Lamperti on the Decadence of Singing Immediately Before the Advent of Commercial Recordings
‘It is a sad, but nevertheless undeniable truth, that the art of singing is in a terrible state of decadence; and this fact is all the more to be regretted, inasmuch as it is not only the opinion of intelligent persons, but also that of the less educated public, that it results from the inferior quality of the musical works represented as much in our leading as in our minor theatres...
Vocal music, in order to assume a more dramatic character, is almost entirely despoiled of agility of every kind; this is carried to such an extent that by degrees it will become little else than musical declamation, to the total exclusion of melody...
Let the admirers of declamation frequent the theatres of dramas and tragedy, where there is no need of orchestral music to intensify the desired expression...
Owing to the fact that singers no longer find the best methods and masters in the music itself, and either do not wish or are unable to begin their careers in the slow but sure way of their predecessors, they rarely attain more than mediocrity in their art, and their singing is usually defective and unsatisfactory.’
Francesco Lamperti, Guida Teorico-Pratica-Elementaire per Lo Studio Del Canto (Milano: Ricordi, 1864).
Francesco Lamperti, A Treatise on the Art of Singing, trans. J.C Griffith (New York: Schirmer, 1890).
N.B. The point of posts such as this is not to lambast modern singers or indeed modern singing, but to point out that, throughout the recorded history of Western music, the ‘Good Old Days’ seem to have always been just out of reach.
Of particular interest are those sources which were published immediately before the advent of widespread commercial recording because:
They directly contradict the widely held perspective that approaches heard on recordings from the beginning of the twentieth century are directly representative of techniques from the beginning of the nineteenth century. While parallels doubtless exist, the notion of an entirely continued tradition seems indefensible in light of the extensive documentation to the contrary.
They cast a critical light on the retrospective tendency to view singing and singers from the early twentieth century, those whose early careers occurred during this supposed time of ‘decadence,’ as representing a ‘Golden Age’ of singing (Caruso, Tetrazzini, Battistini etc.)
Since this post presents selected extracts from a longer chapter, I will provide the Italian in full below: