This Art

Il  Sorriso
L' e(ste)tica
La Voce Umana
The Camerata
In Memoriam
Su "L' Alternato"


Dedicated to discerning melomaniacs so that they may stop being subjected to show business basking in the light of not always admissible interests.

So that the informed general public may follow and enjoy the great Art of Song.

Without forgetting the WORD of the Great Masters.

Then: either go back

to the great Italian school of singing

if one wants to be a virtuoso performer,

or else abandon for ever a repertory

which, as Caccini said,

"does not suffer mediocrity".

Annibale Gianuario


Union of the two registers (chest and head), giving forth the creation of a single register from which derives a) homogeneity, b) wide vocal range, and c) "soave et spiccata" (that is virtuosity detached) virtuosity.

These characteristics exclude the ludicrous subdivision of the vocal range, linked to the decline of vocalism. Henceforth rendered meaningless are the distinctions soprano leggero, soprano lirico, soprano drammatico, soprano lirico spinto, etc.; or mezzo soprano d'agilità, mezzo soprano drammatico, etc.; and this holds equally true for the masculine range. These distinction have nothing in common with the woman who, singing from the chest, imitates the male voice or the man who, using uniquely the upper range, imitates the female voice. These qualities are necessary for any repertory; they assure vocal health and longevity and are obligatory for any performance of Italian music composed before the second half of the 19th century.

Those who lack this gift, even the most famous show-business performers, cannot be considered as great singers, nor as members of the Republic of the Art of Song. Numerous texts and other evidence from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries reveal beyond any shadow of doubt the qualities considered essential in great vocalisation. They are identical to those found in the great tradition of the following centuries.

A general consideration deserves to be deeply meditated upon here: in our time we have completely lost the sense of "creating sound", above all in the vocal arts. It appears as if the fact of being able to "speak" (with greater or lesser "volume") provides us by right with the faculty of being able to "sing".

Just as with other sound-as-event (a typical paradox of the time we live in is that only piano schools ask themselves how they are going to "create sound") - but in particular where song is concerned - what is essential is the "creation of sound" or transformation of voice into sound in which the voice is like wood or any other material required to make a musical instrument.

The creation of sound means using as much as possible those parts of the body that permit amplification (resonance) of sound-which is to say those resonators above the larynx seated in the nasal cavities and in the paranasal cavities (othmoids, maxillary and sphenoid).

The great, centuries-old Italian School was based upon research and development of " resonance " and as it happens all texts mention the "sonorous voice ". Total resonance is possible only through the mechanism of support, a mechanism which, as the ancients say, cannot be described with words or in writing. One can only say that phonetic exercises exist which are based on appropriate vowels and consonants passed down from generation to generation orally so as to create sound at the highest point and as foward as possible.

At that point one has a voice which carries (The voice is moderately pleasing, but does not carries" Monteverdi noted) and an instrument that makes the vocal script extraordinarily prominent by means of its objective rendering. This is why characterisation of the voice in the ancient Italian School was absolutely lacking.


FRANCESCO PATRIZI, Amorosa Filosofia, 1577

"Her voice then (Tarquinia Molza) is a soprano which is not dark, not suppressed, not forced but very clear, open, very sweet, low, equal and very suave; that which in the end we could say, if it were possible to do so without transgression, is more than angelic, and that which musicians usually call round, which counts as much when it is below, as in the middle, as above".

GIULIO CESARE BRANCACCI, Letter to Alfonso d'Este, December 1589, describes to the Duke the

"(...) round and sonorous voice, as much so when it is low as when it is high and in the middle range " by a Singer.

ALFONSO D'ESTE, Letter of June 1589. The Duke asks, concerning a Bass.

"If he has a good voice, if his voices are sweet, if he sings with discretion, if he has disposition, how he bears the high voices, and to what point he deepens his voice".

ERCOLE BOTTRIGARI, Dialog "II Desiderio" (1594-99)

"(...) always using the very sonorous and very suave voices they have in song".

