About the Author
Stewart Carter is Chair of the Department of Music at Wake Forest University, Executive Editor of the Historic Brass Society Journal, and former Editor of Historical Performance: The Journal of Early Music America.
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A Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music
By Stewart Carter
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2012 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
National Singing Styles
Divers Nations have divers fashions, and differ in habite, diet, studies, speech and song. Hence it is that the English doe carroll; the French sing; the Spaniards weepe; the Italians ... caper with their voyces; the others barke; but the Germanes (which I am ashamed to utter) doe howle like wolves.
–Andreas Ornithoparcus, Musicæ active micrologus (1515), translated by John Dowland, 1609
As to the Italians, in their recitatives they observe many things of which ours are deprived, because they represent as much as they can the passions and affection of the soul and spirit, as, for example, anger, furor, disdain, rage, the frailties of the heart, and many other passions, with a violence so strange that one would almost say that they are touched by the same emotions they are representing in the song; whereas our French are content to tickle the ear, and have a perpetual sweetness in their songs, which deprives them of energy.
–Marin Mersenne, Harmonie universelle, 1636
Although one might assume that the human voice has not changed over the centuries, many elements of seventeenth-century vocal performance practice differed considerably from modern singing. There was no single method of singing seventeenth-century music; indeed, there were several distinct national schools, each of which evolved during the course of the century. The differences between French and Italian singing were widely recognized in this period, and the merits of each were debated well into the eighteenth century. There were also distinctive features in German, English, and Spanish singing.
Though the Italian school was the most influential outside its borders, much less source material by Italians survives than by Germans. In reading the sources, confusion inevitably arises regarding terminology and the repertories and regions to which it is applied. Writers use the same term, such as tremolo, with different meanings, which in turn may not correspond to modern usage. Though laryngology was not an established science in the seventeenth century, some writers ventured into the area of vocal physiology, frequently creating more confusion than clarification.
Examining the linkages among treatises reveals both continuity and evolution within a national style over time and crosscurrents among regions. Figure 1.1 shows this linkage for Italian and German sources. While there was considerable musical exchange between Italy and Germany, there are still characteristics that give the music and its performance style an Italian or German "accent."
Most of the defining characteristics of national styles of singing derive from language. As Andrea von Ramm has observed,
The characteristic sound of a language can be imitated as a typical sequence of vowels and consonants, as a melody, as a phrasing. There is an established rhythmical impulse of a language and a specific area of resonance involved for this particular character of a language or a dialect. In German one can say instead of 'Dialekt' also 'Mundart.' ... This causes a different sound, a different resonance and a different singing voice, depending on the language sung.
Seventeenth-century writers on singing also recognized the importance of language. Christoph Bernhard discussed Mundart at some length in Von der Singe-Kunst oder Manier:
The first [aspect of a singer's observation of the text] consists in the correct pronunciation of the words ... such that a singer not rattle [schnarren], lisp or otherwise exhibit bad diction. On the contrary, he ought to take pains to use a graceful and irreproachable pronunciation. And to be sure in his mother tongue, he should have the most elegant Mund-Arth, so that a German would not speak Swabian, Pomeranian, etc, but rather Misnian or a speech close to it, and an Italian would not speak Bolognese, Venetian or Lombard, but Florentine or Roman. If he must sing in something other than his mother tongue, however, then he must read that language at least as fluently [fertig] and correctly as someone born to it. As far as Latin is concerned, because it is pronounced differently in different countries, the singer is free to pronounce it as is customary in the place where he is singing.
The importance of Mundart makes it essential to open the Pandora's box of historical pronunciations, which in their specifics are beyond the scope of this essay. While Italian (a language full of dialects) has changed little in its pronunciation in the last four centuries, French and English have changed profoundly. As a literary language, German was in its infancy in the seventeenth century; it did not achieve a standardized pronunciation for the theater until the late nineteenth century. Even the same language, such as Latin, was pronounced differently in different places (and still is). Research in historical pronunciations yields many revelations in the poetry and expands the palette of sounds available to the aural imagination.
The singer's art was closely aligned with the orator's during the Baroque period. The clear and expressive delivery of a text involved not only proper diction and pronunciation, but also an understanding of the rhetorical structure of the text and an ability to communicate the passion and meaning of the words. How this was achieved differed according to the particular characteristics of the language and culture as well as the musical style. The swing of the pendulum between the primacy of the words and the primacy of the music that occurred during the seventeenth century is important to bear in mind as we survey singing in Italy, France, Germany, England, and Spain.
Italy, ca. 1600-1680
During the 1580s and 1590s, florid singing in Italy reached a zenith with singers who excelled in the gorgia style of embellishments. These singers included women, boys, castratos, high and low natural male voices, and falsettists. The term gorgia (= throat) identified the locus of this technique, involving an intricate neuromuscular coordination of the glottis, which rapidly opens and closes while changing pitch or reiterating a single pitch, an action that is apparently innate to the human voice. A basic threshold of speed is required in order for throat articulation to work easily. The glottal action can be harder or softer depending on the degree of clarity and the emotional expression desired; the Italians apparently used a harder articulation than the French. In 1639 André Maugars observed that the Italians "perform their passages with more roughness, but today they are beginning to correct that." Throat articulation works best when the vocal tract is relaxed and there is not excessive breath pressure.
