely. Nor should these most important branches of Classification and Production be entrusted—as is often the case—to assistants, usually accompanists, lacking the necessary training for a work requiring great experience and ripe judgment. To a competent assistant may very properly be confided the preparation of Technique, as applied to a mechanical instrument: All violins, for instance, are practically the same. But voices differ as do faces.

The present mania for dragging voices up, and out of their legitimate tessitura, has become a very grave evil, the consequences of which, in many instances, have been most disastrous. Tolerable baritones have been transformed into very mediocre tenors, capable mezzo-soprani into very indifferent dramatic soprani, and so on. That this process may have answered in a few isolated cases, where the vocal organs were of such exceptional strength and resistance as to bear the strain, is by no means a guarantee that the same results may be obtained in every instance, and with less favoured subjects. The average compass in male voices is about two octaves minus one or two tones. I mean, of course, tones that are really available when the singer is on the stage and accompanied by an orchestra. Now, a baritone who strives to transform his voice into a tenor, simply loses the two lowest tones of his compass, possibly of good quality and resonance, and gains a minor or major third above the high G (sol) of a very poor, strained character. The compass of the voice remains exactly the same. He has merely exchanged several excellent tones below for some very poor ones above. I repeat, one who aspires to be a lyric artist requires the best possible teacher to guide his first steps; he may consult an inferior or incompetent professor, when so firmly established in the right path that he cannot possibly be led astray.

It is a common belief that singing-teachers of reputation do not care to occupy themselves with voice-production, or are unable to teach it. This is a serious error. A competent professor of singing is as capable of imparting the principles of this most important branch, as of directing the more aesthetic studies of Style and Repertoire. All the really great and illustrious singing-masters of the past preferred to "form" the voices of their pupils. To continue and finish a predecessor's work, or to erect a handsome and solid structure on defective foundations, is always a difficult task; sometimes an impossible one.

Then, as regards the pupil, particularly one studying with a view to a professional career, a defective preparatory training may eventually mean serious material loss. The money and time spent on his vocal education is, in his case, an investment, not an outlay; the investment will be a poor one, should it be necessary later to devote further time and expend more money to correct natural defects that ought to have been corrected at the beginning of his studies, or to eradicate faults acquired during their progress.

Furthermore, the purpose of some part of a singer's preliminary education is to strengthen and fit the voice for the exacting demands of a professional career. As the training of an athlete—rower, runner, boxer, wrestler—not only perfects his technical skill, but also, by a process of gradual development, enables him to endure the exceptional strain he will eventually have to bear in a contest, so some of a singer's early studies prepare his voice for the tax to which hereafter it will be subjected. If those studies have been insufficient, or ill-directed, failure awaits the debutant when he presents himself before the public in a spacious theatre or concert-hall and strives, ineffectually, to dominate the powerful sonorities of the large orchestras which are a necessity for modern scores. A sound and judiciously graduated preparatory training, in fact, is essential if the singer would avoid disappointment or a fiasco.

The vocal education of many students, however, is nowadays hurried through with a haste that is equalled only by the celerity with which such aspirants for lyric honours return to obscurity.



Briefly defined, the singer's Technique may be said to consist principally of the ability to govern the voice in its three phases of Pitch, Colour, and Intensity. That is, he must be able to sing every note throughout the compass of the voice (Pitch) in different qualities or timbres (Colour), and with various degrees of power (Intensity). And although the modern schools of composition for the voice do not encourage the display of florid execution, a singer would be ill-advised indeed to neglect this factor, on the plea that it has no longer any practical application. No greater error is conceivable. Should an instrumental virtuoso fail to acquire mastery of transcendental difficulties, his performance of any piece would not be perfect: the greater includes the less. A singer would be very short-sighted who did not adopt an analogous line of reasoning. Without an appreciable amount of agilita, the performance of modern music is laboured and heavy; that of the classics, impossible. In fact, virtuosity, if properly understood, is as indispensable to-day as ever it was. As much vocal virtuosity is required to interpret successfully the music of Falstaff, in Verdi's opera, as is necessary for Maometto Secondo or Semiramide by Rossini. It is simply another form of virtuosity; that is all. The lyric grace or dramatic intensity of many pages of Wagner's music-dramas can be fully revealed only through a voice that has been rendered supple by training, and responsive to the slightest suggestion of an artistic temperament.

In short, virtuosity may have changed in form, but it is still one of the cornerstones of the singer's art. An executive artist will spare no pains to acquire perfect technical skill; for the metier, or mechanical elements of any art, can be acquired, spontaneous though the results may sometimes appear. Its primary use is, and should be, to serve as a medium of interpretation. True, virtuosity is frequently a vehicle for personal display, as, notably, in the operas of Cimarosa, Bellini, Donizetti, and the earlier works of Rossini and Verdi. At its worst, however, it is a practical demonstration of the fact that the executant, vocal or instrumental, has completely mastered the mechanical elements of his profession; that, to use the argot of the studios, "il connait son metier" (he knows his trade).

Imperfect technique, indeed, is to be deprecated, if merely for the reason that it may debar a singer from interpreting accurately the composer's ideas. How seldom, if ever, even in the best lyric theatres, is the following passage heard as the composer himself indicated:

[Music: "Plus blanche"

Les Huguenots: Act I


Plus pure, plus pure qu'un jour de printemps]

or the concluding phrase of "Celeste Aida" (in Aida, Act I), as Verdi wrote it and wished it to be sung:

[Music: un trono vicino al sol, un trono vicino al sol.]

At present the majority of operatic tenors, to whom are assigned the strong tenor (fort tenor) roles, can sing the higher tones of their compass only in forte, and with full voice. Thus an additional and very charming effect is lost to them. Yet Adolphe Nourrit, who created the role of Raoul in Les Huguenots, sang, it is said, the phrase as written. The late Italo Campanini, Sims Reeves, and the famous Spanish tenor Gayarre, were all able to sing the


mezza voce, by a skilled use of the covered tones.

I do not ignore the fact that cases occur where artists, owing to some physiological peculiarity or personal idiosyncrasy, are unable to overcome certain special difficulties; where, indeed, the effort would produce but meagre results. But such instances are the exception, not the rule. The lyric artist who is gifted merely with a beautiful voice, over which he has acquired but imperfect control, is at the mercy of every slight indisposition that may temporarily affect the quality and sonority of his instrument. But he who is a "singer" in the real and artistic sense of the word, he who has acquired skill in the use of the voice, is armed at all points against such accidents. By his art, by clever devices of varied tone-colour and degrees of intensity, he can so screen the momentary loss of brilliance, etc., as to conceal that fact from his auditors, who imagine him to be in the possession of his normal physical powers. The technical or mechanical part of any art can be taught and learned, as I have said. It is only a case of well-guided effort. Patience and unceasing perseverance will in this, as in all other matters, achieve the desired result. Nature gives only the ability and aptitude to acquire; it is persistent study which enables their possessor to arrive at perfection. Serious and lasting results are obtained only by constant practice. It is a curious fact that many people more than usually gifted arrive only at mediocrity. Certain things, such as the trill or scales, come naturally easy to them. This being the case, they neglect to perfect their agilita, which remains defective. Others, although but moderately endowed, have arrived at eminence by sheer persistence and rightly directed study. It is simply a musical version of the Hare and the Tortoise.

