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Demystifying Tosi

Ongoing

This collection of summaries is designed to make wading through the dense texts of Pier Francesco Tosi, as well as his most notable eighteenth-century translators, easier for students of 'historically informed' singing. The intention is to present those elements of Tosi's text which are essentially practical, accompanied by the various commentaries provided by his translators, in a clear and concise, and therefore more easily usable manner. 

The summary is organised by chapter below - those chapters with completed summaries can be viewed by clicking on the associated link:

1: Observations for one who teaches a Soprano

2: Of the Appoggiatura

3: Of the Shake

4: On Divisions

5: Of Recitative [LINK]

6: Observations for a Student

7: Of Airs

8: Of Cadences

9: Observations for a Singer

10: Of Passages or Graces


Tosi (1654-1742) himself was an Italian castrato, teacher, and composer. He was employed as a church singer in Rome between 1676-1677, sang in Milan in the Cathedral choir until 1685, and was subsequently based in Genoa before traveling to London in 1693 where he found employment as a concert singer and singing teacher. Between 1701-1723 he worked as a diplomat for Emperor Joseph I, before returning to London in 1724, establishing himself as a singing teacher. The emphasis on past musical practices throughout the treatise is reminiscent of much modern discourse on both a supposed ‘Golden Age’ as well as the ‘Historically Informed’ movement. Indeed, it’s hardly surprising to learn that Tosi was one of the founding members of the Academy of Ancient Music in London, 1725-1726.

Tosi’s English translator, John Ernest Galliard (1666-1747) was in fact a German composer and oboist active in England during the first part of the eighteenth century. As an active member of the London musical scene, he undoubtedly knew Tosi personally, being a fellow founding-member of the Academy of Ancient music. If Dr Kitchener is to be believed, George Frideric Handel himself was a significant admirer of Galliard’s skill as a composer.

Johann Agricola (1720-1774,) Tosi’s German translator, was a composer, organist, singing master, and conductor. In 1738, during his studies in Law at the University of Leipzig, Agricola became a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in 1741 became a pupil of Johann Joachim Quantz, as well as making the acquaintance of C.P.E. Bach. In 1772, Charles Burney described Agricola as ‘the best organ-player in Berlin, and the best singing master in Germany.’