GIULIO CACCINI, Letter to Andrea Cioli of the 10th March 1617.

"(...) Mister Francesco Bonsi, the most beautiful and most sonorous voice there ever was, at least in my time, among gentlemen in this city, with an inexpressible grace in manipulating it".

The golden age of the Italian School of Singing is characteised by the ideal of the "natural voice", as Caccini says, of the voice, that is, in which the two natural registers (chest and head) operate in perfect union. Already in the second half of the 16th century the falsettos [today back in fashion with the name of counter-tenor, haute-contre, alto and contralto (sic)], were substituted in the Chapels (where women were forbidden to be present) by the Evirated Singers. They, as the most recent scientific studies have also demonstrated, conserved the acute female Octave (eviration determines the lack of testosterone, a hormone which governs the development of the male's sexual characteristics) and were able to fully produce, as do female and male voices, the union of the two registers (cf. the expression "Castratos as Natural Sopranos" by Pietro Della Valle). The evirated singers were also present in the Theatre, where they often alternated with female Singers in the same roles (cf. for example Giovanna Alberti and Senesino in the works of Alessandro Scarlatti, Diana Vico, Niccolini, Mrs. Barbier and Bemacchi in Handel's Rinaldo). The presence today of singers of falsetto in the Italian or Italianised repertoire is completely anti-historic, anti-aesthetic and anti-technical.


GIULIO CACCINI, Preface to Nuove Musiche, Florence, 1601.

"Nobility in fine singing cannot come from false voices: it will come out of a natural voice that accomodates all the chords which can be used according to talent without needing breathing in order to demonstrate mastery of all the best effects that are required in this noble manner of singing".

PIETRO DELLA VALLE, Della musica dell’ età nostra che non è punto inferiore, anzi è migliore di quella dell'età passata, Rome, 1640.

"(...) to briefly mention the sopranos, the greatest ornament music has, will Your Lordship compare the falsettos of that time with the natural soprano of the castratos which today we have in abundance?"

"(...) and besides the singers, where were there in the past those many women singers who today we have with singular excellence?" "(...) But where have I left the nuns who for honour's sake I should have first named?"

At the origin of the exclusion of singers of falsetto, as with the pueri cantores ("at times when listening to them they wrenched chords in a way that was unbearable to me" says Della Valle), there is the aesthetic expressive, humanistic and Renaissance revolution that has its outlet in the Monody of the Second Practice. Della Valle in fact declares:

"But all those who from trills and passages on and from good voicing, had almost no more art in their singing than piano and forte, increasing the voice little by little, lowering it with grace, the expression of affections and indulging the words and their sense with good judgement and gladdening the voice or rendering it melancholic, from making it piteous or bold as required, and other similar pretty things which nowadays singers do excellently, at that time was not talked about (...)".

A brief excursus into technical aspects will make clear "ancient" words a vocal civilisation which today has disappeared almost completely and is unknown.


GIOVANNI CAMILLO MAFFEI, Delle lettere... discorso della voce e del modo di apparare di cantar di Garganta senza Maestro, Naples, 1562.

"The voice must expire breath little by little, making sure that it is not lost in the nose or the throat."

PIER FRANCESCO TOSI, Opinioni de' Cantori antichi e moderni. Bologna, 1723.

"The Student's voice (...) should come out clearly and purely without passing through the nose or drowning in the throat. These are the singer's most fatal defects; once they have contaminated one's technique, there exists no remedy."

Tosi revealed a false emission from the other side of the Alps which started to find followers already at that time and which found its imitators in Italy.

The "emetic style" or "retching" which in no way corresponded either to the phonation of the Italian language or to tradition, gave way to what Traetta called "the French shout" and what Liszt would term "the great cry". It is obvious that we have a "retching" sound when there is in no way awareness of the "vocal resonance".