* * * * *

But we must make a great distinction between the preliminary exercises which put the singer in full possession of the purely mechanical branch of his art (Technique), and the aesthetic studies in Taste and the research for what dramatic authors call "the Science of Effect," or Style. The former must be thoroughly accomplished, otherwise the latter cannot be undertaken satisfactorily. A good and reliable technique is undoubtedly of primary necessity. But it is by no means all. One may have a voice which is well-posed and of good resonance, and also have sufficient flexibility to perform neatly all the rapid passages with which the pages of the classic composers abound. But this is not singing; nor is the possessor of these an artist. He has simply the necessary and preliminary knowledge which should enable him to become one, by further study of the aesthetic side of the art of singing. He has, as it were, collected the materials necessary for the erection of a splendid edifice, and has now to learn the effective means of combining them. So, when the voice is "formed," a frank and easy emission obtained, a sufficiency of Technique acquired, the next step in the singer's education is the practical study of the problem of Style.



What is Style?

In reality the question is two-fold. One may have Style; and one may have a style. The former is general; the latter individual. The former can be taught and learned, for it is based on certain well-defined rules; the latter is personal—in other words, is not universally applicable. Not infrequently it is a particular application of those rules which gives the impress of originality. But correct taste must first be formed by the study of the noblest creations in the particular art that claims attention. In singing, as in the sister arts, the laws which govern Style must be apprehended and understood before Individuality can be given full scope. Otherwise, what to the executant would appear as original might, to correct taste and judgment, appear ridiculous and extravagant. A genius is sometimes eccentric, but eccentricity is not genius. Vocal students should hear as many good singers as possible, but actually imitate none. A skilled teacher will always discern and strive to develop the personality of the pupil, will be on the alert to discover latent features of originality and character. He will respect and encourage individuality, rather than insist upon the servile imitation of some model—even though that model be himself. As the distinguished artist Victor Maurel has justly observed: "Of all the bad forms of teaching singing, that by imitation is the worst" (Un Probleme d'Art).

In singing, as in painting, a copy has never the value of the original. Moreover, slavish imitation in any art has a deleterious influence. But to respect irreproachable examples and fitly observe sound rules, whose very survival often justifies their existence and testifies to their value, is always of benefit to the artist. To imitate is to renounce one's individual expression of an ideal and present that of another. But to observe established and accepted laws, laws founded on Truth and consecrated by Time, is not to imitate, when those laws are applied in an original and individual manner that is in harmony with the personality of the interpreter. "L'art est un coin de Nature vu a travers un temperament." In literature, each writer has his own special style which may easily be recognized; but all follow the same grammatical rules. A correct style in singing consists in the careful observance of the principles of Technique; a perfect Diction; the appropriate Colouring of each sentiment expressed; attention to the musical and poetic Accents; judicious and effective Phrasing (whether musical or verbal), so that the meaning of both composer and poet may be placed in the clearest light.

* * * * *

Let us analyze Style in its three principal aspects: Colour, Accent, and Phrasing.


Of all the elements of Style in singing, the most potent and effective—the one, indeed, that is essential for the success of the lyric artist—is the ability to vary the vocal timbre; that is, to sing with Colour. This desideratum of varied tone-colour is sought even by instrumentalists. Nay, the instrument itself is sometimes constructed with this object in view. Witness the invention of the "soft" pedal, which is intended not solely to reduce the intensity of tone in the pianoforte—that may be accomplished by a modification of force in striking the note—but to give the tones a darker, more sombre quality, or colour. To vary the tone-colour, a violinist or 'cellist draws the bow across the strings close to, or distant from, the bridge, in accordance with his desire for a reed-like or flute-like quality of tone. Anyone who has listened to the performance of the slow movement in Paganini's Concerto in D, by an Ysaye or a Mischa Elman, will have remarked how the skilful use of varied tone colour and other devices imparts a wonderful charm to music intrinsically of but mediocre value.

A singer may have a good quality of voice; but that is normal. If he can vary it only in degrees of loudness (Intensity) and not in differences of timbre (Colour) he cannot be ranked as an artist. No matter how great the natural beauty and sonority of his voice, his performance will always be monotonous, if he has only one tint on his vocal palette. In speech—from which the effect is borrowed—utterances of grave and serious meaning, and those of gayer import, are not made with the same colour of voice. A brighter quality (voix claire) is used instinctively for an ejaculation uttered by one to whom pleasant or joyful news has been communicated. On the contrary, should it be the cause of sorrow or grief for the listener, he will use—should he have occasion to reply—a darker quality of voice (voix sombre). Such phenomena are physiological. The vocal organs are the most sensitive of any in the human economy: they betray at once the mental condition of the individual. Joy is a great tonic, and acts on the vocal cords and mucous membrane as does an astringent; a brilliant and clear quality of voice is the result. Grief or Fear, on the other hand, being depressing emotions, lower the vitality, and the debilitating influence communicates to the voice a dull and sombre character.

On this question of colour in the voice, the masterly writer and critic Legouve says: "Certain particular gifts are necessary if the speech is to possess colour. The first of these is Metal in the voice. He who has it not will never shine as a colourist. The metal may be gold, silver or brass; each has its individual characteristic. A golden voice is the most brilliant; a silvery voice has the most charm; a brassy voice the most power. But one of the three characteristics is essential. A voice without metallic ring is like teeth without enamel; they may be sound and healthy, but they are not brilliant.... In speech there are several colours—a bright, ringing quality; one soft and veiled. The bright, strident hues of purple and gold in a picture may produce a masterpiece of gorgeous colouring; so, in a different manner, may the harmonious juxtaposition of greys, lilacs and browns on a canvas by Veronese, Rubens, or Delacroix.

"Last of all is the velvety voice. This is worthless if not allied with one of the three others. In order that a velvety voice may possess value it must be reinforced (doublee) with 'metal.' A velvety voice is merely one of cotton."[1]

[Footnote 1: These admirably expressed views illustrate and exemplify the principles I laid down in a conference (Paris, 1902) on Voice-Production (Pose de la Voix), wherein I demonstrated the possibility of acquiring, by the aid of the resonating cavities, a greater sonority, more in conformity with the demands and necessities of present-day music.]

It may be of interest to notice that the quality which in France is designated "timbre," is called by the Italians "metallo di voce," or, "metal of the voice." Those who heard Madame Sarah Bernhardt fifteen or twenty years ago will readily understand why her countless friends and admirers always spoke of her matchless organ as "la voix d'or."

The late Sims Reeves, the famous tenor, was a perfect master of all varieties and shades of vocal colour, and displayed his mastery with certainty and unfailing effect in the different fields of Oratorio and Opera. In the recitative "Deeper and deeper still," with its subsequent aria "Waft her, angels, through the skies" [Handel], he ranged through the entire gamut of tone-colour. As Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, he launched the "Maladetta" phrase of the curse with a voice that was almost "white" with frenzied rage; while the pathetic sombre quality he employed in the "Fra poco a me ricovero" fitly accorded with the despairing mood and gloomy surroundings of the hapless Edgardo.

Some singers control but two colours or timbres—the very clear (open) and the very sombre (closed), which they exaggerate. In reality, however, the gradations between them can be made infinite by the artist who is in possession of the secret—especially if he has the ability to combine Colour with Intensity.

An illustration of this is found in the example cited in the opening paragraph of the present work:—"For now is Christ risen." Not only did Mme. Tietjens make a gradual crescendo from the first note to the climax, but the tonal colours were also subtly graduated from a comparatively sombre quality to one of the utmost clearness and brilliance.

[Music: As sung by Mme. Tietjens

For now is Christ risen, for now is Christ risen from the dead.]

As contrasting examples in which the two principal colours may be employed effectively, I may cite the Bacchic air, "O vin, dissipe la tristesse," and the pensive monologue, "Etre, ou ne pas etre," both from the opera Hamlet, by Ambroise Thomas. The forced, unnatural quality of the first calls for the use of a clear, open, brilliant timbre.


O vin, dissipe la tristesse Qui pese sur mon coeur! A moi les reves de l'ivresse, Et le rire moqueur!]

