“Observations on the Flowery Song” by P. F. Tosi (1723)

“These were the teachings of the school of those teachers whom, with disdain, many mediocre singers now call ancient. Carefully observe its rules, strictly examine its precepts, and if you are not blinded by prejudice, you will see that this school teaches singing in tune” . , project the voice, make the words understood, express, use the right gesture, execute in tempo, improvise appropriate embellishments, compose and study delicate and sensitive singing, in which only good taste and judgment triumph. Compare this school with yours, and if you find any area lacking its precepts to instruct you, remove the rest from the Modern. Pier Francesco Tosi, Observations on the flowery song, p. 78.

The foundations of the bel canto method and style were laid during the creation of Monodian opera and solo singing in the late 16th century. As the new art form developed, virtuoso singers emerged on the international scene with almost inhuman agility, range, and beauty. Mostly castrati, but also with all types of voice, these highly trained singers became the world’s first rock stars, with influence, income and lifestyles to match.

The techniques of these bel canto singers (and most of the singers themselves) originated exclusively in the conservatories and private voice studios of Italy. The training and techniques they used were passed down orally from master to apprentice for generations and very little was recorded in writing. Pier Francesco Tosi was the first to publish (in 1723) a treatise on song of considerable length and detail. It quickly became a foundational and stylistic model for generations of singing treatises that followed, from Mancini in 1777 to Richard Miller and Clifton Ware today. Within 40 years, Tosi’s Opinioni de’ cantori antichi, e moderni, o sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato had been translated into English, German, and French.

A castrato himself, in writing Opinioni, Tosi drew on his own bel canto musical training as a child in Italy (probably Milan), as well as his extensive experience as a professional singer and voice teacher. He also clearly developed his repertoire and taste in the ornamentation of the many singers he observed throughout his career, including “Il Cortnoa”, “La Santini”, “Sifacio”, Rivani and especially Pistocchi. While his treatise is directed towards and expresses a clear bias towards the castrated male voice, Tosi’s occasional mention of singers of other types shows that he believed all singers were formed in the same way.

From Tosi’s writings we discover the surprising fact that bel canto training focused on aural aesthetics with almost no physiological instruction. Contrary to the many process-based singing methods developed from Garcia’s Traité (1840) that have focused on breathing, abdominal support, throat and head resonance, and laryngeal and pharyngeal positioning, the “old Italian school” method was results-based, focusing on intonation, tone, and the successful and tasteful use of ornamentation. In fact, the extent of Tosi’s physical advice to the singer was: “never let the scholar hold the Musick-Paper, in song, in front of his face” (p. 29) “compos[e] [the mouth] in one way […] quite inclined to a Smile” (p. 12) and “the Scholar’s Voice […]it should always come out clean and clear, without going through the nose or drowning in the throat; which are two of the most horrible Flaws in a Singer.” (pp. 10-11) It can be seen that even these instructions were given to specifically fix an oral or visual aesthetic, rather than as part of a technical method.

Opinioni is mainly addressed to the singing teacher, explaining what and how he should teach his students. It also includes a chapter and several passages aimed at the future professional singer with advice on good taste, embellishments, performance skills, and the life and craft of professional singing. Tosi stresses the need for a long period of training for students in musical reading and composition, singing, and ornament construction, as well as in grammar, diction, social decorum, and acting. All the standard ornaments of the time are painstakingly presented: appoggiatura, messa di voce, eight kinds of trills, passaggi (divisions), and portamento. Tosi also dedicates a chapter each to the recitative and the singing of arias, preaching the need to improvise one’s graces and divisions on the ground in performances.

There are some teachings of Tosi in his Opinioni that have been particularly interesting to singers and scholars over the years. Tosi clearly advocates joining and blending the chest and head registers, (p. 11) the first recorded vocal pedagogue to do so. While earlier writers such as Zacconi (Practica di Musica, 1592, ch. 2) and Caccini (Le nuove musiche, 1602, intro.) asserted that singers should only sing in their “natural voice”, Tosi went so far as to say “If [the chest and head register] are not perfectly united, the Voice will be of different Registers and, consequently, must lose its Beauty”. (p. 11) Tosi’s is also the first recorded encouragement of the use of rubato as adornment. While he again and again criticizes singers who accidentally sing out of time or magnify their own notes as in the modern fermata, encourages “[t]time theft […]as long as you make a Restitution with Ingenuity”; that is, as long as the singer recovers the accompaniment, allowing them to keep the tempo. (p. 67)

Another interesting element of Opinions are Tosi’s discussions of intonation and solfeggio. During a period when various methods of temperament were used by keyboards, strings, and even singers, Tosi laments that “except for a few teachers, that modern intonation is very bad.” (p. 9) he speaks of a different “major and minor semitone” (or a larger and a smaller semitone) whose “[d]The difference cannot be known by an organ or harpsichord, if the keys of the instrument are not divided”. (p. 9) Consequently, he warns that “if a soprano were to sing in D sharp, like E flat, a good ear will find this out of tune, because the latter goes up.” (p. 10) Tosi’s remedy for bad intonation is to start the young singer with solfeggio, using the traditional range created by Guido. outdated by the time Tosi wrote his treatise , however, insisted on its use.

Opinions it was in fact a turning point for much more than early baroque music theory and tuning. Tosi spends a considerable amount of time in his treatise praising the “ancient” cantabile style (or “Pathetick”, as the original translator put it) of his generation in the early eighteenth century. He cannot seem to understand why “the fashion” has moved to the fast and highly ornate “Allegro” style, popular at the time of writing, which he considers to be insufficient singer training, ignoring the traditional fashions of the Church and “bad taste” virtuoso displays as the great sin of the “modern” musical generation. However, being a pragmaticist, he still encourages that “it will be of use to a prudent scholar, who wishes to be expert in both manners.” (p.40)

Pier Francesco Tosi was born in Cesena, Italy, in 1653 or 1654. There is disagreement between sources as to whether he was the son of the composer Giuseppe Felice Tosi. He was castrated before puberty to preserve his loud voice. While it is not known where he received rudimentary musical training from him, he sang in a Rome church from 1676 to 1677 and in Milan cathedral from 1681 to 1685, when he was dismissed for “misconduct”. Thereafter, he made his only recorded opera appearance at Reggio nell’Emilia in 1687 (in Varischino’s Odoacre) and was based for a time in Genoa. In 1693, Tosi moved to London, where he took charge of singing students and sang in weekly public concerts. In 1701 he entered the service of the Austrian Emperor Joseph I and Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine, for whom he served as musical and diplomatic agent, traveling extensively until 1723. In 1724 he returned to London ablaze with the works of Handel, where he again taught and He was a founding member of the Academy of Early Music. She took holy orders sometime before his death in Faenza, Italy in 1732. In addition to being a well-known soprano (of the cantabile style, singing mainly chamber music) and voice teacher, Tosi was a composer of several arias and cantatas. . (Biographical information taken from “Tosi, Pier Francsco”, New Grove Dictionary of Opera.)

John Ernest Galliard (1666-1747), English translator of Opinions, was a successful opera composer and oboist in London, playing an important role in the city’s musical life in the first half of the 18th century. He was a founding member of both the Royal Society of Musicians and the Academy of Ancient Music, the latter of which Tosi also sat on. Due to the quality of the translation and his long personal relationship with the author, Galliard’s translation and annotation of Tosi’s Opinioni (published in 1742 as Observations on the Florid Song) has long been regarded as an authoritative and authoritative interpretation. high quality. (Biographical information taken from “Galliard, John Ernest”, New Grove Dictionary of Opera.)

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