Printer Friendly

"On Time" with Manuel Garcia.

prov*e*nance (prov'[??]-n[??]ns) n. Place of origin, source. [LAT. Provenire, to originate.]

SEVERAL ARTICLES HAVE APPEARED in this column on the work of Manuel Garcia, eminent teacher from the past. His Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing in two volumes is still a valuable resource, even though it is difficult to obtain at the present time. The first volume of the Complete Treatise was originally published in 1841 during the time that Garcia was teaching at the Paris Conservatory. It was a progressive vocal method that included descriptions of the vocal instrument and how it worked--most of the ideas therein are still valid today. The Complete Treatise contained the pedagogic thought of the day, but included several new concepts that reflected a change in the common practice of the time: the importance of the low larynx, Garcia's definition of vocal timbres, his famous definition of a vocal register, and the controversial coup de la glotte (all of which have been discussed in this column). His method included many exercises designed to train the musician (interval studies, scale work, and how to interpret the musical score correctly) and to build the voice (register building, register unification, messa di voce, velocity, etc.). Volume two was originally published in 1847 and is much less known to the modern reader. It taught the interpretation of song (and arias) and offered practical applications of the techniques learned in the first volume. It was full of examples from the operatic literature performed at the time--much of which is still in the active repertory today. It is an invaluable resource for understanding performance practice of the period.

One of the subjects addressed by Garcia in volume two is the appropriate management of time. In the introduction to the topic titled "On Time," he offered this quote: "Il tempo e' l'anima della musics". (1) Garcia goes on to say that "time gives regularity, firmness, and ensemble to music, while irregularities add interest and variety to its execution." (2) It is to the concept of intentional irregularities that the following extended excerpt is given. The source of the text is from Garcia's New Treatise on the Art of Singing, published in the United States by Oliver Ditson. It is undated but probably appeared in the 1870s or 1880s. Music examples are taken from an undated but early publication, Traite complet de L'art du Chant, with parallel French and German texts published by B. Schott in Leipzig. (3)




By tempo rubato is meant the momentary increase of value, which is given to one or several sounds, to the detriment of the rest, while the total length of the bar remains unaltered. This distribution of notes into long and short, breaks the monotony of regular movements, and gives greater vehemence to bursts of passion [Example l].

To make tempo rubato perceptible in singing, the accents and time of an accompaniment should be strictly maintained; upon this monotonous ground, all alterations introduced by a singer will stand out in relief, and change the character of certain phrases. Accelerando and rallentando movements require the voice and accompaniment to proceed in concert; whereas, tempo rubato allows liberty to the voice only. A serious error is there fore committed, when a singer, in order to give spirit to the final cadences of a piece, uses a ritardando at the last bar but one, instead of the tempo rubato; as while aiming at spirit and enthusiasm, he only becomes awkward and dull.

This prolongation is usually conceded to appoggiaturas, to notes placed on long syllables, and those which are naturally salient in the harmony. In all such cases, the time lost must be regained by accelerating other notes. This is a good method for giving colour and variety to melodies [Example 2]. (4)

Two artists of a very different class--Garcia [the author's father] and Pagannini--excelled in the use of the tempo rubato. While the time was regularly maintained by an orchestra, they would abandon themselves to their inspiration, till the instant a chord changed, or else to the very end of the phrase. An excellent perception of rhythm, and great self-possession on the part of a musician, however, are requisite for the adoption of this method, which should be resorted to only in passages where the harmony is stable, or only slightly varied--in any other case, it would appear singularly difficult, and give immense trouble to an executant. The annexed example illustrates our meaning [Example 3].



The tempo rubato, again, is useful in preparing a shake, by permitting this preparation to take place on the preceding notes; thus: [Example 4]

The tempo rubato, if used affectedly, or without discretion, destroys all balance, and so tortures the melody.