"You will feel sick when you hear the invented emetic style of those who sing like waves of the sea, provoking innocent notes with ill-bred thrusts of the voice. This is a disgusting and uncivilised defect, but since it comes from the other side of the mountains it is passed off as a modern rarity".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"The voice should come out clearly, sonorously, and beautifully (...) They (the singers) passed years perfecting intonation and practicing the techniques destined to considerate and firmly retain the voice's qualities; to render her clear; to work her emission, gradation, etc."

As we have said, the creation of the vocal sound, of the "sonorous voice", is possible only by means of the appoggio, another technical term which is inexplicable when written (as already considered in ancient writings on vocal style) which is to say, the mechanism that permits the total and exclusive utilisation of resonance.

PIER FRANCESCO TOSI, Opinioni de' Cantori antichi e moderni, Bologna, 1723.

"If they (teacher) then make him sing the "words before he has a frank understanding of solfeggio, and then sustained vocalisation, he is ruined".

It is this "sustaining" that allows the "total" union of registers, which is to say the creation of a unique register with its consequent homogeneity, purity and perfect intonation.

There is a great secret for getting there and it comes from the consideration that there is unique point in the sustaining for all sounds in the musical scale.

To this extent it has to be noted that no old Italian text refers minimally (and the careful reader will have understood why: the fusion of the two registers in order to obtain a single register eliminates the registers themselves with relative problems of passage from one to the other) to the so-called "register passages" upon which Garcia in the 19th century, after having subdivided the human voice into three registers (sic) imposed his own vocal metod. It seems useless to me to emphasise how the period of confusion, both theoretical and practical, in the art of Singing, started with Garcia.


PIER FRANCESCO TOSI, Opinioni de' Cantori antichi e moderni. Bologna, 1723.

"A diligent Teacher, knowing that a Soprano without falsetto (or the head voice) is obliged to sing within a range limited to a few notes, will apply himself so that he may acquire this register. The head voice must be unified with the chest voice such that one cannot distinguish the two; if the union is imperfect, the voice emits in multiple registers and hence loses its beauty".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"The singers' great art consists in rendering all effort imperceptible, in masking from the audience all the major and minor difficulties one encounters while singing simultaneously with the head voice and chest voice. This can be obtained only if the two registers are profoundly unified, but this is difficult to achieve naturally and purely. Study, fatigue, and ingenuity are required to correct the disaccords derived from the organs) diverse constitutions and a management and economy of voice is required such as to make it equally sonorous and pleasant, which few students manage to do, and of which few teachers know the practical rules, and do not know how to carry them out".

"(...) Constant attention is in order, such that the voice never becomes strident (especially in the high notes) and that the entire register finds its perfect equilibrium. Complete success cannot be obtained unless the student's exercises consist in solfeggio of lengthy notes, circulating first in the lowest pitch, passing next to the medium and finally mixing correctly with the high notes. The massing of these voices must form combinations such as to not waste the union of the entire register. In vain does one hope to be able to obtain all this by other means and with other rules (...)".

The issue obtained with the breath ("Maintain the sound with the chest, not with the jaws" Tosi says) does not only create a live and vibrant sound (not by chance does the old Italian Organ have a register, the human voice, based on the phenomenon of the beat, a register which therefore vibrates) but it also allows the "voice to carry", another pillar of the "good school".

Our time, used to the "retching" emission, is by now completely refractory in conceiving portamento (not to be confused with the forced and dragged voice) which exists only if one creates the sound by fully using resonance.


FRANCESCO ROGNONI, Selva de varii Passaggi, Milan, 1620.

"The bearing of the voice has to be performed-with grace, which is done by reinforcing the voice on the first note little by little and then making the tremolo above the negra".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"Having arrived at this point, the pupil can be happy for having successfully joined the two voices and with effort and patience will more easily proceed to study which will supply him with voice portamento, so necessary/or any kind of singing.

"By portamento we only mean a passage which carries the voice from one note to the other with perfect proportion and union, as much in rising as in falling. Moreover, the song will be beautiful and perfected while the person producing it will need to draw breath since there must be a correct and smooth gradation which serves to hold and bind the passage from one note to another".

Portamento is used particularly in the monody of early 17th century also as to create special chromatic effects. It is in fact indispensable for the production of "Canto affettuoso", which is typical in the aesthetics of the Second Practice and the Affections.

OTTAVIO DURANTE, Arie Divote, Rome, 1608.

"When a rising note is found, if at this point the voice rises little by little with the same tone, a very fine effect will be obtained. In order to increase the voice from a tone to a semitone the Diesis in the connected note is marked in order to communicate the fact that increase must be started here little by little, keeping in mind that there are four commas, up to the point of perfect increase which, when it is performed well, is quite moving".

FRANCESCO ROGNONI, Selva de varii Passaggi, Milan, 1620.

"You will notice that when the semibreve is found in increasing the voice, or when the voice starts soft and low to increase little by little in the sorrowful words which, in order to acheive real effect, requires diminishing the voice and then raising it as required, as at the minims with a dot".

Even more refined is the use proposed by Domenico Mazzocchi in the composition of the "Lamento". Here we in fact have the Greek enharmonic way (quarter tone).

DOMENICO MAZZOCCHI, Dialoghi e Sonetti posti in musica, Rome, 1638.

"Where this other sign in the form of a letter V is found, you must raise the voice or (as is commonly said) place the voice, which is to say the gradual increase of the voice and breath together, as well as tone, and especially at the above said X, as is practised in the Enharmonics. But when the voice increases only by breath and spirit, and not tone, it is marked with the letter c, as been done in certain Madrigals, and at the point will be observed that since the holding of the voice must be preceded by gradual increase, just as it is then decreased to little or no sound; raised from a cistern is how this denotes certain voices".

These are effects which are added to the Accents, to Exclamations, to Increase and Decrease of the voice, and which can be performed only by the "good" emission based on "good" breathing.

Upon this also depends the great extension of the vocal instrument: these are the three Octaves mentioned in the texts and which we find again in the music (cf. the Madrigals of Caccini for "Tenor in search of the chords of a Bass") by composers from 1500 to 1700 inclusive, from Caccini for example to Farinello ("Favourite" arias with Cadences and Variations).


VINCENZO GIUSTINIANI, Discorso sopra la musica de' suoi tempi, 1628.

"In the year of our Lord 1575 and thereafter a way of singing began which was very different from that of before, and thus it was for following years, especially in the way of singing for one voice accompanied by an instrument, as in the example of one Gio. Andrea, a Neapolitan, and Sig. Giulio Cesare Brancacci and one Alessandro Merlo, a Roman, who sang bass over the range of 22 voices (three octaves), with a variety of new passages which were a pleasure to the ears of all (...). At the same time Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici who was then the Great Duke of Tuscany, stimulated by his own taste and by the example of the other Princes mentioned, pressed for excellent musicians, and especially the famous Vittoria who gave rise more or less to the real way of singing among women, since she was the wife of Antonio di Santa Fiore, so named because he had been from childhood the musician 'per eccellenza' of the Cardinal di Santa Fiore. And by this example many others practised this way of singing in Rome, in such a way that it prevailed over all the musicians linked to those places and Princes mentioned above; and in this way came to light Giulio Romano, Giuseppino, Gio. Domenico and Rasi who appeared in Florence with Giulio Romano; and all sang from bass to tenor with a wide range of voice and with exquisite ways and passages and with extraordinary affection and talent such as to make the words be clearly heard".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

" (...) a voice purged of all defects, of extended register, only through these qualities may be termed beautiful ".

The creation of the perfect vocal instrument by means of the appoggio thsit fuses the two registers in an "extended" register, allows real virtuosity to be performed without any limits.

The description of this virtuosity (passages, groups, trills, ascending and descending passages, falling and increasing trills, which is to say a series of trilled notes that rise and fall, sudden hammering agility, etc.) constitutes the most precise description left to us in old texts, considering also the shakiness of the specific language used.

