The Highest Head Tones
As we have already seen, there is almost no limit to the height that
can be reached by the pure head tone without admixture of palatal
resonance. Very young voices, especially, can reach such heights, for
without any strain they possess the necessary adaptability and skill
in the adjustment to each other of the larynx, tongue, and pillars of
the fauces. A skill that rests on ignorance of the true nature of the
n must be called pure chance, and thus its disappearance is
as puzzling to teacher and listener as its appearance had been in the
first place. How often is it paired with a total lack of ability to
produce anything but the highest head tones! As a general rule such
voices have a very short lease of life, because their possessors are
exploited as wonders, before they have any conception of the way to
use them, of tone, right singing, and of cause and effect in general.
An erroneous pressure of the muscles, a wrong movement of the tongue,
an attempt to increase the strength of the tone,--all these things extinguish
quickly and for all time the wonder-singer's little light.
We Lehmann children in our youth could sing to the very highest pitch.
It was nothing for my sister Marie to strike the 4-line e a hundred
times in succession, and trill on it for a long time. She could have
sung in public at the age of seven. But since our voices, through the
circumstances of our life and surroundings, were forced to early
exertions, they lost their remarkable high notes; yet enough was left
to sing the Queen of Night (in Mozart's opera Die Zauberfloete),
with the high f.
After I had been compelled to use my lower and middle ranges much
more, in the study of dramatic parts, I omitted the highest notes from
my practice, but could not then always have relied on them. Now that I
know on what it all depends, it is very easy for me to strike high
f, not only in passing, but to combine it with any tone through
three octaves. But upon the least pressure by any organ, the head
resonance loses its brilliancy; that is, the breath no longer streams
into the places where it should, and can create no more whirling
currents of sound to fill the spaces.
But one should not suppose that the head tones have no power. When
they are properly used, their vibrancy is a substitute for any amount
As soon as the head tones come into consideration, one should never
attempt to sing an open ah, because on ah the tongue lies
flattest. One should think of an [=a], and in the highest range even
an [=e]; should mix the [=a] and [=e] with the ah, and thereby
produce a position of the tongue and soft palate that makes the path
clear for the introduction of the breath into the cavities of the
Singers who, on the other hand, pronounce [=a] and [=e] too
sharply, need only introduce an admixture of oo; they thereby lower
the position of the larynx, and thus give the vowel and tone a darker
Since the stream of breath in the highest tones produces currents
whirling with great rapidity, the more rapidly the higher the tone is,
the slightest pressure that may injure the form in which they
circulate may ruin the evenness of the tone, its pitch, perhaps the
tone itself. Each high tone must soar gently, like the overtones.
The upper limits of a bass and baritone voice are
where, consequently, the tones must be mixed. Pure head tones, that
is, falsetto, are never demanded higher than this. I regard it,
however, as absolutely necessary for the artist to give consideration
to his falsetto, that he may include it among his known resources.
Neither a bass nor a baritone should neglect to give it the proper
attention, and both should learn to use it as one of their most
important auxiliary forces.
With what mastery did Betz make use of it; how noble and beautiful his
voice sounded in all its ranges; of what even strength it was, and how
infallibly fresh! And let no one believe that Nature gave it to him
thus. As a beginner in Berlin he was quite unsatisfactory. He had the
alternative given him either to study with great industry or to seek
another engagement, for his successor had already been selected. Betz
chose to devote himself zealously to study; he began also to play the
'cello; he learned to hear, and finally raised himself to be one of
our first singers, in many roles never to be forgotten. Betz knew,
like myself, many things that to-day are neither taught nor learned.