Francisco Viñas: the origin of tradition

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Spanish tenor Francisco Viñas (1863 – 1933), who focused particularly on Wagnerian repertoire, made his debut in Lohengrin on February 9, 1888, at the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona. The legendary tenor Julián Gayarre was in the audience and the young debutant made such an impression on him that he decided to give him his own Knight of the Swan costume. In 1932 Viñas published his book The art of singing: historical facts, advice and precepts for educating the voice, in which he aims to take “a look backwards, bearing in mind that the outcome of my accomplished technical results can serve as a guideline to those who wish to devote themselves to the art of singing and that, at the beginning of their studies, go about bewildered, carried away by the enthusiasm of an illusion that is often fallacious and deceptive.”

On the golden age and the tradition passed on by the emasculated singers.

Of all the fine arts, singing is, undoubtedly, the one that allures the masses the most: for through the human voice, merging the word to the musical sounds, all the emotions of the soul can be expressed. It is only fair to declare that Italy, heiress of the taste of Greeks and Romans, was the true cradle of this divine art because it was here where it was raised to perfection, beginning in medieval times, when troubadours – delight of the ladies – hanged around palaces and castles, intonating canticles, skillfully accompanying themselves with the lute, an instrument of Arab origin that fell into disuse after the invention of the harp and the guitar, but that, paired with the voice, produced a harmonic whole of tender, delicate and sentimental sounds.

By the half of the 16th century, and through all of the 17th and part of the 18th, the “bel canto” reached such a refinement of expression and purity of sound that it astonished the philharmonic world of the age. It was the harvest of lengthy days of stern and patient studies conducted by true, specialized masters that were educated in the musical universities of Napoli, Rome, Milano, Bologna, among others, where they had learned the technique, the infallible laws of vibration, as to be able to teach without uncertainties how to educate the vocal organ of those who confided in them; creating thus a scholastic tradition, preserved through the ages as a holy fire, that reached us almost imperceptible. Legions of illustrious singers, whose presence was claimed by the kings and the lords of the world, came from such schools. Some of them possessed great influence over the monarchs and there were so many of these sublime virtuosi that chroniclers denominated these times the “Golden Age” of the human voice.

Text excerpted and translated from El arte del canto, Francisco Viñas, Barcelona, 1932.