The "pronunciation" (this is another term used instead of "spiccato") of each note, even at high speed, is evident: the opposite, that is, of the virtuosity "glide", which is to say, slippery, oily and confused - as stigmatised by Monteverdi.

"Spiccato " is the term most used in the 16th and 17th centuries, and even a great virtuoso instrumentalist such as Frescobaldi advises that "If possible in double passages one proceeds slowly, so that they may be 'spiccati' (...)", which is to say that every note of the virtuoso passage must be easily identifiable at speed.

It is furthermore necessary to possess this virtuosity in order to perform the Florentine and Monteverdian "representative style" (Sprezzatura and Parlar Cantando), the representative style so admired by Pere Mersenne who invited the French to go to Italy or to read Caccini:

"(...) even if our Singers imagine that the exclamations and accents used by Italians in singing have too much Tragedy or Comedy (...), the Italians observe many things in their performance, which we do not, since they represent as much as they can the passions and affections of the soul and of the spirit; for example, anger, fury, scorn, madness, the failings of the heart and many other passions with a violence which is so strange that one would think they themselves were touched by the very same passions they represent in song; while we French are content to caress the ear and employ a perpetual sweetness in their songs, which impedes energy.

This text by Pere Mersenne, who knew well both G.B. Doni and the Italians' "representative style " (cf. Harmonic Universelle, Paris 1636) clearly shows a type of interpretation which is in tune with the aesthetics of the Second Practice but which finds no counterpart in that which the fashion for "early music" continuously presents us with. The reasons are clearly of a cognitive character, but also, essentially, technical.

We know that what makes the "spoken" differ from the "sung" is the presence of the legato, or "voice carrier" in the latter, while the spoken part operates upon the basis of syllabic caesuras in diction.

We also know that we can connect, or sing, sounds even if production is not perfectly artistic, just as the virtuoso "passages" can be performed with the same type of production so that they incorrectly "glide" (gorgia onta, Monteverdi would say).

Now, just as distinct performance of vocal virtuosity requires production which technically speaking we define as being clean, in the same way performance of "sung speech" requires an equally perfect production due to the characteristics of speech - noted above -which "sung speech" to "distinct" notes in virtuoso passages. We thus clearly understand how practical production of "sung speech or recitation" is in reality more difficult that one might think.

The technical meaning of "sung speech" is "speaking" while exploiting the pure resonance given by perfect production. From this we obtain an unimaginable range of expression - much greater than one might think - and produced by countless possibilities inherent in declamation, characterised as it is by principal and secondary accents and by the possibility of variety in the range of sounds derived from exploiting the "play" of resonance (I want to mention here those effects of extreme purity and fragility in syllabic sound in passages of a pathetic nature with words such as mow, languo etc.); from both these elements we get polyhedricity of "expression" or "affection". "Sung speech" features all components of diction, from syllabic caesurae - mentioned above - to a phonetic variety determined by the structure of the vowels (such as the nuances of open and closed vowels which theoreticians of the time talked of) to the agogics of diction itself.

We do have to in fact consider, when thinking of this latter element, that there is a first movement which is indispensable for the very existence of diction and beneath which the element of individualisation of the phoneme itself is missing. By playing with this "first movement", which can be varied infinitely, we obtain the range mentioned above, which is at the heart of the art of declamation and which, as it happens, Vincenzo Galilei, one of the theoreticians in the house of Bardi, has dealt with.

The Florentine theoretician in fact wrote that:

"When for amusement you go to Tragedies and Comedies performed by the Zanni, set aside now and then immoderate laughter; and instead pleasantly observe in what way speech is made, how acute or grave it may be, and with what degree of sound, what sort of accent and what gestures are made according to the speed or delay in flow between one gentleman and the other. Note somewhat the difference required among all these things, when one of them speaks to a servant, or when one speaks to the other, considering when this takes place to the Prince discoursing with a subject or vassal; when a supplicant implores; when this is done in anger or in conciliation; when the person is a married lady, or a maiden; or a simple boy; or an astute harlot; or a lover when speaking (...) What accidents may carefully by these means be avoided and diligently examined: you may take as normal those that are convenient for the expression of any concept that may occur".

In the art of declamation the knowledgeable use of the pause is present. Galilei does not mention this, but it is understood, since it is a determining element of that studied carelessness [sprezzatura] which is synonymous with the natural poetic-musical expression which those who frequented the Bardi house tended to use varying shades of interpretation according to each individual author.

In this expressive naturalness there is the use of an appropriate volume. Since the intensity of diction depends upon the quantity of breath employed, it is evident that the volume, while varying between piano and an emphatic forte, will never be as strong or as soft as takes place in pure song. Caccini, Monteverdi and Emilio de' Cavalieri refer to this when they recommend as part of a "representative style" the use of rooms which are not excessively large so that the singer does not have to use excessive "force".


CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI, Letter of July, 24th, 1627 to Ales-sandro Striggio:

"(...) it is quite true that he sings with security, but he sings equally melancholic and the gorge is not separated so "well because most times there is lacking the addition of the vocal from the breast and that of the gullet, because if that of the gullet to that of the breast are absent the gorge becomes crude and hard and offensive, while if that of the breast to that of the throat is absent the gorge becomes oily and almost continuous in the vocal, but "when both are operating the gorge becomes smooth and separated and is the most natural".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"The study [of agility] should no be begin if the master has not successfully unified the voice's two registers, as discussed in chapter VIII. If this essential point is neglected, the voice will suffer greatly; the passagio "will lack equilibrium and become, consequently, defective.".


LODOVICO ZACCONI, Prattica di Musica, Venice, 1592.

"And others (...) do not present the figures so markedly, they do not pronounce them so well so that they are made evident through trilling (...) One augments by a quantity of notes which should be detached despite the rapid speed. This offers such pleasure and joy that one may believe one is hearing well-trained birds, successfully ravishing and exalting an audience which, eventually, can only cede to perfect contentment. "

Zacconi harshly deplores those who "detach the notes without precision, who do not articulate sufficiently and thereby can never be accepted as virtuosos " .

GIOVAN BATTISTA BOVICELLI, Regole e passaggi di musica, madrigali e mottetti passeggiati, Venice, 1594.

"The demisemiquavers must, besides the voice being suitable to them, be pronounced well, nor must they be used much if not, as we have said, with quavers by degree ".

ANTONIO BRUNELLI, Varii esercitij per una e due voci, Florence, 1614.

"(...) so that the quavers may be sung with dots, and repeated with the throat; and not the mouth, as do those who make no difference between repeating with the mouth and repeating with the throat and which takes place as a result of the little knowledge they have. The semiquavers are not sung with dots, and this is because of their speed, but must be well repeated with the throat, distinguishing well from the other so that the passage is real. Since all the energy of the arrangement consists in repeating with the throat".

FRANCESCO SEVERI, Salmi passeggiati per tutte le voci sopra i Falsi Bordoni di tutti i Toni Ecclesiastici, Rome, 1615.

"The double half-notes must be sung with vivacity and as rapidly as possible, on the condition that the detachment takes place in the chest. If it takes place in the throat, as often happens, confusion and disgust are generated for the listener rather than pleasure".

VINCENZO GIUSTINIANI, Discorso sopra la musica de' suoi tempi, 1628.

"(...) and moreover with the moderating and increasing of the voice loudly or softly, decreasing it or increasing it, "which depending on whether it came in lines, is at times drawn out, at times halved, accompanied by a sweet interrupted sigh, at times drawing long passages, well accompanied, pronounced, at times in sets, or leaps, or long trills, at times short, at times with sweet passages sung low from which at times one hears the response of an echo, and mainly using the face, with glances and gestures that accompany both music and concepts appropriately ".

SAVERIO BONINI, Prima parte de' discorsi e Regole sovra la musica, Ms XVII c. (Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence).

"(...) those admiring her very sweet voice (Margherita Caccini, daughter of Francesca), almost like a silver resounding reed, overflowing with trills and pronounced sets accompanied by marvellous and affectionate accents, competed with each other to be able to go and hear her".