Lodovico Zacconi described gorgia singers as follows:
These persons, who have such quickness and ability to deliver a quantity of figure in tempo with such velocity, have so enhanced and made beautiful the songs that now whosoever does not sing like those singers gives little pleasure to his hearer, and few of such singers are held in esteem. This manner of singing, and these ornaments are called by the common people gorgia; this is nothing other than an aggregation or collection of many eighths and sixteenths gathered in any one measure. And it is of such nature that, because of the velocity into which so many notes are compressed, it is much better to learn by hearing it than by written examples.
In Italy, throat-articulation technique was often referred to as dispositione. There is ample evidence that it was carried over with the advent of monody and the new, more declamatory styles of singing, in spite of changes in ornamentation style and vocal technique. We find ornaments, such as the ribattuta di gola ("rebeating of the throat"), for example, whose very name suggests its performance technique. Giulio Caccini described the trillo, a repercussion on one pitch, as a "beating in the throat."
Learning a repercussion ornament was recognized as a good way to master throat articulation. Caccini remarks that the trillo and gruppo are "a step necessary unto many things." It is in this context that we should understand Zacconi's remark that "the tremolo, that is, the trembling voice, is the true gate to enter the passages [passaggi] and to become proficient in the gorgia." Equating Zacconi's tremolo with pitch-fluctuation vibrato, as some scholars have done, contradicts the nature of throat-articulation technique. I understand his reference to the continuous motion of the voice to refer to the rapid opening and closing of the glottis, which in the trillo is done continuously on one note. Learning this glottal action independent of changing pitch is enormously helpful as a first step, before advancing to passaggi and other ornaments involving rapid changes of pitch. As Zacconi says, it indeed "wonderfully facilitates the undertaking of passaggi." It is impossible to use throat articulation and continuous vibrato simultaneously, because the two vocal mechanisms are in laryngeal conflict with each other. Because Zacconi's remarks so clearly refer to the gorgia style, it is highly unlikely that his tremolo signifies either pitch-fluctuation vibrato or intensity vibrato.
The decision to use throat-articulation technique has a direct bearing on other stylistic decisions beyond the issue of vibrato. Because of the innate neuromuscular speed involved, the technical choice of throat articulation is directly linked to decisions regarding tempo. Given the fairly narrow physiological range of possible speeds, we can gauge the tempo range for pieces using throat articulated passaggi reasonably accurately.
The declamatory style of singing developed by singer-composers such as Jacopo Peri and Caccini extended speech into song. It most likely involved a laryngeal setup known today as "speech mode," in which the larynx is in a neutral position, with a relaxed vocal tract and without support from extrinsic muscles. Speech mode would have easily accommodated the continued use of throat articulation. What was new, compared to Renaissance practice, was the role (and style) of ornamentation in expressing the text and the use of a more flexible breath stream to reflect the increasing exploitation of the qualitative nature of the Italian language. This flexible breath stream would have ebbed and flowed with the accentuation of the text.
The increased interest in the qualitative nature of Italian is tied to the development of the stile rappresentativo. Musical rhythms evolved from the characteristic rhythms associated with different poetic line lengths and poetic feet. Singers were highly sensitive to the different dynamic stresses for the verso piano, verso tronco, and verso sdrucciolo. As Ottavio Durante says in the preface to his Arie devote (1608), "You must pay attention to observe the feet of the verses; that is to stay on the long syllables and to get off the short ones; for otherwise you will create barbarisms." Giovanni Battista Doni, in his Trattato della musica scenica (1633-35), defined three levels of speech in the stile recitativo: narrative, expressive recitative, and special recitative (a style in between the other two), each of which had its own subtly different characteristic style of speech, compositional style, and manner of singing.
Consistent with the extension of speech into singing was the relatively narrow vocal compass of much of the music in the new style in the early decades of the century and the general preference for "natural" register rather than falsetto. Caccini was quite explicit: "From a feigned voice can come no noble manner of singing, which only proceeds from a natural voice." Bellerofonte Castaldi, in his preface to Primo mazzetto di fiori (1623), wrote:
And because they treat either love or the scorn which a lover has for his beloved, they are represented in the tenor clef, whose intervals are proper and natural for masculine speech; it seems laughable to the Author that a man should declare himself to his beloved with a feminine voice and demand pity from her in falsetto.
Falsettists certainly were common in church choirs and were preferred to less skilled boys for solo parts. The overriding conclusion to make from Caccini's comment is not to switch registers within the same piece but to transpose, if necessary, to avoid doing so. This is basically a one-register concept. For the new style of the early seventeenth century, the falsettist was not yet the operatic voce mezzana.
