07 Nov 2005

Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant), Vol. IV

As far back as the Middle Ages, students (often only identified as Anonymous) have recorded the methods of performance imparted by their masters. In later centuries, such illustrious teachers wrote and published their own methods.

This practice became particularly popular during the Age of Enlightenment when treatises were produced for a growing market of dilettantes who wished to learn the rudiments of singing and playing instruments. Famous examples include Leopold Mozart Violinschule (1756) and J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emanuel’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (1753 and 1762). Musical treatises took on new significance in the nineteenth century; with the rise of the rise of the conservatory and the increasing emphasis on musical performance in the middle-class home, famous performers who became noted teachers put pen to paper to share their techniques with an ever-increasing market of literate amateurs. Hence, it was possible to partake of a conservatory experience without ever leaving the comfort of one’s own parlor or salon.

Fuzeau Editions has published several series of these treatises in facsimile, gathering volumes of various categories so that they can be consulted together. One such series is a compilation of voice treatises and methods written by important virtuosi and pedagogues of the Romantic Age (although the title suggests a timeline from 1800-1860, the earliest volume dates from 1804 and the latest, 1870); among the authors included are Girolamo Crescentini, both Manual Garcias (father and son), Gioachino Rossini, Gilbert Louis Duprez, Luigi Lablache, and François-Joseph Fétis. Each of the seven volumes contains two or three methods at, as Fuzeau proclaims, reasonable costs. If purchased in toto, the series can be had for 424,000 euros, a savings of 116 euros were each book bought separately. The individual volumes range from 44 to 84 euros (roughly 50 to $100). Purchasers initially might think the publications costly, but compared to the price of a trip to a major research institution to consult the originals, it seems more palatable.

Volume IV of the series includes three important mid-century works, listed here as they appear: Manual Garcia, fils’ Traité complet de l’art du chant (1847), Laure Cinti-Damoreau’s Méthode de chant (1849), and Joseph (Giuseppe) Concone’s Introduction à l’art de bien chanter (c. 1845). Garcia, son of the singer who premiered the role of the Count in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, abandoned his own career as a baritone when he exhibited vocal woes while performing in New York. Far more important was his work as a teacher; among his students were his own sisters, Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, and Jenny Lind, Erminia Frezzolini, Mathilde Marchesi, and Julius Stockhausen. His main significance, however, comes from his scientific study of the construction of the vocal apparatus; his experiments with the laryngoscope, a small mirror with which the vocal mechanism could be viewed, brought the art of singing into the world of science. Cinti-Damoreau had a highly successful career as a soprano at both the Opéra and the Thêátre-italien. Imitating the techniques she heard from her Italian colleagues, she is remembered as a Rossinian soprano, having premiered roles in his Le Siège de Corinthe, Moïse, Le comte Ory, and Guillaume Tell. She taught at the Paris Conservatoire for 23 years; the lessons and exercises that comprise her Méthode were approved as a text for that institution’s vocal curriculum. After a brief career as a singer, Concone taught in Paris, overlapping Cinti-Damoreau’s teaching career by one year; holding her art in high esteem, he dedicated his own book to her as an “expression of recognition and admiration.” Indeed, the network of influence among all the authors in this series is noteworthy. Concone notes as well that he drew his exercises from Rossini’s Gogheggi e solfeggi (1827; see Volume III of this series; Cinti-Damoreau shares cadenzas she performed in roles in Cenerentola, Il barbiere, and Le comte Ory, among others. Garcia’s method, save for his own pioneering work in the study of the human voice, derives from his father’s Exercices pour la voix (c. 1835; also in Volume III).

Of course, facsimiles have their pros and cons. In their favor, such publications exactly replicate the content and appearance of works as they were published initially. Hence, there is no chance that textual passages or accompanying musical examples would be accidentally eliminated. The job of the series editor is to locate the sources to be included; the Chant series editor, Jeanne Roudet, notes that the provenance of the originals came from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the British Library. Thus, readers and researchers can consult a duplication of the original work rather than an actual edited text. One obvious problem, though, is language; a reader must be fluent in the writer’s tongue to understand the work (of the seventeen methods in the series, fifteen are in French and two in Italian). Although some of these works are available in translation, one is then always at the mercy of someone else’s interpretation. Since a fair portion of these methods includes musical examples and exercises, however, it is almost worth investing in a good language dictionary and having a go at the original text. In truth, one could study the various techniques simply by performing the exercises in ornamentation, vocalization, and etudes that drew on the vocal music of the day. Fortunately, the language of music is universally understood.

One slight drawback of this series is the physical size of the volumes. Printed on fine but heavy stock, the large volumes (9¼ by 13 inches) have a soft cover, making them awkward to use. The size, of course, approximates that of the originals; printed separately, they were manageable books with hard covers. Two or three bound together makes for an unwieldy volume. Anyone considering one or more of the series with the intention of serious usage would do well to invest in making them hardbound. A quick note on page numbers: each facsimile bears continuous pagination at the bottom center of each page while the original page numbers appear at the top verso and recto.

Singers (both students and pedagogues) who aim for an informed performance of the French and Italian repertories from this time period will want to consult (or even own) these facsimiles. If music libraries do not automatically subscribe to the Fuzeau Fac-similes, they would be wise to purchase the entire series because the cost of originals, if they even can be located on the rare book market, is decidedly more. Opera lovers who read music will enjoy glancing through method books like those of Garcia, Cinti-Damoreau and Concone, for they explain from the inside out how singers once learned their craft.

Denise Gallo