PIER FRANCESCO TOSI, Opinioni de' Cantori antichi e modemi, Bologna, 1723.

"He who trains the student's voice to laziness barely teaches the smallest part of his Profession, and renders impossible the learning of the greatest. He who lacks an agile voice (in andante compositions as well as at tempo vivace) will produce a mortal boredom in the listener by the weighty indifference of his interpretation. He will always be behind the tempo, and thereby everything that he sings can only be false ".

"The Master should teach the student that very delicate vocal movement where in the notes are articulated proportionally and with moderate detachment, such that the passage is neither too legato nor too staccato".

"All the beauty of the passage consists in being perfectly equal, articulated, detached, balanced, and moderately rapid ".

"The Master must teach the student to animate the passages with the same rapidity in ascending as in descending since, while learning is possible for all beginners, not all Singers can arrive at the proper execution".

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"In conclusion it must be said that the movement, and any agile song, must be sustained by the robustness of the breast accompanied by necessity with the scaling of the breath, and lightness of jaw, so that each note is heard distinctly, even though performed with maximum speed. Any pupil must realise that this study requires a given amount of time to be perfected and a tireless energy if it is not to be left imperfect. This time and energy will not have been spent in vain, but will have served to create a varied, virtuous song which as a consequence will be both distinct and sublime".



PIER FRANCESCO TOSI, Opinioni de' Canton antichi e modemi, Bologna, 1723.

"He who possesses a very good trill, even unadorned, has the constant advantage of good judgement concerning the cadences, wherein the trill plays a primordial role. He who lacks this talent (or formulates it defectively) will never be a great Singer, despite his learning".

"The student ought to acquire it in its most beautiful form: balanced, pronounced, detached, light, and moderately rapid."

"I know, and I have had the misfortune to witness, that some sing without trills, but one must never imitate those who simply have not studied enough. "

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI, Riflessioni pratiche sul canto figurato, Milan, 1777.

"All the beauty and perfection of song is, in a single word, the trill."

"The only ornament they [Ancient Teachers] proposed immediately to their students was the trill. Though lacking the natural talent, the students were obliged to practice the trill for quite a while. The aim "was not to achieve immediate perfection, but to facilitate the eventual realisation and to gradually introduce the initiating movement. Eventually, the students attained perfection, though not without significant time and difficult work."

"He who possesses a perfect trill can produce it at will and place it with prudence, only where necessary. However, not only the individual singer, but the general reputation of song is contaminated when the trill is lacking"


Charles Burney describes Anna de Amicis, the first to interpret the role of Giunia (of Mozart's "Lucio Silla" in Milan, 1772): "She was the first singer who sang rapid ascending scales staccato".


FREDERIC CHOPIN, in his letter of October 5th, 1830, regarding the interpretation of Rossini's "La gazza ladra" by Konstancja Gladkowska (the student of the Italian Soliva, founder of the school of song at the Conservatory of Warsaw): "She sang this passage admirably,

not as short as Madame Mayer but long, such that eight distinct notes emerged from a quick grouplet. "



The text of Manuel Garcia (1847) marks the start of the decline of the art of song as knowledge of the basic mechanism. Not only. While maintaining some general ideas of the Italian School, Garcia often doesn't know, and therefore distorts, the real essence of agility in the 17th-18th century tradition; the example of the "hammered agility" (agilità martellata) is sufficient, well describes as it is by Mancini. There is still the fact that in 1858 Rossini deplored the lack of interpreters for the music of Bellini and Cimarosa.

