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A footnote to history.

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

In volume two of The Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing, Manuel Garcia discussed the current principles guiding performance practice and how to effectively interpret the score. He elaborated extensively upon how the emotional motive behind the words should lead an artist to make choices concerning color, timbre, and dynamic level, including copious musical examples with very specific instructions or recommendations. It reminds me of how Boris Goldovsky would work with people on how to move across the stage; everything is motivated by the text and your relationship with the other characters. Some of us have read volume one of Garcia's important work, but volume two remains practically unknown to most of us. of course, the purpose of the technical work described in volume one was so that one could execute the concepts in volume two.

In the second volume Garcia was careful not to discuss technical issues extensively; however, in a couple of places it seems that he could not resist the temptation to elaborate on the technical implications of his discussion. I find these footnotes very illuminating to Garcia's thinking, and they also shed some light on the thinking of the day. Following are two of those footnotes with comments by this author in asterisked footnotes.

In Chapter IV entitled "Expression," Garcia discussed timbres of the voice and how they communicate emotion. He reminded the reader that in volume one he pointed out that the sombre timbre was produced with the low larynx, and the clear timbre with the larynx in a slightly elevated posture. He said in this chapter that this understanding was simply not precise enough for the particular discussion of expressing specific emotions and that the "lips of the glottis" also play an important role in determining the timbre of the tone.

When one very vigorously pinches the arytenoids together, the glottis is represented only by a narrow or elliptical slit, through which the air driven out by the lungs must escape. Here each molecule of air is subjected to the laws of vibrations, and the voice takes on a very pronounced brilliance. If, on the contrary, the arytenoids are separated, the glottis assumes the shape of an isosceles triangle,* the little side of which is formed between the arytenoids. One can then produce only extremely dull notes, and, in spite of the weakness of the resulting sounds, the air escapes in such abundance that the lungs are exhausted in a few moments. This enormous expenditure of air, which coincides with the production of veiled tones, indicates, according to us, that the glottis assumes the triangular form. One understands in fact that the air does not encounter any resistance toward the base of the triangle, and that it passes freely through the glottis almost without receiving any vibrations from it. It is only at the summit of the angle which parts from the thyroid cartilage that the condensations and rarefactions of the air are formed in a complete manner. Likewise, but in the opposite way, the brilliance of the sound and the fourfold or fivefold duration of the breath indicate that the organ is offering no more than a linear or elliptical slit. Let us add that when we pinch the glottis strongly, we synergistically bring about a certain contraction, a kind of condensation of the tissues of the pharynx, most favorable states for the vitality [nerf] and the brilliance of the voice. On the contrary, the separation of the arytenoids brings about the softness of these same tissues, as a result of which, the sonorous waves, absorbed or poorly reflected, lose nearly all their brilliance. One sees, according to what precedes, that the timbre depends not only upon the modifications which the tube imparts to the sonorous waves, but also upon the place where these vibrations are born; that is to say that the voice receives its first character in the glottis, then from the numerous modifications of the pharyngeal and buccal cavities. One can summarize what proceeds in this principle: that each modification in the mode of production of the vibrations develops a different timbre, and each modification which the tube through which it passes undergoes modifies the original timbre. (1)

Garcia differentiated between the contributions of the larynx and the vocal tract to the resultant tone for the first time. Its implications are profound; they have withstood the test of time and are a part of contemporary understanding.

Later in the same chapter Garcia discussed specific timbre choices for particular purposes. He said a tone that lacks brilliance should be used to express feelings that are "disturbing to the soul": tenderness, timidity, fear, embarrassment, terror, etc. On the other hand, full brilliance is used to express vivid joy, anger, rage, and arrogance. In a footnote he said:

The character of these timbres is necessarily related to the age and to the nature of the organ of each individual; let us even say that in young singer's extreme freshness should be the dominant quality: it indicates an organ which is in all its virginity. When a voice has been experienced by the emotions, age and work, it is modified; the freshness and the brilliance of the timbre make way for solidity and volume. Some young people make the error of wanting to imitate the organs of artists matured by the stage and by years, and by means of obstinacy, they succeed in aging their voices before their time. Sometimes, by a contrary error, some singers, already aged, borrow, in order to rejuvenate themselves, a childish timbre. The voice, like everything else, should follow the progress of time. (2)

Garcia offered sound advice to all generations of singers and teachers who are impatient concerning the critical decision of when to take on mature repertory!

