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Thread: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

  1. #11
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    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    Quote Originally Posted by SineNomine View Post

    Bach aesthetics is simply not applicable always and everywhere - if we say Scholl is perfect for Bach, it does not mean that he is perfect for baroque in general.
    Jan

    Of course, as Jan should recall, a countertenor is never ideal for a Bach alto. Bach never used a countertenor in his cantatas, just as he also never used a castrato. He had male altos with unbroken voices, but boys matured considerably older in his day so they may well have been more skilled and mature than any boy alto who can be found today. (I would love to be contradicted about this last bit!)

    Therefore, Scholl is not perfect for Bach; but his power and superlative technique (at least until recently) make him a good compromise for our age when boys mature at a considerably younger age than in early 18th century Germany.

    Dresden used boy sopranos in sacred music when no castrati were available and female sopranos were never used in sacred music. Some boys sopranos were stars in their own right, such as Franz Benda. 18th century commentators did not mention any marked difference between a castrato and a good boy soprano in terms of vocal style. Modern adult female sopranos singing baroque should try to imitate a boy soprano to some extent.

    Theoreticians of an earlier age than Zelenka praised the cornetto for its vocal qualities. Those of a more modern age than those (i.e. from the late 17th century) praised the viola da gamba for its vocal qualities. They were surely not advocating that the cornetto and viola da gamba should be played with the heavy vibrato, approximate precision and awkward (for baroque music) articulation that modern opera house sopranos and altos such as Hellerova and Cukrova apply to Zelenka under the direction of Luks and Stryncl.

    Almost certainly, the typical tone colour of the early 18th century was far brighter than is now common. Brighter does not mean shriller or louder, despite the current fashion in modern France for loud shrill sopranos in Early Music. The vocal treatises of Tosi and Giambattista Mancini (both 18th century) both call for mouth positions that, by modern standards, are quite closed and would lead to a bright, even shallow, sound, an effect probably only heightened by their lack of emphasis on breathing and support. (Note that the practice of "covering" high notes does not seem to have started before the early 19th century.) Unsurprisngly, both Tosi and Mancini explicitly criticise any heavy production. Mancini also speaks of brightening and clarifying the tone ("chiarire"). No one would pretend that heavy vibrato and heavy tone clarify anything.

    Further, the continuous vibrato integral to modern vocal tone (thus to Hellerova and Cukrova) apparently had little place in baroque technique. Tosi warned against allowing sustained notes to be coloured by any "trembling" or "fluttering", which does not seem to mean he required there be absolutely no vibrato, but only that heavy fluttering or shaking of the modern opera singer type should be avoided (after all, you had to make your reputation by your ability to trill effectively in the 18th century and this meant you had to make a clear distinction between vibrato and the trill).

    The expressive potential of brightened tone and limited vibrato have been well demonstrated by the best Early Music singers such as Emma Kirkby (of the first generation) and Dorothee Mields and Hana Blazikova (of the latest generation).

    Another noteworthy aspect of Baroque vocal style is the distribution of weight, and indeed registers, within the voice. Jan is misinformed about castrati singing without transitions between registers. Tosi and Mancini both state that the castrato singer, the epitome of 18th century vocal style, normally sang in chest voice up to about c” or d” and then mixed into head voice for the last five or six tones of his compass. Modern female singers will probably not wish to follow this procedure, even in castrato repertoire; but the description suggests that the weight of an early 18th century singer’s voice lay in the lower range; the top of the voice was comparatively light, although certainly not weak or lacking penetration. Thus, the voice should lighten as it ascends rather than grow louder and shriller as the pitch raises as is commonly heard from modern opera singers (whether in 19th century and later repertory or in baroque repertory). The difference between this technique and the more modern approach means that those used to the modern approach can find the climactic high notes sound thin and unconvincing. But in a period-instrument or historically informed performance that is no reason for ignoring the principle and singers should avoid the temptation to apply vocal weight to the higher notes and change the nature of their musical line.