But for the second, "To be, or not to be":


Etre, ou ne pas etre! o mystere! Mourir! dormir, dormir!]

a sombre, closed timbre is necessary. The opening recitative of Vanderdecken in Der fliegende Hollaender by Wagner would be absurd, and utterly out of harmony with the character and his surroundings, if sung in the open timbre. Perhaps I ought to explain that "open" (voix claire, Fr.), and "closed" (voix sombre, Fr.), are technical terms, of which the equivalents are accepted in all countries where the art of singing is cultivated; terms that apply to quality of tone, not to the physical process by which these effects are produced. Such a mistake is not infrequently made by vocal physiologists who are not practical musicians or singing-teachers. Nor must the term "clear timbre" be understood to mean the "white voice" ("voix blanche," or "voce bianca"); this, like the guttural timbre, being only occasionally employed for the expression of some violent passion, such as hate.

Like the admirable paintings of Eugene Carriere, for instance his masterly portrait of Paul Verlaine, a song, sometimes an entire role, may be worked out in monochrome; though the gradations of tint are numerous, they are consistently kept within their preconceived colour-scheme. Some few exceptional singers, like Jean-Baptiste Faure or Maurice Renaud, have this gift of many shades of the one colour in their singing of certain roles. The colour is determined by the psychological character of the personage portrayed; a gay, reckless Don Giovanni calls for a brighter colouring throughout than that necessitated by the music allotted to a gloomy Vanderdecken or an embittered and vengeful Rigoletto. One may, therefore, formulate the following rule: The general character of the composition will decide the tonal colour appropriate for its general interpretation; the colouring necessary for its component phrases will be determined by the particular sentiment embodied in them. Emotions like sorrow, fear, despair, will find fitting expression in the sombre quality of voice, graduated in accordance with the intensity of the emotion. The opposite sentiments of joy, love, courage, hope, are fittingly interpreted by gradations of the clear and brilliant timbre. The dark or sombre voice will be used in varying shades for the recitative from Samson (Handel), "Oh, loss of sight:"

[Music: Oh, loss of sight, of thee I most complain!]

while the clearest and most brilliant timbre possible to be obtained is plainly indicated for the same composer's "Sound an alarm!" from Judas Maccabaeus.

[Music: Sound an alarm, your silver trumpets sound!]

It was a rule formulated by the old Italian school of singing, when l'arte del bel canto in its true sense did really exist, that no phrase—musical or verbal—should be repeated with the same nuances. Very many instances might be given of the happy effect obtained by observing this rule. One will suffice. It is taken from the Lamento of Queen Catherine (of Aragon), who, slighted by Henry VIII. for Anne Boleyn, sighs for her native Spain.

[Music: Lamento

Henri VIII: Act IV


Mon Espagne cherie! Mon Espagne cherie!]

Sudden contrasts of colour are of great dramatic effect. A good illustration is found in the air "Divinites du Styx," from Gluck's Alceste. This contrast is still further heightened by a sudden change of both Intensity and Tempo.


Divinites du Styx! Divinites du Styx! Ministres de la mort!]

This last phrase, "Ministres de la mort!" should be sung in a very sombre voice of almost guttural character.

It is, indeed, in the recitatives and declamatory passages of Gluck, Handel, Sacchini, that lyric artists will find unsurpassable material for study. Requiring, as such works do for their perfect interpretation, all the resources of Colour, Accent, and Phrasing, such study is the best possible preparation for the fitting musical presentment of the lyric drama in some of its later phases.

Colour, then, is the basic element of Style in singing. It is reinforced by Accent, which, as the name implies, is the accentuation of details that require to be brought into prominence. This subject, therefore, next claims attention.

* * * * *


In singing, two kinds of accent are recognized, the Musical accent, and the Poetic, or Verbal, accent. The first appertains to the domain of sound; the second, to the domain of significance. The first, for aesthetic reasons, throws into relief certain tones of a musical phrase; the second brings into prominence the sentiment underlying the poem or text. Note, also, that in spoken declamation, accent applies to a syllable only; in singing, the verbal accent affects an entire word.

In its relation to Style, the Musical accent must be carefully distinguished from the Metrical accent which is determined by Time, or Measure, as well as from the Verbal accent whereby the import of a word is rendered clear to the listener. Here is an example of Musical accent, from Act III of Verdi's Ballo in Maschera:

[Music: Saper vorreste di che si veste quando l'e cosa ch'ei vuol nascosa.]

The accents (marked thus [accent symbol]) give to the musical phrase a piquancy that is admirably in keeping with the gay and careless character of the page, Oscar, who sings it. In fact, as regards Style, Musical accent is particularly valuable in song for the purpose of setting forth the true character of the music. Hence, it may be regarded as a means of characterization.

This use of accent for characterization is also quite distinct from its use with "accidentals," or tones foreign to the prevailing tonality. In the former case, sentiment dictates its employment; in the second, the accent guarantees, as it were, the accuracy of the singer's intonation. By the faint stress laid on the foreign tone, the listener is assured that the executant is not deviating from the true pitch. In the following examples, the tones marked [accent symbol] are "accidentals," and for that reason should receive a faint stress. The first example is from La Forza del Destino.

[Music: Verdi

Madre, Madre, pietosa Vergine, perdona al mio peccato, m'aita quell'ingrato]

[Music: "Je dis que rien"

Carmen: Act III


Vous me protegerez, Seigneur!]

These different uses of accent are well illustrated in the following example.

[Music: "Come unto Him"



Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him.]

The tone allotted to the second syllable of the word "upon" is accentuated to affirm the accuracy of the singer's intonation; the slight emphasis of the word "Him" brings into relief the meaning of the text. This latter, then, is an illustration of Verbal, or "Poetic" accent which, I repeat, throws into relief, without consideration of its musical value or position, some word of special significance in the verbal phrase. To render the poetic meaning of the text clear to the listener, a correct use of verbal accent is imperative. Its importance and effect, particularly in recitative and declamatory singing, are analogous to the importance and effect of emphasis in spoken language. The example is from Samson (Handel):

[Music: O loss of sight, of thee I most complain.]

Here I may point out that in cantabile phrases the stream of sound, notwithstanding its division into syllables by the organs of articulation—lips, tongue, etc.—should pour forth smoothly and uninterruptedly. The full value of each tone must be allotted to the vowel; the consonants which precede or end the syllables are pronounced quickly and distinctly. In declamatory singing, on the contrary, the consonants should be articulated with greater deliberation and intensity.

[Music: Handel (Messiah)

I know that my Redeemer liveth.]

Here an emphatic accent on the consonant "n" irresistibly suggests the idea of knowledge; that is, of absolute certainty, not of mere belief.

Very frequently the metrical accent does not coincide with the syllabic accent: the musical accent will fall on an unaccented syllable, or vice versa. Particularly is this the case when the composer is not perfectly familiar with the rules that govern the prosody of the language to which he is setting music. In the operas of Meyerbeer many passages occur in which it is necessary to readjust the syllables to the notes on account of their misplaced accent. Here is an illustration from Hoel's Grand Air in Le Pardon de Ploermel (Meyerbeer), Act II. (Note that the tonic accent in French falls always on the last pronounced syllable.)

[Music: (as printed)

Et ranimez, ranimez ma foi.]

The error is easily remedied:

[Music: (should be sung)

Et ranimez, ranimez ma foi.]

In the contralto aria "He shall feed His flock," in Handel's Messiah, the unaccented word "shall" falls on the most strongly accented note of the bar. If performed thus, it would give a most aggressive character to the passage, implying that some one had previously denied the assertion. This would be entirely at variance with the consolatory and peaceful message that is contained in the text and shadowed forth in the music.

[Music: (as printed)

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.

(should be sung)

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.]

Instances of faulty syllabic accent abound in Handel's works, both his English oratorios and his Italian operas. Many examples could be quoted. Here is a phrase from the beautiful air for mezzo-soprano sung by Ruggiero in the opera of Alcina.