In the next paragraph Garcia discussed the "language of the soul," which included the use of tears, interjections, cries, sighs, etc., and suggested that every dramatic singer should be familiar with them, as they "will become the principal source of his success." At the very end of the chapter on expression he included the longest footnote in the treatise. In it, Garcia argued that it is impossible for two vibratory mechanisms on the vocal folds to coexist and form a third. The end of the footnote will challenge your brain, as it did mine, but it's worth digging a little on this one.

We will terminate this chapter on the timbres by some important observations on the kind of voice incorrectly named the mixed voice, or mezzo petto; their rather technical nature advises us to put them into the form of a footnote.

In France, the highest part of the chest voice, including from [f.sup.1] to [c.sup.2], is given the name of mixed voice [voix mixte], whether the voice presents in this range the characters of the somber timbre, or, on the contrary, the tones are excessively clear and sharp [diliees]. In Italy this same range is called, in the first case, voce di petto, and the second, voce di mezzo petto. Whatever the character of these tones may be, they belong to the chest register, * but with a modification of volume with which we are going to concern ourselves. The designations of voix mixte and mezzo petto are equally improper, for they would make us suppose that these clear and high pitched tones are produced by the two mechanisms of the chest and falsetto registers at the same time. Now, physiologically, the simultaneous conjunction of two different mechanisms serving to produce the same note, or two notes in unison, is an unacceptable idea. In fact, the production of any one sound places the organ into entirely different and irreconcilable conditions, according as it is formed by the mechanism of the chest voice or that of the falsetto. The conformity of position could be encountered only in the simultaneous emission of two notes of different pitch. But then one would have to ask oneself if it is possible for the larynx to simultaneously produce two distinct tones. This possibility would be admissible by supposing a larynx shaped in such a manner that the different registers remain independent of each other in their mechanism. The history of music furnishes several examples of this phenomenon (see Part One). The thin character of the high tones of the so-called [pretendue] mixed voice results only, according to us, from the vibrations of the vocal cords, without the cooperation of the pharynx to reinforce them. One knows in fact that the intensity of a tone depends in general upon the number of partials which vibrate concurrently to form it, and upon the amplitude [etendue] of the vibrations which these partials execute; as a consequence, by reducing the number of vibrating partials, one decreases the sound. Moreover, it is demonstrated that the glottis, by the gradual tension of its lips and the successive reduction of its dimensions, produces the entire series of the chest tones; but the vibrations generated in the glottis acquire all their power only provided that they are extended into the ventricles, then into the pharynx. * According to that, one understands that if it were possible to limit the vibrations to the glottis by reducing the ventricles and the pharynx to a purely passive role, one would have the thinnest tones possible. It is in fact this result that a capable singer knows how to obtain, when on one side he completely relaxes all the muscles of the pharynx, and on the other he narrows more and more the column of air. * * In these circumstances, the glottis, endowed with a complete liberty, can reach the final limits of its action. One is astonished to see tenors give, without any apparent effort, the notes [a.sup.1], [b.sup.1], [c.sup.2], [c.sup.[sharp]2], [d.sup.2]. For women, and especially for children, in whom the glottis is very narrow at the same time as the arytenoideous muscles are very delicate, one does not know how high the series of tones might rise: we presume, a priori, that it would go at least to the [g.sup.2]. We always advise that it is well if these notes are replaced in practice by the falsetto tones, preferable in all respects. If, while the glottis alone vibrates and all other parts of the instrument are relaxed, one moderately increases the pressure of the air, one obtains an increase of brilliance and intensity, but never an increase of volume. One can conceive the immense advantage which the male voice can draw from these observations, completely new in theory, and too rarely applied instinctively by some artists. They serve to clarify the relatively high notes ordinarily so thick in basses, baritones, and tenors. They indicate to these latter the mechanism to practice [suivre] to increase the range of the chest register; they permit the piano and mezzo voce use of this register in the high tones and thus the dispensation of the excessive use of the falsetto tones; ([dagger]) finally, they facilitate the union of the registers, etc.

