The descriptions and reviews of the resources below are brief and only intended to entice the reader into examining them further. Many can be found on college and university library shelves. Several are also available at Amazon.

Tosi, Pier Francesco. Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato. Bologna, 1723. English trans. by John E. Galliard. Observations on the Florid Song. London: Wilcox, 1743; 2nd ed. Preface by Paul Henry Lang. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968. German trans. by J. H. Agricola. Anleitung zur Singkunst. 1757; reprint ed. Celle: H. Möck, 1966. English Translation by Edward V. Foreman. Opinions of Singers Ancient & Modern, or Observations on Figured Singing (Masterworks on Singing Series Vol VI). Pro Musica Press, 1993.

Pier Francesco Tosi (c1646-1732) was born in Bologna. His father, a musician, recognized some musical talent in the boy and had him castrated hoping he would have a successful career as a singer. Fortunately for Tosi, his father’s wishes were not in vain and Tosi was eventually in great demand throughout Europe. According to Berton Coffin in his Historical Vocal Pedagogy Classics, “Tosi’s book is primarily concerned with the castrato voice and has little to do with the training of the male voice.” Nevertheless there are still many interesting and useful ideas to be gained from studying it.

Tosi recommends that “divisions” or rapid melismatic passages be sung on the first of the five Italian vowels (a, e, i, o, u). He further states that “on the third and fifth Vowel, the Divisions are the worst; . . . [and] in the best Schools the second and fourth were not permitted, when these two Vowels are pronounced close or united.” (p. 56.)

Tosi’s description of the use of rubato is most interesting since rubato is often thought to be an invention of the Romantic period. He states, “The stealing of Time, in the Pathetick, is an honourable Theft in one that sings better than others, provided he makes a Restitution with Ingenuity.” (p. 156)

Some other insightful observations by Tosi include:

  • “Study with the mind when one cannot with the Voice.” (p. 82)
  • “If the Scholar [student] should have any Defects of the Nose, the Throat, or of the Ear, let him never sing, but when the Master is by. . . .” (p. 88)
  • “When he studies his Lesson at Home, let him sometimes sing before a Looking-glass . . . to avoid those convulsive Motions of the Body, or of the Face . . . which, when once they have took Footing never leave him.” (pp. 88-89)
  • “. . . to copy is the part of a Scholar, that of a Master is to invent.” (p.152)
  • “The best Singer in the World continues to study, and persists in it as much to maintain his Reputation, as he did to acquire it.” (p. 158)
  • “He that sings little and well, sings very well.” (p. 163)

Mancini, Giambattista. Pensieri, e riflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato. Italian. 1774. Reprint ed., Facsimile Publishers, 2013. Enlarged ed., 1777. Trans. by Pietro Buzzi. Practical Reflections on the Figurative Art of Singing. Boston: Gorham, 1912. Compared, trans., and ed. by Edward Foreman. Champaign, IL: Pro Musica, 1967.

Mancini (1714-1800), also a castrato soprano, was a student of Bernacchi (c1690-1756), the founder of a Bolognese singing school based on the precepts of his teacher, Pistocchi. Bernacchi’s other students included the castrati, Senesino and Carestini, as well as the German tenor Anton Raaf (for whom Mozart wrote the part Idomeneo).

This is one of the first books to discuss registers in depth. Manicini used a two register model, “chest,” and “head” or “falsetto,” and taught that they should be equalized using “the natural instinct, but to never force Nature.” Mancini also advocated a “smiling” position for the mouth. While this mouth position may have helped to facilitate the flexibility and coloratura of the castrati of that time, today it is typically reserved only for the highest and lightest of female sopranos.

Mancini also felt that the teacher should not simply tell the student what to do: “In giving precise rules to a student, let the teacher not only tell him and explain to him, but let him illustrate his meaning by making himself an example . . .”

As in Tosi’s book, much of it is taken up by explanations of the embellishments used at the time, e.g., trills, portamenti, messe di voce, etc. It should also be remembered that for Tosi and Mancini, the terms head voice and falsetto were used interchangeably to refer to head voice.