[Music: (as printed)

Verdi prati.

(should be sung)

Verdi prati.]

In Mendelssohn's Elijah, the following phrase is nearly always sung as written, unless the singer is familiar with the best traditions:

[Music: Give me thy son!]

It may be that the artists who slavishly follow the published text fear being accused of altering the composer's music, or are ignorant of the fact that there exists a better version, which is this:

[Music: Give me thy son!]

It will be seen that the music is not changed in the least; the musical and verbal accents have been merely readjusted and made to coincide.

In order to avoid the disagreeable effect of singing one half-bar andante to the syllable "si" (pronounced like "zee" in English), the following phrase of Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), Act II, is changed thus:

[Music: (as printed)

en aucun temps n'eut choisi mieux.

(should be sung)

en aucun temps n'eut choisi mieux.]

* * * * *


In musical terminology every gradation of volume in sound, from the faintest to the loudest, enters into the category of Intensity. One of the accepted rules of the arte del bel canto was, that every sustained tone should be coloured by some graduation of intensity. Thus the ability to augment and diminish the volume of tone was so highly esteemed—indeed, so essential—that singers spent much time in acquiring the messa di voce, that is, the steadily graduated emission of tone from the softest degree to the loudest and again to the softest: p [crescendo symbol] f [decrescendo symbol] p. This exercise invariably formed a part of each day's study, and was practised on several vowels throughout the scale, except the extreme tones, save in rare instances. It was, in fact, indispensable that the singer should be able to colour every tone in three forms of graduated intensity: Soft to loud p [crescendo symbol] f; loud to soft f [decrescendo symbol] p; and soft to loud and soft again p [crescendo symbol] f [decrescendo symbol] p.

This command of intensity, therefore, is invaluable. But it is even more effective when the artist has the power to combine the various gradations of Intensity with different shades of Colour; in other words, when he can sing a tone crescendo and diminuendo in the clear and sombre timbres.

The passage, already cited, from Alceste's great air in Gluck's opera Alceste, furnishes an admirable illustration of the dramatic emotion created by a sudden contrast of Intensity as well as Colour. In the invocation "Ye ministers that dwell in night!" the clear timbre is used with gradually increasing volume until at the phrase (sung adagio) "Ministers of death!" the timbre changes abruptly to a sombre quality with sinister effect, which effect is augmented by being sung pp.

[Music: Gluck (Alceste: Act I)

Divinites du Styx! Divinites du Styx! Ministres de la mort!]

A still more striking example of the impressive effect produced by sudden contrasts of intensity is offered in the magnificent air "Total Eclipse," from Samson (Handel). In it, a judicious use of tone-colour, accent, and variations of tempo, all combine to elucidate in the highest possible degree the idea of both composer and poet:

[Music: Sun, moon and stars, sun, moon and stars are dark to me.]

The words "Sun, moon and stars" should be given strongly accentuated, and the tempo gradually accelerated. The repetition of the phrase should be sung with still greater intensity; then, at the passage "are dark to me," the colour of the voice changes to one of very sombre quality, and the original tempo is resumed. The first consonant in the word "dark" should receive a slight stress.

The crescendo has always been a favourite device of composers, particularly of those who write for the lyric theatre. It was an effect held in high esteem by Rossini, who introduced it constantly in his operas—witness his overtures and ensembles. All are familiar with the wonderful crescendo which precedes the appearance of the Knight of the Swan, in Lohengrin, where the sonorities are augmented by gradual additions of voices and instruments until the culminating point is reached. An instance more poignant still is found in the great "Liebestod" in Tristan und Isolde.

Although Herold, the French composer, observed that in working up to a climax one should begin a long way off, a singer must be careful not to reach his maximum of vocal sonority before the musical climax is attained. The tenor Duprez created a sensation that is historic, in the long crescendo passage in the fourth act of Guillaume Tell, by gradually increasing the volume of sound, as the phrase developed in power and grandeur, until the end, which he delivered with all the wealth of his exceptionally resonant voice.

Before closing this chapter on Intensity, I should advise singers whose voices possess great natural volume or power not to abuse this valuable quality by employing it too frequently. The ear of a listener tires sooner of extreme sonority than of any other effect. Talma, the great actor, wrought many reforms on the French dramatic stage, not only in costume—prior to his time Greek or Roman dress only was worn in tragedy—but also in the manner of delivering tragic verse. Against the custom, then prevalent, of always hurling forth long tirades at full voice, he inveighed in these terms: "Of all monotonous things, uproar is the most intolerable" (de toutes les monotonies, celle de la force est la plus insupportable). An artistic singer will use his most powerful tones, as a painter employs his most vivid colours, sparingly.

* * * * *


Phrasing is simply musical punctuation. In singing, it may be separated, like accent, into two divisions: Musical and Poetic, or Verbal, phrasing. If the following passage were performed by an instrument, it would not require any particular grouping or phrasing:


But when sung, it would fail in effect if not performed with a very slight pause after the word "nobis," thus:

[Music: Ave Maria


Ora pro nobis, Maria.]

As another illustration of the excellent effect of correct phrasing may be cited the song Psyche, by Paladilhe. Its effect is heightened if the musical phrasing be judiciously combined with a change in Colour and Intensity:

[Music: Quand il les flatte, j'en murmure!]

(Should be sung):

[Music: Quand il les flatte, j'en murmure!]

It is the clashing of the Musical and Verbal phrasings that often makes translations of lyric works unsatisfactory. The two phrases are independent, not welded together. So far from being "Music wedded to immortal Verse," these instances resemble those menages wherein each unit leads a separate existence. When this is the case, the singer must decide as to whether the musical phrase, or the poetic phrase, demands the greater prominence.

The following Phrasing and Colouring would be good and effective if the passage were played on an instrument:


But if sung thus, as it sometimes is by careless artists who pay little attention to the verbal significance of what they are singing, it would sound absurd, because the poetic phrasing is entirely ignored. The correct way of performing the passage (from the aria "Voi che sapete," in Act II of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro) is the following:

[Music: Donne, vedete, s'io l'ho nel cor.]

In the next extract (from Act IV in Un Ballo in Maschera, by Verdi), it will be noticed how oblivious the composer was of the claims of verbal phrasing. The whole scena is admirably written for the voice, and contains many graceful passages of great melodic charm. But although the music may claim to represent the character of the situation as a whole, it is disfigured by the complete disregard of the sense of certain groups of words:

[Music: Come se fosse l'ultima ora del nostro amor, come se fosse l'ultima, l'ultima ora, ora del nostro amor, del nostro amor? Oh, qual presagio m'assale, come se fosse l'ultima ora del nostro amor, se fosse l'ultima del nostro amor]

The words "come se fosse l'ultima ora del nostro amor," constitute one phrase. It would be extremely difficult, impossible even, for many, to sing the passage in one breath. But the first musical phrase ends after the word "ultima;" to separate it from the next word, "ora" (second and third bars), thus: "last—hour," is impracticable. It would be out of the question to destroy the musical phrase by breathing after the word "ora," in the third bar. If the text is phrased when spoken as it is when sung, the incongruity is at once apparent. The published score gives a pause [fermata symbol] after the word "ora:" "ultima ora [fermata symbol] del nostro amor." This phrasing is good and effective, especially if the artist changes at once to the sombre quality after the pause, and finishes the phrase piano and rallentando. One very often hears it, however, given with a pause for breathing after the high a; the unfortunate singer having prolonged the tone until, in order to continue, he is compelled to take in more air. The result is the absurd phrasing given below:

[Music: l'ultima ora del nostro amor]

In the final cadenza, the composer has cut out the word "ora" altogether. The whole air is of interest to the musical student, as it shows clearly the little value attached by Verdi, at that period of his career, to the exigencies of the verbal or poetic phrase. This neglect of the verbal punctuation is in marked contrast to the care he bestowed on it in his later works, witness Aida, Otello, and particularly Falstaff.

