- 4 -

The fusion of the two registers, which according to the old school constituted the indispensable prerequisite for the extending of the vocal range, became less and less common in later times, and was eventually replaced by a technique designed for the use of the voice mainly in a single register. Singing with the chest voice was not a novelty; as far back as the late 16th century Zacconi addressed the matter:

[...] in fra tanti diversi pareri (osservando), ho trovato che tra le voci di testa e quelle di petto, quelle di petto sono le migliori per comun parere. [...] Quelle poi che sono meramente di petto sono quelle che nel intonar che fanno, uscendo dalle fauci, par ch'eschino fuori cacciate da vehemenza pettorale; le quali sogliono assai più dellettare che le di testa [...]

([...] (making observations) among so many differing opinions, I have found that as between head voices and chest voices, it is chest voices which are by general consent the better [...] Those, further, which are pure chest voices and the ones which, when produced, seem to issue from the mouth under a vehement impulse from the chest; these are usually much more delightful than head voices[...] (24))

Even if one is unwilling to grant absolute validity to these assertions, they do at any rate attest that the technique of singing with a chest voice, in an acceptation perhaps analogous to our own, was already in use in late Renaissance Italy. By way of addition to the confusion to which the term 'passaggio' (25) has given rise, it is sometimes incorrectly supposed that in female voices the passaggio is located an octave higher than in male voices (26). The mixed register, which permits the gradual and gentle joining of the chest voice with the head voice and the disguising of the break between registers, is situated in the same range of pitches for both sexes; thanks to it, women can sing even low notes with vigour, while in tenors, baritones and basses it facilitates a large upward extension of the voice. Tosi's falsetto is not that used by today's sopranos and contraltos, much less the voice "which a man can use when he wishes to make a burlesque imitation of a woman" (27). Modern falsettists generally use a pure head register, unblended with the chest register; they also 'cover' the sound, a practice not supported by the documents of the baroque period. The voice-production they obtain is somewhat hard at times, by contrast with the softness and richness which one hears in, for example, the recordings of famous Italian falsettists of the Pontifical Chapel made in the first decades of this century, or from Alfred Deller (28), who displays a bright timbre and, even though he belongs to the English vocal tradition, a notably sweet sound.

Le voci ordinariamente si dividono in due registri, che chiamansi, l'uno di petto, l'altra di testa, ossia falsetto. Ho detto ordinariamente, perché si da anche qualche raro esempio, che qualcheduno riceve dalla natura il singolarissimo dono di poter eseguire tutto colla sola voce di petto. Di questo dono non parlo. Io parlo solo della voce in generale divisa in due registri, come comunemente succede. [...] La grande arte de' cantanti dev'esser quella di rendere impercettibile a chi li sente, o li vede cantare la minore o maggiore difficoltà, con cui cavano le voci dei due differenti registri di petto e di testa. Ciò solo può ottenersi unendole finemente [...]

(Voices ordinarily comprise two registers, called the chest and the head registers. I say 'ordinarily', because there are also to be found some rare instances of a person's being able, thanks to a very special gift of nature, to sing everything with the chest voice alone. This gift I am not speaking of here. I am speaking only of the normal voice divided between two registers, which is what commonly happens (29). [...] The great art of singers should be that of rendering imperceptible to the listener or onlooker the greater or lesser difficulty with which they bring forth the voices of the two different registers, chest and head. This can only be achieved by subtly uniting them [...] (30))

Giambattista Mancini, author of the Riflessioni Pratiche from which this passage is taken, clearly holds to the principles of Tosi. He writes, however, that:

Farà meraviglia a molti de' miei Leggitori, come mai, dopo un sì gran numero di valorosi cantanti, che tuttora fioriscono, possa essere invalsa l'opinione, in cui da qualche tempo sono, non solo gl'Italiani, ma anche gli Oltramontani stessi, che la nostra Musica sia affatto decaduta, e che vi manchino buone scuole, e buoni cantanti. Convien però confessare, che se tale opinione è falsa rispetto alle scuole, purtroppo è vera rispetto ai cantanti, de' quali nessuno si vede sottentrare per riempire con onore il vuoto lasciato dai vecchi artisti.

(Many of my readers will wonder how it can be that, in view of the accomplishments of such a host of singers, who are still flourishing, it has for some time now been the established opinion, not just among Italians but among those of the north themselves, that our music has thoroughly declined, and that good schools and good singers are lacking. It should be acknowledged, though, that even if this opinion is false in regard to the schools, it is regrettably true in regard to the singers, among whom there are not emerging any successors who manage to fill honourably the void left behind by the artists of old (31).) (>>>Next) (<<<Previous)

- 4 -

pages 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6


(24) L. ZACCONI, op. cit., Bk. I, f. 77, Ch. LXVIII.

(25) In the jargon of singing, the term ‘passaggio’ is used broadly to refer either to the transition between chest register and head register or to the prolongation of the chest register as far as the zone where a male voice would pass to the head register. There is no connection between the singing-techniques of the past and the modern acceptation of the term to denote the passage beyond the head register (in sopranos) at around the notes E4-F4. Finally, as we have already seen, this same word is synonymous in the ancient terminology with virtuoso ‘diminution’.

(26) MANUEL PATRICIO RODRIGUEZ GARCÌA, Trattato completo dell’arte del Canto, Ed. Ricordi 2185 - Part I (ed. Alberto Mazzucato). In the Relazione sulla Memoria riguardante la voce umana, p. V, one reads: "Afferma il signor Garcìa che questa parte comune ai due registri (di petto e di falsetto; n.d.r.) abbraccia le stesse note tanto nelle voci d’uomo come in quelle di donna" ("Mr. Garcìa asserts that this overlap between the two registers (chest register and falsetto (Ed.)) embraces the same notes in male voices as in female").

(27) P. F. TOSI, op. cit., p. 38, note 2 by Luigi Leonesi.

(28) Alfred George Deller (1912-1979), English falsettist. His many recordings are widely available.

(29) G. B. MANCINI, op. cit. in note 18, pp. 62-63.

(30) G. B. MANCINI, ib., p. 64.

(31) G. B. MANCINI, ib., p. 42.