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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Charles Villiers Stanford on Vibrato (1908)

Signorine Guerrini and Pasqua, who took the parts of Mrs. Page and Mrs. Quickly respectively, were the best; next to them, Signorina Stehle, who sang the róle of Anne Page. The part of Mrs. Ford was unfortunately in the hands of a singer whose vibrato was so persistent that at times it was difficult to tell within three tones the note which she intended to sing.

This fault, from a super- abundance of which the male voices were fairly free, seemed in the case of the soprani to be a malignant disease. The short unaccompanied quartet in the first act, consisting entirely of a rapid staccato, was so quavered and shaken that it was a matter of sheer impossibility to follow either the harmonies or even the single notes. To succeed in imparting a vibrato to a staccato quaver at presto speed would have seemed an absurd paradox, but, strange to say, the feat was accomplished. It is a matter of serious danger to music that this evil habit is spreading everywhere.

Not only is cantabile destroyed by it, not only is the finest melody corrupted by it, but the vibrato itself, a power by which, when used in its proper place, an overpowering effect can be produced, is reduced to a position of that contempt which familiarity proverbially breeds. It is the duty of the Land of Song to keep its sources of vocal supply pure. If singing is polluted in Italy the world will be infected by the stream. The very street boys there are afflicted with this vocal delirium tremens. With a tribute to the unobtrusive but very musical singing of Garbin in the small part of Fenton my remarks as to the cast may close. The chorus, which had but very little to do, did it admirably.



Charles Villiers Stanford, Studies and Memories (London: A. Constable, 1908).

We are fortunate that comments such as this can be contextualised through contemporaneous recordings.

The image below is a caricature of Charles Villiers Stanford published in Vanity Fair, February 1905

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