Francesco Lamperti: guide to the study of singing III
Third and last part of Francesco Lamperti’s Theoretical-practical-elementary guide to the study of singing.
Of the way of attacking sounds.
Q. What is the main thing that the student should attend to when executing the exercises?
R. To attack the sound precisely when the lungs are completely full of air.
Q. How can we tell if the sound is being emitted over a whole breath?
R. By measuring in advance the duration of the breath and then that of the sound.
Q. Which sign could indicate the degrees of greater or lesser amount of air absorbed into the lungs in order to give an idea of the appropriate time to attack the sound over the fiato?
R. We will take the sign that is used to indicate a crescendo, putting it vertically with the number of seconds that the ordinary breathing of each individual can last approximately.
Sound emitted over the whole breath estimated at 18 seconds.
Q. Would it be harmful to attack the sound, so to speak, over the lower degrees of the fiato?
R. Certainly; the more the voice is emitted over the lower degrees such as 15, 12, 9, etc., the greater it will be lacking in firmness and development, and it will even come out uncertain and without vigor.
Q. What are the advantages of emitting the voice precisely over the whole breath, according to the precepts of article 7?
R. The advantages that derive from emitting the voice in the aforementioned way, that is, over the whole breath, are: the complete development of the sounds, the easier union of the registers, the security of connecting and supporting the sounds, the sweetness of the sounds that come out penetrating and animated, the greater security of intonation, the equality throughout the agility and the elegance in general in the execution of all phrases, even the most insignificant that become pleasant to the listener.
Exercises for the execution of sounds with equal power.
At the beginning of the studies it is recommended to hold the fiati very briefly.
(1) After the note I thought it was appropriate to put two little notes that must be executed mentally, so that the student can get used to retain a quantity of air in the lungs as if he had to execute them with the voice, thus avoiding the defect of letting the fiato escape at the end of the sound. The teacher should pay great attention to these little notes, as they are essential to ensure the correct closing of sentences and periods.
Exercise over conjunct motion.
Q. Which of the two sounds should serve as a base and support?
R. Always the first of the two, both ascending and descending; that is, the lower will support the higher in the ascending scale and vice versa in the descending scale.
Note: performed according to the rules outlined in Article IX.
Exercises to support the voice.
The ascent is by semitones according to the student’s capability.
I have thought it appropriate to omit the leaps of third, fourth, etc., because they are already present in the previous exercises, confining myself now to focus the attention on the leaps of sixth and octave, which are the most difficult, either due to intonation or because of the equality of the voice, and at the same time they are the most useful for the student.
Leaps of sixth.
I give these examples of the most used leaps of sixth jump that are difficult to perform according to the rules of the fiato and the good legato, under the norm of the precepts of article IX. Singers meet this difficulty when they have to perform the jump from the center to a high note.
Leaps of octave.
Extended according to the vocal range.
The importance of this leap of octave is so great that I thought it would be good to develop an exercise in the form of a solfeggio in order to make it more enjoyable for the students. Then it will be the responsibility of the teacher, for the greater benefit of the student, to develop this important leap in a variety of ways.
Exercises of octave.
Note: to execute these exercises well, while the sounds are ascending, the student must imagine that he is making them descend through the fiato and vice versa when the sounds descend.
The student carries the voice as indicated in article IX, beginning the exercise in tempo allegro and gradually prolonging it [in successive repetitions] with as much rallentando as possible, until he controls his breathing.
N.B.: this exercise can be developed by the teacher according to the range of the students’ voices.
Exercises for the agility.
P. In the study of scales, what are the main shortcomings of singers?
R. In the execution of scales, above all, all the notes that are not a part of the accompanying chord are sang out of tune.
Notes alien to the chord difficult to sing in tune.
If you observe the G, the real note of the scale, it is always flat because of the F that precedes it.
Q. How should the student be controlled in order to secure the intonation of these notes and make him used to them?
R. You will have to study the following exercise slowly, with particular regard to all the strange notes already mentioned and paying the greatest attention so that they come out perfectly in tune, since the happy execution of the successive scales and runs [volate] depends on these principles.
And so on up to the full breadth of the student’s voice.