    And finally, as Honey B pointed out, is it too much to want there to be stylistic consistency between the voices and the instruments in a period-instrument performance of baroque music? Otherwise, you might as well not bother with the period instruments.
    Last edited by Osbert Parsley; 25-09-2012 at 09:40 AM.
    Osbert

  2. #12

    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    You can also find a lot of quotes from 16.-18. century speaking for vibrato...Finally, it was in the past, as today, a matter of taste
    Jan

    Francesco Geminiani advocated using vibrato "as frequently as possible"

    J.A. Hiller, 1780. Observes that the castrato Carestini used vibrato "frequently and with very fine effect"

    Georg Quitschreiber, 1598. "...one sings best with a quivering voice..."

    Praetorius, 1614. "...that a singer possess a beautiful, lovely, trembling and wavering voice" -from Syntagma musicum

    W.A. Mozart in 1778:

    "The human voice vibrates by itself, but in a way and to a degree that is beautiful--this is the nature of the voice, and one imitates it not only on wind instruments, but also on strings"

  3. #13
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    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    Quote Originally Posted by SineNomine View Post
    You can also find a lot of quotes from 16.-18. century speaking for vibrato...Finally, it was in the past, as today, a matter of taste
    Jan

    Francesco Geminiani advocated using vibrato "as frequently as possible"

    J.A. Hiller, 1780. Observes that the castrato Carestini used vibrato "frequently and with very fine effect"

    Georg Quitschreiber, 1598. "...one sings best with a quivering voice..."

    Praetorius, 1614. "...that a singer possess a beautiful, lovely, trembling and wavering voice" -from Syntagma musicum

    W.A. Mozart in 1778:

    "The human voice vibrates by itself, but in a way and to a degree that is beautiful--this is the nature of the voice, and one imitates it not only on wind instruments, but also on strings"

    Mozart, to take one example, also criticised a singer for having a constant heavy vibrato (sorry, I cannot find the reference at the monent). Leopold Mozart also criticised musicians who use a constant vibrato. There is considerable evidence from 17th and 18th century sources (including, I am told, Leopold Mozart's violin treatise) that vibrato, like the crescendo, was an ornament, to be used from time to time but not constantly "gracing" the voice (as with, for example, Miss Hellerova or Miss Cukrova).

    But, let us be clear: I am not advocating no vibrato at all (although I think there is an argument based on the musical writing style for absolutely minimal - or extremely rare and almost inaudible - vibrato for certain periods of music in certain places (e.g. Stradella and his mid-17th century Italian colleagues).

    The problem is that people use these clear early references to vibrato and its naturalness as an excuse for hiring singers with a post-18th century vocal technique. That technique includes pasting the voice over with a heavy, constant, unchanging vibrato. It is like the tremulant stop on an organ. We know it is there, but that does not mean we have to use it constantly. How we would laugh if someone played the organ with the tremulant stop pulled for the whole recital.

    However, vibrato is the easy thing to refer to. What I find sounds inappropriate in Baroque music of the Zelenka period is a type of vocal production that is heavy (especially at the top) and strident, even when no vibrato is present. In other words, using a style and technique of vocal production (which brings with it as a physical necessity a style of articulation and thus of expression) that is the product of the revolutionary change in musical aesthetics that started around 1790-1810 and would sound completely alien to Mozart and his contemporaries and all who preceded them. That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova (who I note is a major participant in Musica Florea's upcoming Zelenka recording too).

    Also, as a matter of personal taste, I find Miss Hellerova's singing lacking in expression and emotional conviction by comparison with Miss Blazikova.

    By the way, if you regard the Mozart quotation as allowing a heavy, 19th century style vibrato, then he seems to be saying that the strings and winds should also adopt a heavy vibrato. If so, by that standard Collegium 1704 fell below the mark.
    Last edited by Osbert Parsley; 26-09-2012 at 05:05 AM.
    Osbert

  4. #14

    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    Quote Originally Posted by Osbert Parsley View Post
    Mozart, to take one example, also criticised a singer for having a constant heavy vibrato (sorry, I cannot find the reference at the monent). Leopold Mozart also criticised musicians who use a constant vibrato. There is considerable evidence from 17th and 18th century sources (including, I am told, Leopold Mozart's violin treatise) that vibrato, like the crescendo, was an ornament, to be used from time to time but not constantly "gracing" the voice (as with, for example, Miss Hellerova or Miss Cukrova).