Here I may say that it is sometimes necessary to alter the words on account of the impossibility of performing certain passages as written. In the earlier published scores of Samson et Dalila (Saint-Saens), the following passage in Act II, "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," as the composer wrote it, occurs as one phrase:

[Music: Ah! reponds a ma tendresse!]

This being impracticable of execution in one phrase, and there being no opportunity of retaking breath until the close of the passage, it was altered in the later editions, and now stands thus:

[Music: Ah! reponds, reponds a ma tendresse!]

This device of repetition, applied either to a word or to part of a phrase, is perfectly justifiable in cases where the artist, for physical reasons, is unable to sing the phrase in one breath. I give an excerpt from Weber's Der Freischuetz (Grand Air, Act II):

[Music: Oh lovely night!]

This may be sung:

[Music: Oh lovely, lovely night!]

The concluding bars of the waltz-song in Act I of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, are often phrased as indicated in the brackets, in order to give the singer a chance to take breath, which is done after the c natural:

[Music: Ah! (comme un tresor.) comme un tresor.]

As discrepancies between the musical and verbal phrases, such as those I have instanced, abound in certain of the old operas which still keep the stage and form a part of the permanent repertoire of every lyric theatre, the artists singing them are compelled to choose between sacrificing the words or the music. The former alternative is generally preferable, the musical phrase in many such cases being of the greater relative importance. Another way is, to meet the difficulty boldly by supplying another text which mates itself more happily with the musical phrase. Personally, I adopt the latter alternative without hesitation, when preparing artists to sing these works.

* * * * *

Some minor effects utilized in Style in singing may be briefly alluded to: Portamento; variations of Tempo.


This is effected by the voice gliding from one tone to another, and is equally available on stringed instruments, the violin or 'cello, the mandoline or zither. It is a grace of style much abused by inartistic singers. Being an ornament, good taste dictates that it be used sparingly. A frequent sliding from one tone to another is a grave fault, and most disagreeable to a cultivated ear. To sing legato is one thing; to sing strisciato is another. Hence, its use on two consecutive occasions is rarely admissible. But without a sober and discreet use of the portamento, the style of the singer appears stiff, angular—lacking, as it were, in graceful curves.

It must always be performed by carrying the tone and syllable to the next tone; never by anticipating the latter:

[Music: Mozart (Nozze di Figaro)

Do Fa Deh vieni, non tardar,]

But it sometimes happens that, while desiring this grace, the composer does not indicate his wish quite correctly. Here is an instance by F. Thome:

[Music: Et nous dansions un bolero.]

Were it performed as printed, it would be very bad style, as it violates the rule that the succeeding syllable shall not be anticipated. Undoubtedly, what the author wished is the following:

[Music: Et nous dansions]

Sometimes the composer himself indicates clearly his intention that this effect should be used, as in the following examples:

[Music: Reyer (La Statue)

Pour s'evanouir, au reveil.]

[Music: Celeste Aida

(Aida: Act I)


Del mio pensiero tu sei regina, tu di mia vita sei lo splendor.]

[Music: Song "Heure du Soir" for Tenor

Leo Delibes

Partout s'eleve un chant bien doux, un chant bien doux, Sous la brise toute embaumee.]

[Music: From "La Boheme," Act I


Mi chiamano Mimi, ma il mio nome e Lucia.]

(Notice the phrases marked a and b.)

The words and indications for the use of the portamento in each of these last four examples are by the respective composers, and as printed in the published editions.

A portamento should never be sung so slowly as to convey the idea of a badly executed chromatic scale; and, as a rule, it is best not to use one between any lesser interval than a third, unless for some particular effect, or at the close of a slow movement, as in the aria "He was despised," in The Messiah:

[Music: and acquainted with grief.]

It is also effective in connecting syllables in phrases of a smooth, lyric character:

[Music: Nozze di Figaro: Act II


(as printed)

in braccio al idol mio.

(should be sung)

in braccio al idol mio.]

The portamento being an embellishment that pertains to the cantabile, it is very little used in declamatory singing.

But frequently in the Recitatives of classic works occur phrases of declamatory recitative, interspersed with passages that are purely lyric in structure. To each of these divisions must be given its appropriate style. For instance, after the opening phrases of Obadiah's exhortation, "Ye people, rend your hearts," in Elijah, up to the end of the phrase "Return to God," all is purely lyric declamation. But at the words, "For He is slow to anger, and merciful," this should cease, and the succeeding phrases be given with all the graces that are permissible in cantabile singing; not in the hard, dry manner affected by some of the modern tenors in oratorio.

[Music: I therefore say to ye, Forsake your idols, return to God; for He is slow to anger, and merciful.]

* * * * *


These are of value in bringing out the musical and poetic significance of certain compositions; notably the operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and the earlier works of Verdi. But I would caution singers to exercise discretion in this much-abused effect. Variations of Tempo, the ritardando, accelerando, and tempo rubato, are all legitimate aids demanded by Expression. But unless their use is determined by sound judgment and correct musicianly taste, the effect speedily becomes vulgar and monotonous. Knowledge, and a taste formed in good schools, must be the guide of the vocalist in the use of variations of tempo.

I have said that the operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi abound in instances requiring the hastening or slackening of the tempo. But the device is also highly esteemed by the ultra-modern Italian school, as may be seen in studying the scores of Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

Here is an illustration of its effective use in the air "Connais-tu le pays?" from Mignon (Act II), by Ambroise Thomas. Madame Christine Nilsson (Countess Casa Miranda), who "passed" the role with the composer, always sang the phrase thus, although these indications do not appear in the published version:

[Music: Helas! que ne puis-je te suivre, vers ce rivage heureux, d'ou le sort m'exila!]

Again, in the fine song Der Asra, by Rubinstein, the musical, as well as the dramatic, effect of the poem is heightened by the use of the accelerando, which interprets with musical vividness the impetuous avowal by the slave of his passion for the princess, after his calm answer to her questions as to his name and birthplace.

"Ich heisse Mahomet, ich bin aus Yemen, und mein Stamm sind jene Asra, welche sterben, wenn sie lieben." (HEINE.)

[Music: und mein Stamm sind jene Asra, welche sterben, wenn sie lieben.]



Tradition plays a more important part, perhaps, in the interpretation of the classic composers' writings for the voice than it does in their purely instrumental works. The old masters left few—sometimes not any—indications as to the manner in which their music should be rendered. Thus its proper performance is largely determined by received oral tradition. The printed scores of the classics, except those that have been specially edited, throw little light on their proper interpretation, or even at times on the actual notes to be sung. To perform exactly as written the operas of Gluck, notably Armide and Orphee, the operas of Mozart, the Italian operas and English oratorios of Handel, the oratorios of Bach, Haydn, and Mendelssohn, would be to do the greatest injustice to these composers and their works.

It is a prevalent idea that all departures from the published text are due either to caprice, or to vanity and a desire for personal display on the part of the soloist. As though singers had a monopoly of these defects!

Let us consider some of the principal causes of such changes in the text, and the reasons why these modifications do not always appear in the published versions.

In the original editions of many of the earlier operas, as those of Mozart, etc., the unaccompanied recitative (recitativo secco) is not barred. As with the plain-chant of the church, only the pitch of the tone is indicated. Its length was left to the discretion of the artist, who was supposed to be familiar with the accepted style of delivery termed "recitativo parlante." The example is from the recitative "Dove sono," in Act III of Le Nozze di Figaro, by Mozart:

[Music: E Susanna non vien! Sono ansiosa di saper]

This should be sung as below:

[Music: E Susanna non vien! Sono ansiosa di saper]

The substitution of another note for the one actually written, both in Recitative and Aria, was also strictly regulated under the system or convention then in vogue, one perfectly understood both by composer and singer.