Different voice registers had been recognized as early as the Middle Ages. In the Lucidarium (1318), for example, Marchettus of Padua mentions three registers: vox pulminis, vox gutturus, and vox capitis. Jerome of Moravia, in the Tractatus de musica (after 1272), identifies vox pectoris, vox gutturis, and vox capitis. Yet many questions persist regarding the concept of register in the seventeenth century, namely: (1) Were different voice registers used or mixed within the same piece? (2) If so, how many registers were recognized? (3) What was the nature of the transition from one register to another? (4) What was the quality of each register? and (5) How do these early terms relate to modern concepts of register?
Most seventeenth-century writers discuss only two registers, natural and falsetto; Zacconi, however, discusses three: voce di testa, voce di petto, and a mixture of the two, called voce obtuse. He generally prefers the voce di petto to the voce di testa. The need to develop a smooth passage between registers is not addressed in Italian sources before Pier Francesco Tosi's Opinioni (1723). Of primary importance to early seventeenth-century Italians was the distinction between "natural" register and "falsetto."
Another aspect of the new style of Italian singing involved greater attention to subtle dynamic shadings and colorings of the voice to express the text. The new flexible airstream facilitated the greater use of dynamics, especially in ornaments such as the messa di voce (a gradual crescendo and diminuendo) and esclamatione (the inverse). The crescendo was not necessarily correlated with pitch-fluctuation vibrato, as is often the case today. Durante tells us to make a crescendo on the dot and in ascending chromatic progressions.
In the absence of dynamic indications in the music, the rhetorical structure of the text and the qualitative ebb and flow of the Italian language provide a dynamic chiaroscuro from which one can shape a flexible dynamic plan. However, it is important to bear in mind the underlying dynamic shape of the voice, which I call the "vocal pyramid," a concept for multiple voices that dates back as far as Conrad von Zabern (De modo bene cantandi, 1474). In this "pyramid" the lowest voices are fuller and heavier, the highest voices softer and finer. This is a balance somewhat different from what we often hear today, when choirs are somewhat "top-heavy." Hermann Finck articulated this concept in a polyphonic context in his Practica musica (1556): "A discant singer sings with a tender and soothing voice, but a bass with a sharper and heavier one; the middle voices sing their melody with a uniform sound and pleasantly and skillfully strive to adapt themselves to the outer voices."
As solo singing developed, Italian singers incorporated this choral-sound concept into the individual voice. Singers today are generally taught to phrase to the highest point of the musical line, whereas in text-centered music of the early Baroque, the rhetorical stress customarily takes advantage of the greater strength of the lower range. This became more fully developed later in the century as compositional practice utilized a more expanded vocal range. The "pyramid" has enormous implications both for dynamics in general and for the dynamic shape and direction of each phrase.
Excerpted from A Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music by Stewart Carter. Copyright © 2012 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of ContentsList of IllustrationsOctave Designation ChartPreface to the Second Edition \ Jeffery Kite-PowellPreface to the First Edition \ Stewart CarterAcknowledgments
Part 1. Vocal/Choral Issues 1. National Singing Styles \ Sally Sanford 2. The Bel Canto Singing Style \ Julianne Baird 3. Choral Music in France and England \ Anne Harrington Heider 4. Choral Music in Italy and the Germanic Lands \ Gary TownePart 2. Wind, String, and Percussion Instruments 5. Woodwinds \ Herbert Myers 6. Cornett and Sackbut \ Bruce Dickey 7. Trombone \ Stewart Carter 8. Trumpet and Horn \ Steven E. Plank 9. Percussion and Timpani \ John Michael Cooper 10. The Violin: Technique and Style \ David Douglass 11. Historical Approaches to Playing the Violin \ Julie Andrijeski 12. The Viola da Gamba Family \ Stuart Cheney with Barbara Coeyman 13. Violoncello and Violone \ Marc Vanscheeuwijck 14. Keyboard Instruments \ Mark Kroll 15. Plucked String Instruments \ Paul O'DettePart 3. Performance Practice and Practical Considerations 16. Ornamentation in Early Seventeenth-Century Italian Music \ Bruce Dickey 17. Basso Continuo \ Jack Ashworth and Paul O'Dette 18. Meter and Tempo \ George Houle 19. Tuning and Temperament \ Herbert Myers 20. Pitch and Transposition \ Herbert MyersPart 4. The Seventeenth-Century Stage 21. Dance \ Dorothy Olsson 22. Theatrical Productions \ James Middleton
Appendix A. List of Names and DatesAppendix B. A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music: ContentsAppendix C. A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music: ContentsBibliographyList of ContributorsIndex
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This new editionis an invaluable resource for both amateur and professional performers as well as scholars and anyone else interested in the fascinating world of seventeenth-century music. Stewart Carter's original volumehas been significantly enhanced by Jeffery Kite-Powell.Jeffrey Kurtzman, Professor of Music, Washington University in St. Louis
This welcome new edition is bigger, better, and more up to date in both discussion and resources cited. It helps the seventeenth century to emergedeservedlyas almost a separate era within the Baroque, and the chapters by so many outstanding scholar-performers make it altogether indispensible!
This volume fills a very real need, and fills it beautifully.A range of eminent scholars and practitioners introduce us to the music [of the seventeenth century], its instruments, and its performance, and bring us up to date on the latest in research and scholarship. It is a book for all serious musicians.