The intonation of the scales relies very much on this second note D.
And in the same way also the perfect scales that must be executed slowly supporting all the notes that aren’t part of the accompanying chord, paying special attention to the second and seventh, so that they don’t come out flat.
Q. What are the most difficult scales to perform? Ascending or descending scales?
R. Ascending scales, above all exceptions.
Q. For what reasons?
R. Firstly, because of the difficulty in singing the second and seventh degrees in tune due to the dissonant impact of the tritone and because of the support of the fiato, which must be held more firmly so that the sounds do not become slowed down or flat. Then in the execution of the descending scales the student will be particularly careful that the second grade doesn’t come out flat and the third sharp, as most of the times happens to those who don’t pay attention to them.
It may be extended according to the student’s voice.
Descending like this:
And so on according to the breadth of the student’s voice:
(1) The sign indicates a half-breath to be taken when the lungs still contain a lot of air, because otherwise half-breaths are impossible.
N.B.: it is necessary for the student to train the half-breaths from the beginning, because they are very useful for the expression of dramatic singing; but in order to be able to do this, the student must take a quick breath on the abandoned note, so as not to subtract from the value of the next one, as is revealed by the signs marked on the preceding scale.
This exercise, when the student has become familiar with it, must be executed with only one breath and it is specific for female voices.
N. 21. In this exercise you should always take half breaths:
In the study of natural scales, the student should pay much attention to the Tritone, that is, F and B; once the difficulty has been overcome, he will find a great advantage in the security of the intonation.
Note: from number 8 to 11 the exercises are better suited to the voices of women than to those of men.
N. 24. and N. 25. Ascending by semitones:
Generally, composers disregard agility in minor keys; however, I think it is necessary for the student to follow a small rule in this matter as well.
Between the minor and major scales there is no other difference than between the third, sixth and seventh minor grades. Among these I will point out those which, being usually emitted sharp and flat, are more difficult to sing in tune and therefore require more study. —I also find it appropriate that the student should exercise on the augmented second, which is the reason why composers do not write agility in the minor tones, and that the musicians of olden times exclude both in harmony and in melody because of the difficulty of the interval, avoiding the bad relation of the tritone, but that all modern maestros use very frequently and with good effect. The following example, I think, will familiarize the student with the aforementioned leap.
This ascending augmented second leap requires to be executed without celerity, because even with great attitude it would be impossible to execute it in such a way. —I might, however, ask myself why, in order to avoid this difficulty, singers do not imagine a G♯ and a B natural instead of an A♭ and a B♮. —I will answer in such a case that it is not the eyes that must tune, but the ear and that, whatever the name of the note, one feels the hardness of the relationship of the tritone, as revealed in the following example:
It would instead be easier to sing G♯ B, if instead of F we would sing an E, as can be deduced from the following example:
The example serves to prove that it is the E that makes the G♯ and the B come out easily. The student will therefore detect that it is necessary to study an augmented second, not a minor third. The descending augmented second, on the other hand, of which there is an example below, is much easier, and a well-prepared student can perform it even in a much faster tempo, and the intonation comes out much more easily.
The teacher will train the students in this augmented second, extending the exercise semitone by semitone, according to the breadth of the student’s voice, always in accordance with the rules of the fiato or vocal support, and may be modified and varied to suit the capacity of the same student.
To study the gruppetto.
Semi-tonal scales and trills.
Note: the first note of each triplet is marked and so on successively according to the breadth of the student’s voice.
Note: the first note of each quartina is marked and so on successively according to the breadth of the student’s voice.
And so on successively according to the breadth of the student’s voice.
N.B.: the above are brief exercises for gruppetti, semi-tonal scales and trills. I have presented them briefly, only to complete these preliminary elements, and they should be executed only after the solfeggi.ç
Two octave scales.
N.B.: these exercises should be limited or extended by the teacher, according to the breadth of the student’s voice, and when these are well learned, he should color the ascending scales, beginning gently and reinforcing from grade to grade, and the descending scales, beginning with force and gradually decreasing on the descent, always with that elegance that comes progressively to characterize the distinguished singer.
