It is very important for all who wish to become artists to begin their
work not with practical exercises in singing, but with serious
practice in tone production, in breathing in and out, in the functions
of the lungs and palate, in clear pronunciation of all letters, and
with speech in general.
Then it would soon be easy to recognize talent or the lack of it. Many
would open their eyes in wonder over the
difficulties of learning to
sing, and the proletariat of singers would gradually disappear. With
them would go the singing conservatories and the bad teachers who, for
a living, teach everybody that comes, and promise to make everybody a
Once when I was acting as substitute for a teacher in a conservatory,
the best pupils of the institution were promised me,--those who needed
only the finishing touches. But when, after my first lesson, I went to
the director and complained of the ignorance of the pupils, my mouth
was closed with these words, For Heaven's sake, don't say such
things, or we could never keep our conservatory going!
I had enough, and went.
The best way is for pupils to learn preparatory books by heart, and
make drawings. In this way they will get the best idea of the vocal
organs, and learn their functions by sensation as soon as they begin
to sing. The pupil should be subjected to strict examinations.
In what does artistic singing differ from natural singing?
In a clear understanding of all the organs concerned in voice
production, and their functions, singly and together; in the
understanding of the sensations in singing, conscientiously studied
and scientifically explained; in a gradually cultivated power of
contracting and relaxing the muscles of the vocal organs, that power
culminating in the ability to submit them to severe exertions and keep
them under control. The prescribed tasks must be mastered so that they
can be done without exertion, with the whole heart and soul, and with
How is this to be attained?
Through natural gifts, among which I reckon the possession of sound
organs and a well-favored body; through study guided by an excellent
teacher who can sing well himself,--study that must be kept up for
at least six years, without counting the preliminary work.
Only singers formed on such a basis, after years of work, deserve the
title of artist; only such have a right to look forward to a lasting
future, and only those equipped with such a knowledge ought to teach.
Of what consists artistic singing?
Of a clear understanding, first and foremost, of breathing, in and
out; of an understanding of the form through which the breath has to
flow, prepared by a proper position of the larynx, the tongue, and the
palate. Of a knowledge and understanding of the functions of the
muscles of the abdomen and diaphragm, which regulate the breath
pressure; then, of the chest-muscle tension, against which the breath
is forced, and whence, under the control of the singer, after passing
through the vocal cords, it beats against the resonating surfaces and
vibrates in the cavities of the head. Of a highly cultivated skill and
flexibility in adjusting all the vocal organs and in putting them into
minutely graduated movements, without inducing changes through the
pronunciation of words or the execution of musical figures that shall
be injurious to the tonal beauty or the artistic expression of the
song. Of an immense muscular power in the breathing apparatus and all
the vocal organs, the strengthening of which to endure sustained
exertion cannot be begun too long in advance; and the exercising of
which, as long as one sings in public, must never be remitted for a
As beauty and stability of tone do not depend upon excessive
pressure of the breath, so the muscular power of the organs used in
singing does not depend on convulsive rigidity, but in that snakelike
power of contracting and loosening, which a singer must consciously
have under perfect control.
[Footnote 1: In physiology when the muscles resume their normal state,
they are said to be relaxed. But as I wish to avoid giving a false
conception in our vocal sensations, I prefer to use the word
The study needed for this occupies an entire lifetime; not only
because the singer must perfect himself more and more in the roles of
his repertory--even after he has been performing them year in and year
out,--but because he must continually strive for progress, setting
himself tasks that require greater and greater mastery and strength,
and thereby demand fresh study.
He who stands still, goes backward.
Nevertheless, there are fortunately gifted geniuses in whom are
already united all the qualities needed to attain greatness and
perfection, and whose circumstances in life are equally fortunate; who
can reach the goal earlier, without devoting their whole lives to it.
Thus, for instance, in Adelina Patti everything was united,--the
splendid voice, paired with great talent for singing, and the long
oversight of her studies by her distinguished teacher, Strakosch. She
never sang roles that did not suit her voice; in her earlier years she
sang only arias and duets or single solos, never taking part in
ensembles. She never sang even her limited repertory when she was
indisposed. She never attended rehearsals, but came to the theatre in
the evening and sang triumphantly, without ever having seen the
persons who sang and acted with her. She spared herself rehearsals
which, on the day of the performance, or the day before, exhaust all
singers, because of the excitement of all kinds attending them, and
which contribute neither to the freshness of the voice nor to the joy
of the profession.
Although she was a Spaniard by birth and an American by early
adoption, she was, so to speak, the greatest Italian singer of my
time. All was absolutely good, correct, and flawless, the voice like a
bell that you seemed to hear long after its singing had ceased.
Yet she could give no explanation of her art, and answered all her
colleagues' questions concerning it with an Ah, je n'en sais rien!
She possessed, unconsciously, as a gift of nature, a union of all
those qualities that all other singers must attain and possess
consciously. Her vocal organs stood in the most favorable relations
to each other. Her talent, and her remarkably trained ear, maintained
control over the beauty of her singing and of her voice. The fortunate
circumstances of her life preserved her from all injury. The purity
and flawlessness of her tone, the beautiful equalization of her whole
voice, constituted the magic by which she held her listeners
entranced. Moreover, she was beautiful and gracious in appearance.
The accent of great dramatic power she did not possess; yet I ascribe
this more to her intellectual indolence than to her lack of ability.