    But, let us be clear: I am not advocating no vibrato at all (although I think there is an argument based on the musical writing style for absolutely minimal - or extremely rare and almost inaudible - vibrato for certain periods of music in certain places (e.g. Stradella and his mid-17th century Italian colleagues).

    The problem is that people use these clear early references to vibrato and its naturalness as an excuse for hiring singers with a post-18th century vocal technique. That technique includes pasting the voice over with a heavy, constant, unchanging vibrato. It is like the tremulant stop on an organ. We know it is there, but that does not mean we have to use it constantly. How we would laugh if someone played the organ with the tremulant stop pulled for the whole recital.

    However, vibrato is the easy thing to refer to. What I find sounds inappropriate in Baroque music of the Zelenka period is a type of vocal production that is heavy (especially at the top) and strident, even when no vibrato is present. In other words, using a style and technique of vocal production (which brings with it as a physical necessity a style of articulation and thus of expression) that is the product of the revolutionary change in musical aesthetics that started around 1790-1810 and would sound completely alien to Mozart and his contemporaries and all who preceded them. That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova (who I note is a major participant in Musica Florea's upcoming Zelenka recording too).

    Also, as a matter of personal taste, I find Miss Hellerova's singing lacking in expression and emotional conviction by comparison with Miss Blazikova.

    By the way, if you regard the Mozart quotation as allowing a heavy, 19th century style vibrato, then he seems to be saying that the strings and winds should also adopt a heavy vibrato. If so, by that standard Collegium 1704 fell below the mark.

    What do you mean by "heavy vibrato"? Have you ever heard a really opera singers with "heavy vibrato" like Leontyne Price and many others?:-)
    hardly, when you say Hellerova and Cukrova sing with "heavy vibrato".
    "That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova" - I think it's mostly your problem :-)
    ....by the way ... orchestras played without vibrato still the 19th century. Orchestra is again another chapter, as well as solo and ensemble singing.

  5. #15
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    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    Quote Originally Posted by SineNomine View Post
    "That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova" - I think it's mostly your problem :-)

    You're right, I should have made explicit that it is "my problem" with those singers, although at least one other forum member, Honey B, seems to agree.

    Vibrato becomes heavy when it reaches the level of being both persistent and strongly audible. Of course there is even heavier vibrato than Miss Hellerova's, sometimes even in so-called historically informed performances. That said, I think I would still marginally prefer to hear Barbara Hendricks sing Zelenka than Miss Hellerova!

    However, as I took some pains to explain in my last post, vibrato is only one element of the many elements of the post-1800 (or so) singing style I regard as (a) inappropriate for early 18th century singing and (b) inconsistent with the playing style of period instrument Baroque ensembles. I have heard some modern-style sopranos singing baroque music with almost no vibrato and the sound and expression is still all wrong.

    I should have asked earlier, but is my impression correct that you positively dislike Hana Blazikova's singing or the singing style of Blazikova and similar singers (such as, for example, Dorothee Mields, Suzie Leblanc)?
    Last edited by Osbert Parsley; 26-09-2012 at 09:21 AM.
    Osbert

  6. #16
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    Default Re: Collegium 1704 to perform Missa Omnium Sanctorum at Utrecht Early Music Festival

    Quote Originally Posted by SineNomine View Post
    Zelenka never used countertenor (nor Handel or all Italien composers). Jan
    Actually, I forgot to mention this earlier, but it was a known practice in early 18th century Italy (particularly in Northern Italy) for countertenors to sing solo alto music in church, though never when a castrato was available.
    Osbert

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