Garcia I, Manuel (père). Exercises pour la Voix. Paris: A. Parite, c1820. With English Foreward. Exercises and Method for Singing. London: Boosey, 1824.

The role of Almaviva in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816) was written specifically for Garcia père (1775-1832). Garcia’s teachers included Antonio Ripa, Juan Almarcha, and Giovanni Ansoni. Among his students were his famous children, Manuel Garcia II (1805-1906), Maria Malibran (1808-1836), Pauline Viardot (1821-1910); and, the famous French tenor, Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839).

Garcia advocated an erect posture with the shoulders back and the arms crossed behind. He claimed this would “open the chest and bring out the Voice.” While most teachers today advocate the arms at the sides with fingers lightly touching the legs, Garcia’s wisdom here cannot be refuted. Once the voice is “brought out,” the student’s arms can be moved to other positions.

Other of Garcia’s suggestions include:

  • “Always take the breath slowly and without noise.”
  • “The Throat, Teeth and Lips, must be sufficiently open so that the voice may meet with no impediment.”

 As did both Tosi and Mancini, Garcia also emphasized the importance of the messa di voce. The exercises become increasingly more difficult in both agility and range as would be expected and came to form the basis of the singing and teaching of the bel canto style of the younger Garcia and of later generations.

Garcia II, Manuel. Traité complet de l’Art du Chant. 1841, 1847. Rev. ed. Nouveau Traité sur l’Art du Chant. 1856. Reprint ed. 1872. Trans. and ed. by Donald V. Paschke. A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing. New York: Da Capo, 1975 (Part I), 1982 (Part II).

The younger Garcia’s Treatise, Part One was based on an earlier work, Memoire sur la voix humaine (1840). Part One presents Garcia’s methods for developing the voice; Part Two (1847) discusses the interpretation and application of the principles in Part One and contains many musical examples for illustration.

During his stint in the French army in 1830, Garcia II had the opportunity to examine in detail the anatomy of the larynx. This knowledge formed the basis for his theories on vocal production.

In 1854 Garcia II invented the first laryngoscope. His later publications include Physical Observations of the Human Voice (1855) and Hints on Singing (1894), the latter written primarily to defend his use of the coup de glotte as a training device. Garcia II’s students included Jenny Lind, Mathilde Marchesi, Julius Stockhausen, Sir Charles Santley, and Johanna Wagner, the niece of Richard Wagner.

Teachers of singing today will typically disagree with Garcia II’s designation of the middle register as falsetto (I, xlvii), but most will not dispute the success of his methods. He is one of the first to discuss the clair (bright or open) and sombre (dark or covered) timbres of the voice. All serious students of voice should be encouraged to study this important historical classic.

Marchesi, Mathilde. Theoretical and Practical Vocal Method. Reprint ed. with introduction by Philip Miller. New York: Dover, 1970.

Marchesi (1826-1913) studied with Garcia II for four years and became thoroughly trained in his techniques, though she calls the middle register, “Medium.” Also like Garcia II she did not have an exceptional voice and a somewhat limited career. Her students included Nellie Melba, Ilma di Murska, Emma Eames and Emma Calvé.

Marchesi believed the “attitude of the singer should be natural and as easy as possible.” She did not advocate the smile position, believed in diaphragmatic breathing [no corsets], and considered the treatment of the registers as “the touchstone of all singing methods.”

Stockhausen, Julius. Method of Singing. Trans. by Sophie Löwe. London: Novello, 1884.

Julius Stockhausen is best known as a famous singer of Lieder. In addition, two of his students were later teachers of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Stockhausen believed that a beautiful tone was the primary element of the art of singing and that a good voice was only a precondition of artistic singing.

“What will always distinguish him from the untaught singer who is lacking in control over his breath, or in flexibility, or in distinctness of pronunciation, is that he perceives at once the meaning of the artistic task before him, and enters into it with full command of the means necessary for its interpretation” (quoted in Coffin, 41).

