Lesson 16 – The Perfect Voice

History Of Voice And Voice Methods

(continued)
The Renaissance

The Christian religion has proven itself stronger than all other religions. The gods of Greece and Rome are fallen, never to rise again. But with the downfall of Greece and Rome, their high culture, their philosophy, their noble arts, were also forgotten. While man cannot live by bread alone, it is also true that he cannot live by the spirit alone. The material things of world, while we are in it, must be attended to, else even the spirit will disappear, for all impressions, whether for good or evil, must of necessity either elevate or depress the spirit.

That which formerly had graced humanity, its sense of beauty for form and color, its capacity for outward expression, the individual beauty of life had been broken to pieces, to lie scattered and forgotten for a thousand years. Gone were the architectural beauties, the superb sculpture, the drama, the philosophers, the orators and the statesmen of the old civilization. With them, of course, went the debauchery, the rascality and dissoluteness, to destroy which the better parts had also to go. The moral issue had become supreme. All else had to make way for it. The moral worth of the barbarian was superior to the intellectual worth of the highest culture of the time.

But the moral worth, sincerity and spirituality need not exclude the highest state of intellectual culture; on the contrary, both must go hand in hand to make man worthy of his Creator, to prepare him for his high estate in eternity.

The man who sneers at intellect and art is not a true Christian and certainly only an inferior man, be his moral conduct ever so good. We know what baleful influence bigoted but stupid morality exerted in the Middle Ages, as instanced by the tortures of the inquisition: how the same spirit tolerated the burning of witches, even in America, and how profoundly it influences many modern agitators, who wish to make the world moral by statute law.
If you have read Mark Twain’s “A Knight At King Arthur’s Court” you can readily see what effect ignorance had on the people who lived during the first thousand years after the fall of the culture that was Greece.

It was St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) who again erected a bridge to span the abyss between Christ and man. He introduced a new Christ, a brother, a sympathizer with man. The severity of a cold faith was changed to a religion of love and grace. A new inspiration took root in humanity, the first of all in Italy, where Dante wrote his Divine comedy. The sense of beauty and form was reborn; the arts of the past were again studied. Great men like Michael Angelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Titian, Petrarch, Boccacio, Galilei, and others, lived and worked for new ideals.

The ancient Greek dramas were revived and gradually were set to the music of the time, so that in the year 1600 the first grand opera, “Dafne,” by Jacopo Peri, was performed at the court of the Medicis.

In ancient times drama was not spoken, but sung. The principal characters used a sort of chant with an accompaniment of the lyre, and the choruses were also sung. So, when the new literary enthusiasts considered the means at hand, they found there was plenty provision for the choruses, but none for the solos of the principal characters, for all music up to that time had been chorus and congregational singing. The entire musical system was polyphonic – that is, many voiced. The question arose, how should the soloists be provided for?

This problem was solved by Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the great astronomer, Galilei, or Galileo, as the name is sometimes written, who wrote a few songs and sang them himself to this own accompaniment on the viola. Everyone was charmed. Society took up the new art. Real musicians endorsed the new departure, and thus monophonic or single-voiced songs were established in public favor. Opera now became possible, because the songs would serve to express the emotions of the principal characters. The solo songs in the opera were called arias. They represented the highest state of feeling of the action. But the action, even of the principal characters, does not always retain this high state of feeling. Much of the dialogue, of course, would have to be spoken. To obviate recourse to spoken words, the recitative was invented. This is so well adapted to its purpose that it has been retained to the present day. It is a sort of compromise between song and speech; a declamation, partaking of the nature of both.

The music drama was now complete. Grand Opera made its bow to the world. The new art form was taken up with rapture in all countries; both prince and pauper delighted in it. In this wise began the career of the great singers.

At last and for the first time, the human voice came into its own in singing. Its wonderful possibilities began to arouse attention: not only singers, but orators, actors, preachers, statesmen, all those who live by their efforts of mind and voice were attracted to the study and development of their own voices. Henceforward a new art, a new branch of human activity, began to be cultivated.

For over a century opera remained a purely Italian product. The text of operas remained Italian up to the 19th century, even in England and Germany. France alone adopted a national style of text.

The first great name among composers of opera is Alessandro Scarlatti (1659-1725) and he is also the first voice teacher of whom we have any record. Of course, there had been singing teachers before that, but they taught chorus singing and not solo singing. From his time until the present, Italian opera has laid prime stress on melodies, good singable, pleasing melodies and graceful forms.

Gradually, the dramatic action was lost sight of entirely. The solo singer became the main element of the opera. Often the action of the drama was stopped, even in a critical situation, in order to give a singer an opportunity for display in a long and elaborate aria, pleasing in melody, but sensational in character, and full of technical difficulties. Male sopranos (eunuchs) completed with female singers in virtuoso performances. Great schools for training of solo singers arose in Bologna, Rome, Milan, Venice, Naples and Florence.

(okay, this lesson goes on and on about the development of operas. I’m skipping ahead. . . )

The Development Of The Song

As we have seen, songs were among the earliest manifestations of what could be called music. The impulse to express feeling vocally is universal, so is the desire to express rhythm. The monotonous chant of the savages naturally falls into measured cadences, so their war songs are accompanied by the rhythmic beating of a drum or gong. Out of this feeling for melody and rhythm grew lyric poetry and the music to which it was sung. Early songs were commonly a ballad stanza, of four lines exactly fitting our eight-measure musical period.

In time, poetry and literature, disgusted with political life, withdrew into themselves. They began to dream. Artists had grown in intellect. They had become sensitive, perhaps not seeing as clearly as the fathers of the classic period, but feeling more deeply. They demanded a more colorful, richer life, more adventurous, and more interesting than life as they found it. Poem became song. Words and music belong together. What the words only say, the music makes you feel. The accompaniment, too, becomes an essential part of the poem.

The attempts that have in the past been made to develop the human voice will be related in the next lesson. It seemed necessary that you should know something of the history of singing and music. The crude savage, triumphing after a successful kill, the barbarian singing his war song, old men relating in measured cadences the deeds of their forefathers, priests chanting to some god of wood or stone, such were the forerunners of our poets, orators and singers. The sound of the voice must have played a prominent part and, in fact, we know from history and present-day experience that the voice as such, aside from the thought itself, has played a very important part in human life.

Exercises For Lesson 16

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