In all the earlier Italian operas, and in the English oratorios of Handel, this system was followed:

[Music: Recit. "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive"






and shall call his name Emmanuel;]

[Music: Aria. "I know that my Redeemer liveth"






I know that my Redeemer liveth]

[Music: Recit. "Non piu di fiori"

La Clemenza di Tito



Vitellia! costanza


Ecco il punto, o Vitellia! d'esaminar la tua costanza]

[Music: "In questa tomba"





In questa tomba oscura]

This substitution, therefore, of another note—a tone or semitone higher or lower, according to the phrase—is not only legitimate but essential in all music written in the Italian manner.

Another cause of changes being necessary in the vocal part of many of the older classic writers, particularly of oratorio, is the frequently faulty syllabic accentuation. I have already mentioned this defect in the chapter on Accent. Handel, for instance, although living nearly all his life in England, never became quite master of its language; hence the numerous cases of the misplacing of syllables in his oratorios. This defect is also noticeable, but not in the same degree, in his Italian operas. The books of Elijah and St. Paul (Mendelssohn), and The Creation (Haydn), were originally written in German, and therefore suffer somewhat in this respect when the translated English version is given. This fault is also noticeable in the English versions of Bach's Passion (St. Matthew), and Mendelssohn's Psalm CXIV. In the first quoted of these two works, in the response for Double Chorus to the question, "Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?" the accent falls on the first syllable "Ba-rab-bas"; in the second of the two works (114th Psalm), the accent is placed on the last syllable, thus: "Hal-le-lu-jah." Neither of these accentuations is in accordance with English custom.

A singer, therefore, is perfectly justified in rearranging the syllables in order that, as far as possible, the musical and verbal accents shall coincide. But there are rigorists, unaware of the usages and conventions previously spoken of, who are very severe in their judgment when any deviation is made from the printed score with which they follow the performance of classic works. Such severity is unmerited, because unjust. Although such persons sometimes inveigh against any and every change from the strict letter of the printed music—ignorant of the possibility, that only in this way can its spirit be respected—the changes in a multitude of cases are essential because due (1) to reverential deciphering of an obsolete musical notation, (2) to improvements in musical instruments, or (3) to the sanction and authority of the composer himself.

Sometimes it is an orchestral conductor who reproaches the solo singers with their want of respect for the composer, because he hears at times interpolations or changes which find no place in his own score. The singers are accused of "altering the composer," of "taking liberties with the text." And yet these very changes may be traditionally correct; they may be in accordance with rules and conditions prevalent at the time the music was written, and employed on account of a desire to interpret the composer's own intentions, and not from mere vanity or caprice.

Nor are these necessary changes and departures from the printed scores of the classics confined to the vocal parts of the music composed by the old masters. As a matter of fact, the deviations which, in performance, are sometimes made from the printed edition of a musical composition, arise from a variety of causes.

One of these is the discrepancy that exists between various editions of the same work; and sometimes the confusion is complicated by different versions having been prepared by the composer himself. This is notably the case with Gluck's Orphee, first written to an Italian libretto by Calzabigi and produced at Vienna. When Marie Antoinette called her former Viennese singing-master, Gluck, to Paris, she gave him an opportunity of displaying his genius by facilitating the production of his Iphigenie en Aulide at the Opera, in 1774. Its enthusiastic reception recalled to the composer the like success which had attended the production of his Orfeo at Vienna. He immediately set to work to revise it for the Paris Opera, and fit it to a new French text, the latter supplied him by Moline.[2]

[Footnote 2: Sir George Grove, in the "Dictionary of Music and Musicians," P. 611, says that the French text is by Moliere! This is a self-evident error.]

But the title-role in the original Italian version was written for, and sung by, Guadagni, an artificial contralto (contralto musico). In its newer French dress the part was transposed and rearranged for the tenor Legros; who, judging from the extreme altitude of the tessitura employed, must have possessed either a haute-contre, or a very high light-tenor voice, and who may have employed the falsetto. This high tessitura, combined with the fact that the pitch has risen considerably since it was composed, renders the French version impracticable for tenors of the present day. Here are the concluding bars of the famous air as written in the original Italian version, and the same phrase as altered by Gluck, when produced in Paris.

[Music: "Che faro senz' Euridice?"

Dove andro? Che faro? Dove andro senza il mio ben?

(As originally written by Gluck for the Italian version, Vienna.)]

[Music: "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice"

Sort cruel, quelle rigueur! Je succombe a ma douleur, a ma douleur, a ma douleur!

(As altered by Gluck for Paris; sung by the tenor Legros. From a manuscript copy, Bibliotheque de l'Opera.)]

[Music: "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice"

Sort cruel, quelle rigueur! Je succombe a ma douleur, a ma douleur, a ma douleur!

(As sung by Mme. Viardot-Garcia, Theatre-Lyrique, Paris; the part being restored to the original voice and key, but the change at the end, made for Legros, retained.)]

The finale to the first act was also changed; a tumultuous "hurry" for strings, evidently designed to accompany the change of scene to Hades, being now replaced by a florid air, probably introduced at the desire of the principal singer as a medium for the display of his vocal virtuosity; a concession often exacted from composers of opera. This interpolated air was for a long time attributed to a composer—Bertoni—who had himself composed an opera on the subject of Orphee. Later researches have, however, proved that this air is by Gluck himself, taken from Aristeo, one of his earlier works. When the famous revival of Orphee took place at the old Theatre-Lyrique in Paris, the role of Orphee was restored to the type of voice—contralto—for which it was originally composed, and confided to Mme. Pauline Viardot-Garcia. She retained the air introduced for the tenor Legros, but of course transposed, and with a reorchestration by Camille Saint-Saens; the now famous composer having at that time, by the request of Berlioz, undertaken to continue and complete the revision of Gluck's complete works, known as the Pelletan Edition.[3]

[Footnote 3: See very interesting article signed C. Saint-Saens in the Echo de Paris for July 23, 1911.]

Other changes from the first Italian score were also made by Gluck in the later French version. Here is an example; being the recitative immediately preceding the great air of Orpheus in the last act:

[Music: (Original Italian version, as written for Vienna.)

Misero me! la perdo, e di nuovo, e per sempre! O legge! O morte! O ricordo crudel! Non ho soccorso, non m'avanza consiglio! Io veggo solo (Oh fiera vista!) il luttuoso aspetto dell'orrido mio stato! Saziati, sorte rea! son disperato!]


C'est moi, c'est moi, qui lui ravis le jour. Loi fatale! Cruel remords! Ma peine est sans egale, Dans ce moment funeste, Le desespoir, la mort, C'est tout ce qui me reste!

(As written for the Paris version, the role of Orphee being then sung by a tenor.)]


C'est moi, c'est moi, qui lui ravis le jour. Loi fatale! Cruel remords! Ma peine est sans egale, Dans ce moment funeste, Le desespoir, la mort, C'est tout ce qui me reste!

(As sung by Mme. Viardot-Garcia, the role being then restored to the contralto voice as in the Italian version, while the changes made by Gluck for the Paris version were retained. This is now definitively adopted at the Opera-Comique.)]

Again, discrepancies exist between various published copies of the same work, arising from the fact that sometimes the editors of these revisions may have mistaken the intentions of the composer. Or, influenced by pardonable human vanity, they may have felt impelled to collaborate more directly with the composer, by adding something of their own.