GIAMBATTISTA MANCINI had already denounced the art's decline:

"The origin of the evil, in my sense of the word, goes back to the vile interest which it seems in large part dominated the masters (...) Another very grave inconvenience is that now many are setting themselves up as singing teachers without ever in practice having learnt the rules, and without in the end knowing how to lead the pupil forward gradually and teach him perfect intonation and exact timing. They think it is sufficient to know how to play the violin or drum a little on the harpsichord, in order to be singing teachers; and by offering their work at a cost beneath that of a good and patient teacher who is willing to exert due diligence, they find people who allow themselves to be won over by the apparent advantage of sure savings and who then entrust themselves to their direction. These inexpert teachers think they have done everything if their pupils perform a few inexpert passages and a few bawling notes that offend the ear. This is the type of instruction we get from teachers nowadays, and such is their knowledge. The Art suffers a true profanation when any mediocre keyboard or string musician appropriates the role of a master, in total ignorance of the most basic elements of song. Lacking an understanding of the methods of a voice's production and carriage, they have their students shout with all their breath and ruin the most beautiful voices. One hears the registers' disaccords, the lack of intonation, voices trapped in the throat or the nose or entirely muted. All is due to the teacher's demands that the students manipulate their voices as they would an instrument, be it Harpsichord, Violin, or Cello."

Where then were the extraordinary Italian Schools of the 17th century? Mancini remembers regretfully:

"The most celebrated and famous schools that existed in Italy at the end of the last century and which stayed alive over a period of time were those of Fedi in Rome and Francesco Antonio Pistocchi in Bologna, that of Giuseppe Ferdinando Brivio in Milan and that of Francesco Peli in Modena, that of Francesco Redi in Florence, that of Giuseppe Amadori in Rome, and that of Nicolo Porpora, Leonardo Leo, Francesco Feo and Domenico Egizio in Naples".

Many and varied are the causes of the slow but inexhaustible decline of the great ages-old Italian vocal civilisation and this is not the place to discuss its causes. We prefer to offer in "meditation" a page from Bontempi concerning the teaching style applied in Rome during the first decades of the 17th century during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII (Barberini).

This is the musical Rome of which many foreign musicians and travellers left extraordinary descriptions.


GIOVANNI ANDREA ANGELINI BONTEMPI, Historia Musica, Perugia, 1695.

"The Roman schools obliged their disciples to utilise one hour a day for singing difficult and awkward things in order to acquire experience; another hour to exercise trills; another for passages;

another in the study of letters and another for mastering and exercising song within hearing of the teacher and before a mirror in order to get accustomed to not making any unwanted gesture either from the waist, or the forehead, or the brows or the mouth. And this was how the morning was used. After midday half an hour was used to master theory; another half hour for counterpoint over plainsong, and another for receiving and putting to work documents of counterpoint over the portfolio; another study of the letters and the rest of the day in exercising the sound of the harpsichord; in the composition of a psalm or motet or canzonet or some other sort of lullaby according to one's own genius. These were the ordinary exercises of those days during which disciples did not leave the house. The exercises then outside the house were to go often to sing and hear the reply of an Echo outside the Angelica gate towards Mount Mario so that one could judge oneself and one's own accents; then to go and sing almost all types of music in the churches of Rome and observe the manner of singing by many distinguished singers that appeared during the pontificate of Urban VIII; then to exercise according to this and receive the observations of the master when again at home; the latter, in order to better impress them in the minds of the disciples, explained them as required and provided the necessary tuition".

The already quoted text by Mancini comes to mind "(...) this study requires a given time in order for it to be perfected, and a tireless energy if it is not to be left imperfect".

It is not really energy which presents itself as an ideal as this century draws to a close, and is aimed rather at "vile interest", and where Opera has become a bad copy of cinema.

We will not here deal with the problem of different styles but, before ending with a "Vulgar Saying " by Giustiniani, we feel bound to say that one is the instrument and many are the styles that have followed one upon the other over history. However, the possession of a perfect instrument, besides historical knowledge and aesthetics, is what, as Tosi says, "makes the Singer universal, and therefore able to sing in any style".


VINCENZO GIUSTINIANI, Discorso sopra la musica de' suoi tempi, 1628.

"Galli cantant, Hispani ululant, Germani boant, Itali plorant".

Et vivete felici

Nella  Anfuso


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