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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Domenico Corri on Registration, Expression, and Transposition (1810)

‘There are four sorts of voices, Basso, Tenore, Contralto, and Soprano the extent of the Natural Voice of either denomination, is in general no more than one Octave and 2, 3 or 4 Notes beyond; altho’ the Voice may contain above four Octaves the part of the Voice below the Natural is in general indistinct, inexpressive and destitute of power, that part above the Natural is called the feigned or falsetto Voice, with which some effect of Pathos may be produced, but is not capable of energy: therefore the attention and practice of the Scholar ought to be chiefly directed to the attainment of as much of the Natural Voice as he can possibly acquire, and this practice ought to be made with great care and prudence; extending a compass of Voice may be compared to the stretching a piece of Leather, which if done violently at once will break, but if by gentle degrees, daily increasing the force and distance, it may be brought to stretch very far: The scholar ought to begin the Exercises of the Voice from that Note which he things the first of his Natural Voice, and from thence proceed to its last Note, every time if after several trials, he should not succeed, he ought to give up the attempt, contenting himself with what nature has given, on the contrary, if he should obtain this additional semitone, make the same experiment with the next, and so on.

After the Scholar has ascertained the compass of the Natural Voice, his great study should be to contrive to unite the Natural to the first Note of the Falsetto, to blend them with such nicety, that the union may be imperceptible.

A great defect in most Singers is in the imperfect Manner of joining the Natural to the Feigned Voice, the sudden transition of which, frequently gives a shock to the Ear, abrupt as the squeak of a little Boy, which is unbecoming the dignity of manhood to utter, or produces a similar effect, as playing at the same time with one hand on a Small, and with the other on a Grand Piano Forte.

Examples of the bad effect produced, when the Natural and Feigned Voice is not properly united

In Mr Shield’s celebrated Song “The Thorn” this passage “No, by Heav’n! I exclaim’d, may I perish!” requires three different degrees of energetic Expression

But singers from want of skill in not measuring their Compass of Voice, are often obliged to Sing the third degree (may I perish) in the Feigned Voice, instead of the manly energy required, the effect of which is, that supposing one’s Eyes had been shut, one might have mistaken it for a Duet, the Tenor Voice singing “No, by Heav’n!” and the Soprano answering “may I perish!” at the same time I do not mean to exclude the introduction of the Feigned Voice, which sometime may be used to great advantage, for example in the words of the second Verse to the aforementioned Song. “Yes, I’ll consent, if you’ll promise” &c. which should be expressed in manner exactly the opposite of the former Line, for in uttering these words conveying the Lady’s answer to her Lover, energy should rather give place to delicacy and softness of expression

My Song “Victory in the Opera of the Travellers” affords another instance of this unskilful execution; the following passage requiring also three different degrees of ExpressionUnless the words of “Glad,” “sounds,” and “Victory” are sung with great energy and in the same Natural Voice as the rest, the meaning and effect must be destroyed.

Singers ought therefore to measure the extent of the Song, with the extent of the Voice and pitch the Key accordingly, for every Composition is not calculated for every one’s abilities, but should they have a particular wish or fancy for those pieces that are unsuitable to their extent of Voice, by which some part must be sacrificed, either the lower or higher Notes, in this case I advise them rather to sacrifice the lower part of the Voice than risk the break of the Natural Voice with the Feigned, should this transposition be ineffective, let the whole of these passages be taken in the Feigned Voice.’

Domenico Corri, The Singer’s Preceptor, vol. I (London: Chappell and Co., 1810).

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