There is valid reason for the additional accompaniments, with which Mozart has enriched the original scores of Handel's Messiah and Alexander's Feast; and we have evidence of the skill, and can divine the reverence, with which these additions were accomplished. But how fatal would have been the results, had the delicate task been attempted by one in whom these qualities were lacking! Also, there is every excuse for the additions made to Gluck's Armide by Meyerbeer for the Opera of Berlin; and we have the direct testimony of Saint-Saens, who has examined this rescoring, as to the rare ability and artistic discretion with which the work has been done.[4]

[Footnote 4: See Echo de Paris, op. cit.]

From this evidence it appears that in the score as left by Gluck, the trombones do not appear at all in Armide. The drums, and stranger still, the flutes, are heard only at rare intervals; while the whole orchestration—sometimes a pale sketch of the composer's intentions—shows a haste and lack of care in marked contrast with the pains bestowed on the scoring of Alceste, Iphigenie, and Orphee. The revisions and additions spoken of were undertaken by highly competent authorities, actuated only by the wish to restore in its purity the idea of the composer; and who to zeal, added the more valuable quality of discretion.

Ancient music, owing to the development of and changes in the instruments for which it was composed, can rarely be given as written by the author. Even if the instruments of modern invention be eliminated, the orchestra of to-day is not the orchestra of Handel. The oboe, for example, has so gained in penetrating power that one instrument to each part now suffices; in Handel's time the feeble tone of the oboe rendered a considerable number necessary. The perfection of certain instruments, too, is the cause of modifications in the music written for them. The limited compass of the pianoforte, for example, was certainly the sole reason why Beethoven failed to continue in octaves the entire ascending scale in one of his sonatas. Had the piano in his day possessed its present compass, he would undoubtedly have written the passage throughout in octaves, i.e., as modern pianists play it. If a rigid adherence to the printed letter of ancient music is to be strictly observed, without consideration of the many causes that render this procedure undesirable, let consistency be observed by pushing the argument to its logical conclusion, viz., returning to the instruments used, and the composition of the orchestra that obtained, when these works were written. Those who accuse artists of introducing changes, of not performing the music as the composer wrote it, should be quite sure as to what the composer really did write, since many changes are made both before and after the work is printed. They should also be certain that these changes are not such as the composer may have, or would have, sanctioned, seeing that by their use his meaning is more clearly expressed.

At the Concerts Spirituels, given at the Church of the Sorbonne, Paris, may be heard very excellent performances of Oratorio by ancient and modern composers, from Handel and Bach to Claude Debussy; though I do not know whether or no l'Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Son), by Debussy, is properly styled an oratorio, seeing that it was recently given in London on the stage as an opera. These performances at the Sorbonne are marked by a reverential attention to detail; the soloists, chorus and orchestra being very competent, and the conductor—M. Paul de Saunieres—a musician of ability and experience. In spite of these great advantages, however, the works of several of the old classic composers suffer somewhat, by certain authentic traditions and conventions being either unknown or ignored. To cite only one instance out of many: At the Sorbonne, the opening bars of the second movement of the Recit. in The Messiah, "Comfort ye my people," etc., are performed as printed:

[Music: The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness]

This music is written in the Italian "manner," consequently its performance should be in conformity with the usages and conventions which obtained when the work was composed. One of these, as I have pointed out, was the substitution of one note for another in certain places; another, that in declamatory recitative, or recitativo parlante, the chord in the orchestra should come after the voice ("dopo la parola"). These words appear in many scores of the Italian operas, even of the present day. But when they do not, the musical director is supposed to be familiar with the custom. The following, therefore, is the authentic mode of performing the passage in question:

[Music: The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness]

Apart from these defects in the rendering of the ancient classics, it would be unjust not to acknowledge the great artistic merit and value of the performances, given—as Oratorio should be—in the church. To hear l'Enfance du Christ (Berlioz) as performed at the Sorbonne, with its particular facilities for obtaining the ppp effects of the distant or receding angelic chorus, is to be impressed to a degree impossible of attainment in the concert-room.

Let those purists who resent any "tampering"—as they term it—with the composers' music listen to the following phrase, sung as it is printed in the ordinary editions:

[Music: the first-fruits of them that sleep.]

Then let them hear it given according to the authentic and accepted tradition, and say which of the two versions most faithfully interprets the composer's meaning.

[Music: the first-fruits of them that sleep.]

* * * * *

Let us now consider alterations which do not appear in the printed editions, and yet may have been made or sanctioned by the composer.

In comparison with painting and sculpture, music and the literature of the theatre are not self-sufficing arts. They require an interpreter. Before a dramatic work can exist completely, scenery, and actors to give it voice and gesture, are necessary; before music can be anything more than hieroglyphics, the signs must be transmuted into sound by singers or instrumentalists. Wagner embodied this truth in his pathetic reference to Lohengrin: "When ill, miserable and despairing, I sat brooding over my fate, my eye fell on the score of my Lohengrin, which I had totally forgotten. Suddenly I felt something like compassion lest the music might never sound from off the death-pale paper." In other words, Lohengrin, though finished in every detail, was merely potential music. To make it anything more, the aid of singers and orchestra are essential.

Composers and dramatic authors, in fact, create their art-works; but it is their interpreters—actors, singers, instrumentalists—who animate them, who breathe life into them. One of the inevitable consequences is, that the composer's ideal can never be fully attained.

But changes in performance from the printed text of a composition are frequently the work of the composer himself. If really an artist, he is rarely perfectly satisfied with his completed work. The difference between his ideal and his materialization of it, is a source of anguish for him. The journey made by a vision of art from the brain that conceives it to the hand that imprisons it in marble, or depicts it in colour, or pens it in words or music, is a long one. And much grace or power, beauty or grandeur, is inevitably lost on the way. This is the explanation of the disappointment of all true artists with their creations. This is the origin of their endless strivings to perfect their works; the first embodiment is not a perfect interpretation of the artist's inspiration, and further reflection has revealed to him an improvement. The process is endless.

A man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what is Heaven for?

If one wishes to surprise genius labouring to give birth to perfection, one should consult the later editions of Victor Hugo's works and note the countless emendations he made after their first publication—here a more fitting word substituted, there a line recast, elsewhere an entire verse added, or excised, or remodelled.

This work of incessant revision is not restricted to poets. Composers of genius are also inveterate strivers after perfection, are continually occupied in polishing and revising their music. And not all the modifications they make, or sanction, are recorded in the printed versions. For many are the outcome of after-thoughts, of ideas suggested during the process of what I have called transmuting musical hieroglyphics into sound. Such modifications, usually decided upon in the course of a rehearsal—I am now considering particularly operatic works—are frequently jotted down, a mere scanty memorandum, on the singer's part or the conductor's score. But they are the work of the composer, or have received his approval, and, although not noted in the printed editions of his compositions, are transmitted orally from conductor to conductor, singer to singer, master to pupil. And thus a tradition is perpetuated.

But the question of changes goes even further.

Prior to the advent of Wagner, the singer was allowed great license in operatic works. This license was principally manifested in a two-fold form. The first is called pointage (French), puntatura (Italian), and means the changing of the notes or contour of a musical phrase; the second is termed changements or variantes (Fr.), abbellimenti or fioriture (It.), and refers to the interpolation and addition of ornaments, i.e., embellishments and cadenzas.

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This, as I have said, is the technical term given to the modification or rearrangement of the notes of a phrase, so as to bring it within the natural capabilities of the artist singing the role. A few illustrations will make the nature of pointage clear.

In Rossini's Guillaume Tell, although it is written in a different style from his former works, whence less necessity for interpolations and modifications, occurs the following terrible passage for the principal baritone:

[Music: Mais je connais le poids des fers, mais je connais le poids des fers.]

