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PF Tosi’s "Observations on the Florid Song" (1723)
“This was the teaching of the school of those masters whom, with contempt, many mediocre singers now call the ancients. Look closely at its rules, study its precepts strictly, and, if you are not blinded by superstition, you will see that this school teaches singing. Projecting the voice, understanding words, expressing, using appropriate gestures, performing in tempo, improvising appropriate embellishments, composition and study of delicate, sensitive singing in which only good taste and judgment prevail. Compare this school with your school, and if you find an area lacking in its guidelines, pick up the rest. Pier Francesco Tosi, Observations on the Song of Florida, p. 78.
The method and style of bel canto originated in late 16th century operatic and monodic solo singing. As the new art form developed, virtuoso singers appeared on the international stage with almost inhuman speed, range and beauty. These highly skilled singers, mostly castrati, with all voice types, became the world’s first rock stars in terms of influence, income and lifestyle.
The technique of these bel canto singers (and most of the singers themselves) came exclusively from Italian conservatories and private sound studios. The teachings and techniques they used were passed down orally from master to apprentice for generations, with very little recorded in writing. Pier Francesco Tosi was the first to publish (in 1723) a hymnal treatise of any considerable length and detail. It quickly became the foundational and stylistic model for generations of song treatises that followed, from Mancini in 1777 to Richard Miller to Clifton Ware today. Over the course of 40 years, Tosi’s Opinioni de’ cantori antichi, e moderni, o sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato was translated into English, German, and French.
A castrati himself, Tosi used his own bel canto musical training in Italy (probably Milan) as well as extensive experience as a professional singer and voice teacher in writing Opinioni. He also clearly developed his repertoire and taste in ornaments from the many singers he observed throughout his career, including ‘Il Cortnoa’, ‘La Santini’, ‘Sifacio’, Rivani and especially Pistocchi. Although his treatise is directed at and shows a clear bias towards the castrated male voice, Toss’s occasional mention of other types of singers shows that he believed that all singers were trained in the same way.
From Tosi’s writings we discover the remarkable fact that bel canto training focuses on the aesthetics of the ear with almost no physiological instruction. Unlike the many process-based singing methods developed since García’s Traite (1840), which focused on breathing, abdominal support, throat and head resonance, and laryngeal and pharyngeal positioning, the “Old Italian School” method was outcome-based, focused. On intonation, tone and successful, tasteful use of ornament. Indeed, the extent of Toss’s physical advice to the singer was: “Never hurt a scholar to hold music paper before his face in song” (p. 29) “Composition.[e] [the mouth] in this manner […] quite inclined to smile” (p. 12) and “the voice of a scientist. […]It should always come out neat and clean, without going into the nose or choking in the throat; which are the two most terrible defects of the singer.” (pp. 10-11) It seems that even these directions were given to specifically fix an oral or visual aesthetic rather than part of a technical method.
Opinioni is mainly aimed at singing teachers, formulating what and how to teach their students. It also includes a chapter and several passages aimed at the future professional singer, with advice on taste, ornamentation, performance skills, and the life and business of professional singing. Toss emphasizes the need for long training of students in reading and composing music, singing and building ornaments, as well as in grammar, diction, social decorum and acting. All the standard ornaments of the time are thoroughly represented: appoggiatura, messa di voce, eight kinds of trill, passaggi (sections) and portamento. Toss also devotes a chapter each to a recitative and an aria song, preaching about the need for improvisation in the performance of one’s own grace and divisiveness.
There are several teachings of Thos in his Opinioni that have been of particular interest to singers and scholars over the years. Toss clearly advocates the merging and merging of chest and head registers, (p. 11) being the first recorded vocal teacher to do so. While earlier writers such as Zacconi (Practica di Musica, 1592, ch. 2) and Caccini (Le nuove musice, 1602, intro.) declared that singers should sing only with their “natural voice,” Tosi went so far as to say . “If [the chest and head register] do not unite perfectly, the voice will be of numerous registers, and therefore must lose its beauty.” (p. 11) Tosi is also the first recorded encouragement of the use of rubato as decoration. Although he again and again criticizes singers. Those who sing casually in tempo or reverently carries the notes, as in the modern fermata, he encourages.[t]It steals time […]provided he compensates with intelligence”; that is, if the singer keeps up the accompaniment, allowing them to keep up the tempo. (p. 67)
Another interesting element thought There are Toss’s discussions of intonation and solfa-ing. At a time when keyboards, strings, and even singers used different temperament methods, Toss laments that “except for a few professors, modern intonation is very bad.” (p. 9) he speaks of a distinct “semitone major and minor” (or major and minor semitones) whose “[d]An organ or harpsichord cannot be known unless the keys of the instrument are divided.” (p. 9) Accordingly, he warns that “if a soprano is to sing D sharp as E flat, a beautiful ear will find it. It is not a melody because the latter rises.” (p. 10) Tossi’s remedy for poor intonation is to start the singer young on solfege, using the traditional scale created by Guido. While the Guidonian six-chord system and meantonic temperament were becoming obsolete by the time Tossi While writing his treatise, he still insisted on using them.
thought In fact, there was much more to the watershed than just early Baroque music theory and tuning. Toss spends a lot of time in his treatise extolling the “ancient” cantabile (or “pathetic” as the original translator put it) of his generation at the turn of the 18th century. He does not seem to understand why the “mode” switched to the fast, highly decorated “allegro” style popular at the time of his writing, which he attributed to the singer’s lack of training, ignoring church modes and “tasteless” virtuoso displays. The great sin of the “modern” music generation. However, as a pragmatist, he still urges “it will be useful to the prudent scholar who wishes to be an expert in both manners” (p. 40).
Pier Francesco Tosi was born in Cesena, Italy in 1653 or 1654. Sources disagree as to whether he was the son of composer Giuseppe Felice Tosi. To preserve his high voice, he was castrated before puberty. Although it is not known where he received his rudimentary musical education, he sang in a church in Rome from 1676 to 1677 and in a cathedral in Milan from 1681 to 1685, when he was dismissed for “misconduct”. After that, in 1687 he recorded an opera in Reggio nell’Emilia (Odoacre of Varischino) and was based for a time in Genoa. In 1693, Toss moved to London, where he took singing students and sang at weekly public concerts. In 1701 he entered the service of Emperor Joseph I of Austria and Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine, serving as musical and diplomatic agent, traveling until 1723. In 1724, he returned to the burning works of London with the works of Handel, where he again. He taught and was a founding member of the Academy of Ancient Music. He took holy orders before his death in 1732 in Faenza, Italy. In addition to being a noted soprano (singing in the cantabile style, mostly chamber music) and voice teacher, Tosi was the composer of several arias and cantatas. (Biographical information taken from “Tosi, Pier Francesco”, New Grove Dictionary of Opera.)
John Ernest Galliard (1666-1747), English translator thoughtwas a successful opera composer and oboist in London who played an important role in the city’s musical life in the first half of the 18th century. He was a founder member of both the Royal Society of Musicians and the Academy of Ancient Music, the latter of which Thos also sat. Because of the quality of the translation and his long personal acquaintance with the author, Gagliari’s translation and annotation of Tosi’s Thought (published in 1742 as Observations on the Song of Florida) has long been considered a high-quality and authoritative rendering. (Biographical information taken from “Galliard, John Ernest,” New Grove Dictionary of Opera.)
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