Heinrich Panofka: general considerations I

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Heinrich Panofka (1807 – 1887), born in Wroclaw, at that time a German city, was educated as a child violinist and developed his solo career mainly in Vienna until 1833. The following year he moved to Paris and came into contact with eminent singers Giovanni Battista Rubini, Luigi Lablache and Domenico Donzelli. In 1842 he founded the Académie de chant together with the renowned maestro Marco Bordogni and from 1844 his career as a teacher and composer took place in London, Paris and Florence. In 1866 he published Voci e cantanti, twenty-eight chapters of general considerations on the voice and the art of singing, in the hope that they would be “of use to teachers, young artists and all those who love and cultivate the «beautiful singing that resounds in the soul»” —a tutti coloro che amano e coltivano il «bel canto che nell’anima risuona».


Chapter I
Of healthy voices.

A healthy voice is a very rare thing, especially where the study of the Solfeggio precedes the formation of the voice; because this prolonged study causes the alteration of the vocal organ, before learning how to use it.

To Solmizate is nothing other than to sing on do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si; all words that are unsympathetic to the good emission of the voice, and that the students also pronounce on notes that are not do, re, mi, etc.; because these seven notes are subject to four accidentals because of the flats and the sharps.

Now, do♯, do♭, do## an do𝄫 are not do natural: it is then absurd to make them pronounce one note when another is being sung. The student, in the emission of the voice, instead of being guided by the ears is being guided by the eyes. Wouldn’t this study of Solfeggio be, then, by chance, in substance, nothing more than an illusory mechanism; and wouldn’t it be possible, without having to say it here, to make them solmizate on any other syllable as well?

In Germany and England, where the choral masses are very well regarded, both for their vocal nerve and for their truly musical performance, the study of Solfeggio is completely unknown. They start by learning musical grammar, and then they sing upon words. This is, in truth, insufficient for the development of the voice, but it is less harmful than the eternal murmuring of the seven sacramental syllables’ litany.

Neither Haydn, nor Mozart, nor Beethoven, nor Weber, nor Schubert, nor Mendelssohn, nor Schumann have ever solmizated. Could it be denied for this reason that they have been, at least, as good musicians as the immortal propagators of the Solfeggio?

In Italy, where the greatest number of healthy voices are found, young people, after having learned the notes with the spoken Solfeggio, sing the Vocalizzi, also called Solfeggi, on the A; they are taught to sing, but not to solmizate.

I have shown in my Vocal Alphabet the danger of the study of the Solfeggio applied to the students of singing; and when it is necessary to do it, it must be preceded by a preparatory study that aims to teach how to emit and how to pose the voice.

This fact it is plain to see: that the voice of the young will have more vigor and will unfold with more delicacy, by singing small progressive vocalizzi on the A and pieces with chosen words.

In this manner the old Solfeggio will fall of its own weight and with it the old custom. And in this way healthy voices will be preserved a little more, since they are, as I said at the beginning of this chapter, a rare merchandise.

We still point out as a cause of vocal ruin in the beginners, the ignorance, regarding the voice, of the majority of the teachers of Solfeggio, who make the boys and the young shout, even during the change of the voice; and who make them go beyond the natural limits of their graceful and delicate vocal organ in the studies of the pieces. My statement is confirmed in the following line of a letter kindly sent to me by M. Fétis, the distinguished Director of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, which precedes the second edition of my Vocal Alphabet.

«The usefulness of your book will be felt, dear Lord —writes Mr. Fétis—, especially in the classes of Solfeggio, if the teachers correctly understand its importance; because it is precisely in these classes where they, for lack of a suitable cure, cause a great number of voices to sink, which would have become beautiful after their development. In these classes it is not a question of producing select singers, but of avoiding the very ugly defects of the emission of the throat sound and of the nose sound; of regulating breathing, of not exceeding certain limits of range, etc.; all things generally ignored and that your Manual teaches».

Text excerpted and translated from Voci e cantanti, Ventotto capitoli di considerazioni generali sulla voce e sull’arte del canto, Enrico Panofka, Florence, 1871.