Every vocalist knows the difficulty experienced in singing very high tones to different syllables, each requiring a different conformation of the buccal cavity. The passage quoted—expressing Tell's bitterness at the recollection of his past sufferings in prison, "Well I know the weight of galling chain"—has to be declaimed with great energy. So far as the relative value of the notes is concerned, it is entirely ad libitum, the rhythmical figure in the orchestra having ceased one half-bar before. It is said that Dabadie, a basso cantante rather than baritone, to whom was entrusted the role of Tell on the first production of the work at the Opera, Paris, on August 3, 1829, finding it impossible to sing the phrase as written, had recourse to a professor. He advised the pointage given later. This change became traditional, and has since been followed, except, it is said, in the case of Massol, who succeeded Dabadie. He, being possessed of a very sonorous voice of exceptional compass, was able to give the phrase as written. This change, or pointage, must have been heard by Rossini, and so must have been tacitly approved by him. This is the change made by Dabadie:

[Music: Mais je connais le poids des fers, mais je connais le poids des fers.]

In Italian lyric theatres, pointage becomes necessary in many French operas, owing to the prevalent custom of allotting to contraltos certain roles written for soprano and known as "dugazon roles" (from Madame Dugazon, who created the type). The parts of Siebel in Faust (Gounod), Urbain in Les Huguenots, Stephane in Romeo et Juliette (Gounod), are all written for soprano, and when sung in Italian require not only transposition of the principal airs, but the use of pointage in passages where transposition is impossible owing, for instance, to the participation of other characters in the scene. Thus the air sung by the page Urbain (Les Huguenots) on his entrance is sung in the French theatres as written by Meyerbeer, i.e., in B flat. In theatres where the Italian version is given, this air is transposed a third lower into G, necessitating later numerous pointages, for the reason already given.

I said that many deviations from the printed text are the work of the author, or are authorized by him. A moment's reflection will convince one of the truth of this statement. The singer chosen—usually by the composer himself—to "create" a role, i.e., to interpret for the first time some part in a new opera, generally studies it with the composer, or under his direct supervision, and thus learns, directly or indirectly, his ideas as to the meaning, style of execution, tempi, etc., of the music. Very often during rehearsals, when the composer begins really to hear his own work, he makes modifications in certain passages, alterations of the words or suppressions of the notes that are either ineffective, or lie awkwardly for the voice. But the opera has already been printed for the convenience of the singers and choristers studying the roles and choruses; consequently, such modifications, rearrangements, and "cuts" (as excisions are termed), do not find their way into the published scores.

Meyerbeer, as I have been informed by competent authorities, was constantly modifying his compositions. With him, the work of revision and emendation was never finished. It is said that this was more especially the case with his last opera, l'Africaine, which he was continually altering and revising, never being able to satisfy himself. Two versions of the libretto were prepared for him by Scribe, and two distinct settings of the music are published, although only one is performed.[5]

[Footnote 5: Cases are numerous of changes made by composers even after their work has been produced. The Fountain Scene in Lucia was entirely remodelled by Donizetti, some time after its original production at Milan, the first setting being replaced by the "Regnava nel silenzio" now used, written for Persiani when the opera was first given at the San Carlo, Naples.]

In Nelusko's first air occurs the following passage, in which a great crescendo is marked, culminating ff on the word rien:

[Music: non, n'otent rien a ta majeste!]

Although the opera was produced after the composer's death, Jean-Baptiste Faure, the great baritone chosen to create the role of Nelusko, studied it with Meyerbeer, who authorized several verbal and musical changes in it.

[Music: non, n'otent rien, non, non, non, n'otent rien a ta majeste!]

Without the first alteration it is impossible to realize the composer's wish for a climax on the word "rien"; the second change is due to the fact that the tessitura of the phrase is somewhat high, and Faure, who was a low rather than high baritone, dreaded the high f-[sharp].

Indeed, it was for this latter reason that this most accomplished singer never sang in Verdi's operas. According to his own statement, he had to deny himself this pleasure, because most of the baritone parts in the Italian composer's operas are written in a high tessitura.

When Gounod wrote his Faust for the Theatre-Lyrique, Paris, spoken dialogue was used in place of the recitatives subsequently added by the composer when the work passed, ten years later, into the repertoire of the Opera. In its earlier form, therefore, it belonged to the category of opera-comique, in which tenors were then permitted to use the falsetto voice for their very highest tones. This custom, though sanctioned in opera-comique, was not permitted or accepted in grand opera, to which Gounod's work in the revised form now belongs. At the beginning of the sixth bar from the end of the tenor cavatina in the Garden Scene: "Salut! demeure chaste et pure," occurs the high sustained c.

Not all tenors who sing the role are possessed of the much-coveted "do di petto," so a discreet pointage becomes a necessity, since the tone was originally intended, as I have said, to be sung in falsetto. Those robust tenors who, possessing this tone, launch it out at full voice, unheeding the delicate accompaniment with violin obbligato in the orchestra, and the calm, mystic serenity of the surroundings, are surely more desirous of drawing the attention of the public to themselves, than actuated by an artistic desire to interpret faithfully the scene as intended by composer and librettist.

It was owing to the use by light tenors of the so-called falsetto voice, now no longer in favor with the public, that such of the operas-comiques by Boieldieu, Halevy, Auber, etc., which still keep the stage, necessitate frequent pointage, in order to render their execution compatible with existing requirements. Sometimes a composer utilizes an exceptional voice, as was the case with the roles written for Martin. This singer must have possessed either a strong tenor voice with exceptional low tones, or a baritone voice with perhaps an unusual command of the falsetto—history furnishes but vague information on this point. In any case, the roles written for him—called Martin-tenor or Martin-baritone parts—are now assigned to the ordinary baritone. Pointage then becomes inevitable, as in the case of Herold's Zampa, the compass required as printed being from


In the roles, such as Mignon (Thomas) and Carmen (Bizet), written for Madame Galli-Marie, their respective composers themselves have so arranged the parts that they may be sung by either mezzo-soprano or soprano. The role of Mignon has alternatives, in order that it may be sung by three types of female voices. The roulades and cadenzas were subsequently added by the composer for Madame Christine Nilsson.

If the role is sung by a high soprano, Mignon's first air, "Connais-tu le pays," is transposed a tone higher into E flat.

In the famous duet between Raoul and Valentine in the fourth act of Les Huguenots, the composer has given alternative notes for those tenors who do not possess the exceptional altitude required for the higher of the two:

[Music: Ah! viens! ah! viens! ah! viens!


viens! ah! viens!]

I heard recently, however, a performance of this opera, in which the tenor sang the whole of the music as written, without either transposition or pointage. So it was sung, I should imagine, by the famous Adolphe Nourrit, who created the role; but the pitch at that time (1836) was lower than it is at present.

Thus composers have recognized the necessity at times of pointage in certain roles written for exceptionally gifted singers, in order to render possible to the many that which was originally written for the few.

Changes from the published version have also been made—and proving effective have passed into tradition—by singers who, exercising the liberty then accorded them by composers, have slightly modified certain passages for several reasons: for instance, to augment the effect by making the phrase more characteristic of the vocal instrument, or to express more forcibly the composer's idea.

The following illustrations will render my meaning clearer. The changes originated in the causes I have mentioned, and are attributed to Madame Dorus-Gras:

[Music: "Robert, toi que j'aime"

tu vois mon effroi! tu vois mon effroi!


-froi! Ah!

Grace, grace pour moi-meme, pour toi-meme.]

The phrase "Grace, grace," in which Isabelle implores Robert of Normandy's forgiveness, occurs three times. When it recurs for the last time, a change from the printed text is not only justifiable; it is demanded, in order to give additional intensity and power to the phrase, and to avoid the monotony caused by mere repetition. This modification is all the more defensible, as the composer has substituted the orchestra, with the strings tremolo, for the rhythmical harp-figure with which he accompanies the phrase on its first and second presentations. Here is the accepted traditional change:

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