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L' Amico Dei Cantanti
A Treatise on the Art of Singing
Many Rules for the management of the Voice hitherto but little known
To which is added a variety of Excercises and Solfeggio from original Manuscripts
Rosini, Rechini, Mozart, Junr., Fingarelli, Meyerbeer
And other Masters
Dedicated to
Her Regal Highness
The Princess Victoria,
With the Most Profound Respect
Henry Russell,
Pupil of Rossini.

New York, Firth & Hall, 1 Franklin Square.

1835 [London: G. Ruff (30 Aug 1860)]

Cover Page of Russell's "A Treatise on the Art of Singing"

    Singing is as truly the soul of Harmony as the warbling of the feathered choir is the music of Nature. But, in the human race, the voice requires the aid of Science to bring its natural powers to perfection. The power and compass of the human voice are like a hidden treasure; they must be sought for, and when found, cultivated with as great care and attention as the most skilful Botanist would bestow on the most rare and valuable flower.

    In this elementary treatise I trust I shall fulfil my intentions to the letter; and if the rules, plain and comprehensive as I shall endeavor to make them, be carefully attended to, and methodically followed, I have little doubt that many persons will correct their taste and improve their style of singing from L' Amico dei Cantanti.

    Elementary treatises on singing, are, in general, either too vague in their theoretical instruction, or too abstruse to be easily comprehended. The consequence is that the Pupil gets confused amidst a multiplicity of matter, and too frequently mistakes discord for harmony. Hence arises the stange medley of sounds which we sometimes hear distinguished by the misnamed appellation of Singing.

    The first and principle lesson to be attended to in Singing is the Solfeggio. I speak here of the true Vocal Sol-fa, which is general but imperfectly understood, though it is the real basis of Singing. When this is once perfectly acquired, so as to be understood in theory, and easy of practice, the singing by the printed notes will be found far less difficult than it would appear to be at a casual glance, and become much easier than singing by ear, (by which expression I mean to imply the following with the voice a melody played on any instrument, without the singer being guided by the notes.) In fact, it is the shortest path to perfection. I do not consider the Sol-fa, when played on the Piano-Forte, and sung at the same time, which is taught by many of the Masters of the present day, the be the true vocal Sol-fa. The notes of the Vocal scale, it must be allowed, are anterior to those of the Instrumental scale; therefore it appears to me to be a reasonable theory, when I assert that the voice should guide, and not imitate the sounds of musical instruments. In teaching my Pupils to sing, I have always been more successful with my Vocal Sol-faing, than I ever could have expected to have been by following the established system of Piano Forte Sol-faing; and thus experience has confirmed me in my opinion that Vocal notes are best calculated both to form and to improve Vocal notes.

    The art of Singing is, perhaps one of the most delightful of all scientific accomplishments, but it requires both study and application, and a strict attention to the following rules. In every instance it depends in its aquirement on keeping the voice steady---swelling the notes gradually---ascending and descending in a smooth and connected manner---taking breath in proper time and place---in opening the mouth sufficiently wide to produce the sounds full and free, without their being in the least broken, or impeded by the teeth; yet not so wide as to appear rediculous or to distort the contenance; but in a smiling manner, taking at the same time the most particular care to give every word a distinct articulation; for the Singer whose articulation is distint, has decidedly a very great advantage over those who do not posess that qualification, though they may probably posess a better voice.

    I have frequently remarked and lamented that inferior singers attempt too much: in truth they attempt every thing, and not being able to execute one well, they end in becoming mannerists of the very worst kind. On the contrary, the Singers who have acquired the greatest celebrity in the Profession, are those who, being well grounded in the rudiments of the science, properly appreciated their own talents---who were aware of the extent of their abilities, and had the prudence not to endeavor to soar beyond them, adopting a style suited to the power of their voice, and taking special care to never attempt a passage which they could not execute with facility, the greatess neatness, and in the most correct and finished style. To acquire a correct style the Pupil must follow, invariably, the directions of the Teacher, but, at the same time, I must candidly confess that a great deal depend on the tact and talent of the Master. The too general practice of trying, or rather forcing the upper tones of the Pupil's voice, appears to me to be a system not only injudicious in its theory, but fatal in its effects, as it is, in fact, the first step, and the surest method to ruin, if not altogether destroy the voice. I offer this suggestion with all due deference to the opinions of other Masters.

    Supposing for instance, that I were to desire an Architect to erect a house on a certain spot, what would be his free enquiry? "is the ground sufficiently firm to allow the fondation of the intended edifice to be laid with security?" If, on examination, he finds it to be so, he proceeds with his work fearlessly---the edifice rises gradually towards completion, and, the foundation being firm, there is no danger of its being destroyed by the sinking of the ground. A Singing Master stands precisely in the position of the Architect. It appears then that the injudicious practice of the scales may be productive of the most injurious effects, and prove the primary cause of destroying the voice; much also depends on the method of teaching. I have little doubt in my own mind, that every Master will agree with me on this point, and see the importance of connecting a few certain notes together, and giving them something like a substance, that the Pupil may have a few notes on which he can with safety depend.

    It is not improbable that some Master may interpose here, and enguire, "If the Pupil possess no those few notes, what then is to be done?" In this implied want of a few notes, I must beg to be allowed to differ in opinion. I believe that even the most wretched voice has one or two notes; I do not say that are good, but still they will be found, on examination, to be superior to the others. I should therefore recommend, most strongly, that every voice should be thus examined, and, if I may be allowed to use the expression, taken to pieces. The ear of the Master will immediately discover the firmest and best notes, and I should advise him to connect these notes, for by this process the voice will not only have a substance to work upon, but the other notes will also undergo an almost imperceptible improvement, which will be caused partly by the dependence placed upon the strength of the first or principal notes.

    For be it from me to arrogate to myself a superiority of knowledge over all my brethren in the Profession, but I conceive that a practice of seven years passed in studying without intermission, both in Italy and England, with the advantage of having been a Pupil of Rossini for three years, and in the course of the four subsequent ones having benefitted by the lessons given me by Generali, Reghini, Mozart Jun., Maijoci, Meyerbeer, Zirelli, Zingarelli, and others, I may be allowed to have opportunities of forming a correct taste; and having studied the styles, and reflected on the abilities evinced by Pasta, Crisi, Rosa, Tamburini, Galli, Lablache, Rubini, Donzelli, and those of many pupils dilletanti, I may, I trust, have the privilege of delivering my opinions, and giving my advice, which, if followed judiciously, I hope will enable the pupil to attain an eminence in the Vocal art; this cannot be attained without perseverance. Confiding, therefore, in the experience I have already had, I would advise those who wish to sing well, to adopt in their manner of singing nothing more than that which they feel assured they can accomplish with facility, and to be contented with performing a few passages well, rather than many imperfectly.

    The well attuned ear can only be delighted by an easy and correct performance. It was this quality that raised the fabric of Farinelli's fame, which, being combined with extraordinary powers of voice, produced the most wonderful effects; and wonderful we may indeed believe them to have been, when we recollect that a Spanish tailor preferred being paid his demand on the Singer in Vocal notes, rather than in sterling gold.

    Every difficulty which your judgement informs you your power of voice will not allow you to execute, it will be prudent to avoid, for it is better to sing simply and well, than showily and imperfectly. This is to be aquired by forming a style of your own, and, as I have before remarked, attempting to execute no passages in Singing but those which you feel assured you can correctly perform: this will be found the surest, and at the same time the easiest method of reaching the perfection of the art.

    It has become a fashionable folly among Composers to introduce a vast number of embellishments and graces in most of the songs of the present period. This I consider to be worse than injudicious, for, allow me to ask, how many singers are capable of executing those graces elegantly and correctly? I am afraid the numbers are very few; and if those graces are not well executed, with what inattention is the poor Vocalist listened to, and what smiles of contempt play in the countenance of those, who, being too polite decidedly to condemn, cooly remark that every Singer cannot be expected to have a "nest of Nightengales in the throat."

    The Singing Master has undoubtably the power to fix the style of Pupil. It is his duty to ascetain the exact compass of voice, and he should select some good Songs or Duetts suited to the powers of the Pupil, I would suggest to his good tast the impropriety of giving the same piece of Music indiscriminately to every scholar, without regarding the variations of abilities and voice. By the adopting a plan at once prudent and certain, the lessons of the pupil will be performed in the most finished style, and cannot fail to please, extravagant passages may create surprize, but surprize is very different from pleasure. Bearing these observations in mind, allow me again to remark that the whole art of Singing consists in keeping the voice steady, swelling upon the notes, singing with expression and feeling, with a clear and distinct articulation of every syllable, and keeping the mouth in a smiling position, always recollecting never to attempt any thing so difficult as to render success doubtful.

    I shall now submit to the Pupil some excercises, which I hope will be as conclusive to the end proposed as my anticipations and experience have induced me to believe. And as this book is not only intended as a guide to the improvement of the voice, but also to give the Pupil a concise and accurate idea of what he is doing, and what, with attention, he may do, I think it highly necessary to explain the rudiments of Music, previous to the introduction of the Excercises in Sol-faing.

[NOTE: what follows are sections titles without their tables and illustrations.]


    I shall now to proceed to give those Rules which every Singer must strictly attend to, if he wish to attain to any eminence in the Science. The breath must always be taken quickly, with the mouth smiling: the vowel A must invariably be pronouced as Aa, or Ah, for if the Singer once become habituated to pronouce the Ae, for Aa, his accent will be inharmonious, and practice will, instead of improving, only tend to make the deficiency in accentuation more palpable. No sound can be truly perfect without the vowels are correctly pronounced, more particularily the letter A, for when any vowel is improperly pronounced, it renders the tone of the voice imperfect. At each respiration the lungs ought to be fully inflated, and the same rule must be observed at the commencement, of a piece and when taking breath in any part of the performance of it. The breath should be parted with gradually, and in no greater quantity than is requisite to to give the proper fullness to the note sung; and, except in the practice of the Mezza Voce, see below, the breath should always be inhaled before the lungs are quite exhausted. The character of the Music of Poetry will always prove a guide to the Pupil on this point, and show his the proper time to take breath. It is very painful to listen to those Singers who disjoin the syllables of words to inhale the necessary air for the inflation of the lungs, for it displays a vulgarity of taste, an ingorance of the grammatical principles of the language, or a least a decided deficiency of attention to it; for by such divisions the most beautiful poetry is metamorphosed into nonsense, and the character of the Music is degraded. The proper time to take breath is before a long note, protracted cadence, or long division; if, in following these rules, the sense of any sentence is materially injured, the Composer and not the Pupil ought to hear the above censure. It is necessary to caution the Pupil against practicing when in ill health, or suffering from cold or hoarseness. It would be prudent, whenever the voice becomes in any degree tremulous, and incapable of singing in tune, to cease exerting it for a certain time, by which precautions it will not only have the opportunity to recover its power, but also increase its strength. In every voice there is a certain note, more particularly in the Cont'ralt's, which is called "Il ponticello" because it leads from the "Voce di Petto" or chest voice, to the "Voce di Testa," the head, or falsetto voice; this note generally lies between Fa, Sol, La, and may be ascertained by a gradual succession of ascending sounds; and by the voice involuntarily breaking on that one particular note. Therefore if the Pupil compares the voice above these notes with the voice below them, he will distinctly perceive the difference, but the greatest care should be observed to cause these notes to fall so imperceptibly into each other that the junction may not strike harshly on the ear.

    The frequent excercise of the voice is highly necessary to every Singer, and the Solfeggio which I shall now have the honour to submit, (presented to me in part by Rossini, Meyerbeer, Reghini, Maijocchi, Zirelli, Zingerelli, and Generali,) will, I trust, be productive of improvement to the Pupil.* [*The Solfeggio may, without difficulty, be transposed into lower keys.]

On the Formation of the Mouth in Singing the Solfeggio

    Do, is always pronouced with the mouth opened in an oval form, and by striking the point of the tongue, under the upper teeth, which must be done without any distortion of the features. Re, the mouth smiling, by not much opened. Mi, the mouth smiling, and the sound more continuous than in the preceding syllable. Fa, is pronounced similar to the first syllable of Father, and sung the reverse of Do, striking the upper teeth upon the lower lip. Sol, is sung like Do, but with the mouth a little more open, and to give it its full force and expression, the Singer will find it necessary to hiss strongly. La is probably the best syllable for singing and is pronouced by sriking the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Si appears to me to be unworthy of the Italian language, and ill-adapted for the voice. I invariably substitute Ah in its place. which I consider far superior in softness of sound; but as it is my professed intention to give the Pupil a true idea of Pronoucing the Solfeggio, I can only remark that the best method of pronoucing Si is hissing through the teeth.

    In excercising the voice upon these syllables, the commencement of each must be in as soft a tone as possible, taking care to retain the breath to give any required increase in sound, which must be gradual, and by the most pp. Piano degrees, until the utmost power of the voice is thrown out: it must diminish with the same care. This is what the Italians call the Mezza di Voce.

    There are six different rules for expressing the Solfeggio Singing; viz. Piano,?Forte,?Legato,? Staccato,? Crescendo,?Dimuendo?which are indicated in Music by these signs: pp. Pianissimo, very soft,?ff. very loud: Legato [slur sign] over notes, denotes they are to be sung smoothly:?Staccato '''' over notes, implies that they are to be sung short:?Crescendo to increase the sound, is marked [crescendo mark]:?and the Diminuendo to decrease the sound thus [diminuendo mark], &c, &c. These characters it will be necessary for the Pupil to learn perfectly, and I would recommend him to repeat the seven Italian syllables to himself as frequently as possible, till they become as familiar to him as the Alphabet.

    Whenever this mark [a slashed-circle] occurs in the excercises, it denotes the proper time to take breath.

[Note: except for some musical examples, all text transcriptions have been completed. The book has also been fully digitized into black/white TIFF image files.]

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