Other sources contemporary to Garcia offer similar instructions in the use of tempo rubato. Carlo Bassini said:

The tempo rubato is an effect much employed--it is much used but also much abused. Indeed, the correct application of the rubati is extremely difficult. When a passage is thus treated, the measure of the accompaniment should be maintained with great precision, while the singer is free to accelerate or retard, giving thus to passages an entirely new character. (5)

Bassini offered Example 5 as illustration. (6)


Both Garcia and Bassini warned that proper use of the tempo rubato was a difficult matter and that it should be guided by discernment and good taste. Tastes change over time, especially in matters of music and how it is to be performed. In my roles as college voice teacher and a choir director of amateur singers, I often find myself having to convince singers to let go of their rigid concepts of what musicality means so that the words they sing and the musical phrases they are trying to bring to life have a chance to have anima. It was heartening for me to see venerated teachers trying to guide singers into letting go of always reading the score literally when beautiful expression could be found by slightly altering the notes as they appear. I know this is not now as commonly practiced as it was in Garcia's day, when it is clear from reading these and other historical writings of the period that absolute obedience to the written score was not necessarily the goal. Perhaps it is because we do not take the time to teach tempo rubato adequately so that "good taste" is established. We have placed the musical score "on the altar" in ways that the composers of the nineteenth century never intended. We all know the famous story of how Rossini was so fed up with singers who took too many liberties with his music that he began writing out all embellishments and ornaments. Apparently this did not mean that all freedom was gone for the artist to breathe life into the music by slight alterations of rhythm and even of the notes in the score. Composers often made changes to the score to fit the particular talents (and limitations) of particular singers who were singing their leading parts.


Some of the best examples of tempo rubato that I know today are found in popular music styles. When I want a good demonstration of this principle I break out my recording of Willie Nelson singing "Moonlight in Vermont." There is a steady beat from the ensemble, and of course the harmonic rhythm is maintained, but the words are sung in a rhythm that to Mr. Nelson represented the correct sentiment behind them--with extremely good taste earned over many years of his own brand of artistry! It seems to me to be exactly what Garcia was describing ... being "on time" sometimes meant being a little "out of time."


(1.) Manuel Garcia II, Garcia's New Treatise on the Art of Singing (Boston: Oliver Ditson & Company, n.d.), 52. ("Time is the soul of music," quoting Anna Maria Cellini from her Grammar of Song.)

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Manuel Garcia, fils, Ecole de Garcia: Traite complet de l'Art du Chant (Leipzig: B. Schott, n.d.).

(4.) From Garcia's Traite complete L'Art du Chant. Excerpts from Lucia di Lamermoor and Anna Bolena. The aria "Perche non ho del vento" was sometimes used as a substitute for "Regnava nel silenzio." It is more commonly known to be from Rosmonda d'Inghilterra.

(5.) Carlo Bassini, Art of Singing (historical reprint; introduction by Stephen F. Austin) (San Diego: Plural Publishing, 2008; originally published in NY: Oliver Ditson, 1852), 16.

(6.) From Bassini's Art of Singing. This excerpt is from the aria "Non v'ha squardo" from Anna Bolena, indicating correct use of tempo rubato.

Stephen F. Austin, MM, PhD, is a singer, voice teacher, and a trained scientist. He received a masters degree in vocal performance with the late Dr. John Large at the University of North Texas, and a PhD in Voice Science at the University of Iowa with Dr. Ingo Titze. Dr. Austin's dissertation was titled "The Effect of Sub-glottal Resonance Upon Vibration of the Vocal Folds." This and other research is published in the Journal of Voice.

Dr. Austin recently joined the faculty of the University of North Texas, where he is associate professor of voice and voice pedagogy. He is associated with the Texas Center for Music and Medicine. The center provides a unique opportunity for collaboration among musicians, physicians, researchers, psychologists, educators, and biomedical engineers.

Dr. Austin has presented recitals, lectures, and workshops across this country and in Australia and Europe. He is regularly featured on the faculty of the Annual Symposium: Care of the Professional Voice sponsored by The Voice Foundation. He has made presentations to national conventions of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), and the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). He has been a featured guest lecturer at the summer and mid-winter workshops sponsored by NATS. Dr. Austin has been a regular contributing author to Australian Voice, the journal of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing, and he serves NATS as the chair of the Voice Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Singing. He also is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of The Voice Foundation.

Dr. Austin is a successful studio teacher with students singing in opera houses of Germany and the United States. His students are regular members of young artist apprenticeship programs around the country, including the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Grass Roots Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Seagle Colony, and many others.
COPYRIGHT 2010 National Association of Teachers of Singing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:PROVENANCE
Author:Austin, Stephen
Publication:Journal of Singing
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Previous Article:Break a leg! The ironic effect, choking, and other mind games.
Next Article:A suggested list of French song for young singers.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters