• Tim Braithwaite

A Description of Luigi Lablache’s ‘Magnificent Organ’ and ‘Wonderful Feats of Execution’ (1839)

The compass of Lablache’s voice is from G in the bass to E natural, embracing but 13 notes; but the timbre, power, and vibration of his tones are prodigious, taken as they are with unerring precision. Hear him in grand concerted pieces, with all the surrounding voices in full development, and the orchestra putting forth its powers - Lablache surmounts the whole, overpowers both chorus and instruments; and the éclat of the bass phrases, streaking the general mass of sound, is never confounded with unisonous accompaniment.


It is impossible to describe the effect of his magnificent organ in morçeaux d’ensemble; it is as cannon amid a rolling fire of musketry - as thunder amid the tempest. Nevertheless he has a perfect control over this immense volume of tone, subduing it at pleasure, and endowing it with grace, delicacy, and occasionally even a spice of coquetry. Such are the triumphs of art! Cultivation has perfected nature without trespassing on her primitive beauty.


In lighter pieces he has been known to perform wonderful feats of execution. One evening, during a representation of La Prova, Madame Malibran took a fancy to discontent her colleague, by introducing ornaments and caprices of extreme difficulty, which it was the business of Lablache to imitate. But the trap laid for this vocal Hercules availed only to cause a display of his agility; note after note, trait after trait, shade after shade, did Lablache reproduce in falsetto the fioriture which Malibran had taken such pains to mature.


On meeting behind the scenes, Malibran could not help expressing to Lablache her astonishment at the ease with which he had surmounted such difficult passages, and the latter, with his usual bonhommie, replied that he had not been aware of the difficulty.


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*Notes*


"Characteristics Of Louis Lablache." Times, November 20, 1839, 5. The Times Digital Archive (accessed January 8, 2022). https://link-gale-com.access.authkb.kb.nl/apps/doc/CS84700532/TTDA?u=kobibli&sid=bookmark-TTDA&xid=f721dd33.


The image below is from Lablache's Méthode Complète de Chant, published in 1840. It demonstrates 'the art of variation,' providing six embellished variations on the simple theme, found on the uppermost line.


Luigi Lablache, Méthode Complète de Chant (Paris: Canaux, 1840)


The complete treatise can be found here: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k9752118j/f7.item


and 19th-century English translation here: https://imslp.org/wiki/Méthode_complète_de_chant_(Lablache%2C_Luigi)


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