The list of facts which we have just enumerated is completely modified when the contraction of the pharyngeal muscles is added to that of the glottis.

The instrument then forms a single whole which the excessively held column can no longer make vibrate, but which was sufficient to set the glottis alone into motion. A vigorous thrust here becomes indispensable to put the entire mass into action. The voice in this case has all its amplitude and power, but can no longer reach the extraordinary notes which concern us. The [bflat.sup.1], [b.sup.1], and the [c.sup.2] require energetic efforts which in the preceding hypothesis would not be appropriate. The glottis is pinched as much as the tone which one wants to produce requires, but the column of air, too powerful for its muscular strength, obliges it to enlarge and to lower the pitch. I am fully aware of it, a very strong thrust raises the pitch without the need of new contractions; but this procedure does not entirely remedy the weakness of the vocal cords. The reduction of size is already a fact in the clear timbre, where no infrahyoideous muscles came into action to counteract the action of the arytenoideous muscles; but it is especially striking, if we produce the sounds in the somber timbre [voix sombree]; the lips of the glottis must then, by their own contractive force, resist not only the column of air, but also the opposed and considerable force of the depressor muscles, which tend to open the thyroid cartilage and to separate these same lips. Some extraordinary efforts can momentarily overcome this resistance; but exhaustion and paralysis of the organ are the inevitable and unfortunately too frequent result of the use of the procedure. (3)


(1.) Manuel Garcia, Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing, Part 2, translated and edited by Donald Paschke (New York: Da Capo Press, 1984), 152-153; originally published as Nouveau Trait Sommaire sur I'Art du Chant (Mayence: B. Schott's and Sons), 1847.

(2.) Ibid., 160.

(3.) Ibid., 161-162.

* The reader is reminded that this volume was written in 1847, and Garcia did not invent the laryngoscope until 1854. His theory concerning the triangular shape of the space between the arytenoids was not confirmed when he visualized the larynx with his own eyes. The effect of incomplete closure on the timbre of the voice is not in question.

* Garcia stated that the male high voice is all chest register. This was a common understanding of registration for the day. Garcia's table of the registers gives the range of the chest voice up to [C.sub.5]. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of head voice starting at the passaggio around [E.sub.4] or [F.sub.4]. Garcia would agree with Don Miller who has made the case that our perception of head voice is when the first vowel formant is lower in frequency than the second partial--often with the third harmonic in the second vowel formant. Scott McCoy and others report high closed quotients of .7 and .8 in operatic tenors singing all the way up to the top of the range. This suggests a laryngeal configuration that is indeed in chest mode. Our perception of the timbre changes when partials and formants interact, but it does not necessarily change the way the vocal folds are oscillating, and that is the point to which Garcia is addressing his comments.

([dagger]) This is an early statement of what we now call the source-filter theory of vowel production. Garcia was the first to describe the powerful influence of the vocal tract acting as a resonating body upon the partials produced by the vocal folds. This theory of tone production is largely accepted today. The exact role of the ventricles in all this is still under examination, but scientists such as Johan Sundberg have suggested an important role.

** Perhaps readers are familiar with Ingo Titze's discussion of the influence of long, narrow tubes in terms of "inertive reactance" in the vocal tract and its influence upon the vibration of the vocal folds. The idea is that by elongating the epilaryngeal tube (by lowering the larynx), and by narrowing the opening of the additus (by "tuning" the position of the epiglottis), it literally feeds energy into the oscillation of the vocal folds by increasing the maximum flow declination rate--how suddenly the vocal folds close during each cycle. This creates increased energy into the high partials of the spectrum. This was an incredible insight on Garcia's part.

([dagger]) This is the criticism that we read of the tenor Adolphe Nourrit--that his high voice was sung in falsetto and quite nasal, according to the English critic Henry Chorley, Music and Manners in France and Germany (1844). Duprez replaced Nourrit in William Tell, and in that role premiered the do di petto, the high C in the chest voice for the Parisian audience.
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Title Annotation:PROVENANCE
Author:Austin, Stephen
Publication:Journal of Singing
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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