Lamperti, Francesco (1813-1892). A Treatise on the Art of Singing. London, 1877. Rev. & Trans. by J. C. Griffith. New York: Schirmer, 1980.

Lamperti believed there had been a decline in the art of singing because singers were performing onstage before being thoroughly prepared. Some of his students were Marietta Alboni, Maria Waldmann, Italo Campanini, and William Shakespeare. [NOTE: Not that Shakespeare.] He taught that there were three registers for female voices: Chest, Mixed, and Head; and for males, Chest and Mixed. He advocated singing without forcing and with a full, clear tone. Interestingly Lamperti did not advocate humming since he believed it fatigued the voice.

Lamperti, Giovanni Battista (1839-1910). The Technics of Bel Canto. Trans. by Th. Baker. New York: Schirmer, 1905.

Lamperti’s son, Giovanni, was the teacher of the following students: Sembrich, Schumann-Heink, Stagno, Herbert Witherspoon, and William Earl Brown. The younger Lamperti, like other teachers of bel canto, believed that “the true method of singing is in harmony with nature and the rules of health.”

Lamperti’s methods were written down by his student, William Earl Brown, and will be discussed briefly below.

Lehmann, Lilli. How to Sing. New York: Macmillan, 1914.

Lilli Lehman (1848-1929) sang approximately 170 roles. She performed at the first Bayreuth Festival and even sang the role of Isolde in Vienna in 1909 at the age of 61. Her students included Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad. She stressed the importance of not holding back the breath and desired to clarify terminology that she felt was confusing. Lehmann advised students to vocalize on [i], [e], and [u], and thought that [A] should be abandoned since “the tongue is usually pressed down.”

Lehmann believed that the head voice was of greatest importance to all vocal artists. Some of her other beliefs are: “Technique is inseparable from art,” and “Beauty of tone is the foundation of vocal art.”

Shakespeare, William. The Art of Singing. New York: Ditson, 1921.

Shakespeare was a student of the elder Lamperti. David Bispham, the first American baritone to achieve international recognition was a student of Lamperti and Shakespeare. Shakespeare believed that a singer’s notes should be “started in fulness [sic] and purity exactly on the pitch intended, the words prolonged, yet sound as natural as the most expressive talking, and every tone conveys the emotion desired by the singer.” Shakespeare further was convinced that in correct singing, “we tire the breath muscles, but experience no sense of fatigue at the throat,” and that “on the freedom of the jaw depends the freedom of the larynx.” Shakespeare was also the author of Plain Words on Singing (1924).

Brown, William Earl. Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti. 1931. Enlarged ed. by Lillian Strongin. New York: Taplinger, 1957.

This little book has become a classic among students of voice. The “Maxims” were transcribed by Brown when he was a student of Lamperti in Dresden in the 1890s. Some food for thought:

  • “The larynx . . . should remain quiescent throughout a song.” [The Quiet Throat] (p. 12).
  • “The most difficult problem in singing is . . . making a messa di voce. . . . A tone must be self-starting, self-prolonging, and self-stopping.” (p. 13)
  • “To learn to play on the larynx demands training of brain and body until desire and reflex control the process. Then that which was difficult becomes easy.” (p. 14)
  • “‘I have studied with ten different teachers,’ said a student proudly. ‘That is nine too many,’ exclaimed Lamperti.” (p. 22)
  • “Do not ‘hold’ your tone. Spin it.” (p. 29)
  • “The feeling that your tone is free, borne on its own wings of energy, is one of the greatest delights of life–because you are its creator.” (p. 33)

Miller, Richard. The Structure of Singing: System and Art in Vocal Technique. Wadsworth, 2001.

Quite simply the best book about the process of singing on the market today. The following books by Miller are also excellent: On the Art of Singing, Training Tenor Voices, Training Soprano Voices, and Solutions for Singers.

Related Links