Perhaps some will be surprised that I have not said a single word about the passages of the registers in the voices, this is because in my method I have properly sought to avoid the disastrous consequences that the rules so far dictated to this purpose by other singing methods brought to the voices of the singers. To establish an extreme and specific point in the development of voices, especially female voices, and to lay down on this specific norms, was and still is a statement that, more than any other teaching defect, has produced a serious damage to the young students, because since the human voice is not an instrument like the others in which the range of the notes is predetermined, to want to impose such a range, in spite of the deficiency and incompatibility of the natural means, forcing them, cannot but affect and noticeably deteriorate the instrument. —This is why I remain silent about these passages in the registers, leaving to nature, guided by the norms expressed by me, the task of developing the voices, since at this point it is nature itself that determines differently according to the various vocal organs.
Just as the existence of an absolute and for everyone singing method is impossible, and this training can only be reserved for mechanical instruments that have a stable tessitura, thus it is impossible for the solfeggi to suit everyone. In spite of this axiom, and despite the reflection that the solfeggi should not form part of a theoretical guide of singing dedicated to the culture of the human throats in general, I have wanted nevertheless to conclude my advices with four solfeggi that are not progressive and that I wrote above all to give the student an idea of the modern style, leaving to the fair criterion of the teacher the power to select among these the one that suits best the age of the student and his voice, or to consider the many and optimal solfeggi already written before me by very brave teachers.
I do not think it is superfluous to observe that both in the solfeggi and in the exercises, the teacher should never make the student sing on his two extreme notes, neither inferior nor superior, limiting themselves to exercising above all the center of the voice; in the same way, if the student finds it difficult to syllabify some notes, he should then emit them with a simple a, leaving the syllabification for the notes in which it is easier for him. The only case, finally, in which the complete tessitura of the student, always avoiding the two extreme inferior notes, can be touched, and only briefly, is in the exercise of the progressive scale.
Solfeggi 1 to 4.1
These solfeggi, except for the first one, can be vocalized by the student in the points where he finds many notes.
Both these and the exercises are very little; but strictly speaking they only form the accessory part of a guide that could have fulfilled its objective even without them.
I have already said that brave masters, such as Aprile, Righini, Crescentini, etc., took care of writing exercises and solfeggi, which various modern writers also did; but if these had brought a real benefit, the theatres of the world would be now full of singing celebrities, which unfortunately does not happen.
Mine, therefore, I repeat, are nothing more than the appendix of a guide that I have written with the objective of making it easier for the students to emit the voice, to develop it, to make them masters of breathing and good pronunciation, to know up to what note the voice extends and, finally, to make it elegant, without mannerisms, since if it is beautiful it will not produce the effect of a vast uncultivated wasteland.
If young teachers, or those who have had little training in teaching, have the patience to read attentively the precepts of this guide and to enter the spirit of its aesthetic dimension, they will be able to make their students study without fear of ruining their voice.
And with the aim of avoiding the grave and otherwise obvious devastation of the blossoming means, I will add finally that during the education one should avoid the study of modern operas in which purely dramatic singing is, more than anything else, harmful to the development and culture of voices in general and especially of female voices which without exception should be exercised in the old repertoire, that is, with the operas of Bellini and Donizetti, and above all with those of Rossini. The exception that could be made to this general principle is applicable to the Baritones, whose key, created as it were from Giorgio Ronconi onwards, with the blending of the two voices of serious tenor and singing bass, can be applied to the study of modern operas, born, so to speak, with the new key. Even for tenors and basses some rare exceptions can be made, since the new repertoire does not lack some piece that is not harmful to them, but, in any case, the old repertoire will always be more profitable and less dangerous, which, I repeat, must be applied to female voices exclusively, without exception.
To prevent these errors was the objective for which I have extended this guide; when I had finished it I considered myself fortunate to have been able to make a contribution to the beautiful art of singing.
1 Translator’s note: Cf. F. Lamperti, Guida teorico-pratica-elementare per lo studio del canto, pp. 45-48.
Text excerpted and translated from Guida teorico-pratica-elementare per lo studio del canto, Francesco Lamperti, Milan, 1864.