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Light Voices

'light voices' (was: Mera's diction)

Continue of discussion from: Yoshikazu Mera (Counter-tenor) Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works - General Discussions [Performers]

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>>My only problem with Mera's voice, which I generally like, is that its range is limited (a small, beautiful demi-voix.)<<
And Brad Lehman commented: "Can we PLEASE have some other terminology that doesn't imply the man is only "half" of something?"<<
Dale Gedcke wrote: >>MY SUGGESTION: Would "voix légère" (light voice; leichte Stimme) be a more apt and less derogatory description than "demi-voix"?<<
It would not be 'more apt' since in musical terminology there are already terms like 'light voice' which have a special meaning (translating 'light' into French would only cause more confusion and misunderstanding.)

Problem #1:

'light voices' can be those that are incapable of singing with full vocal power at all, whether this is due to nature of the voice to begin with (by birth), or whether it comes as a result of vocal training which can not take the voice 'beyond a certain point'
dictated by nature or simply the lack of daily practice.

Problem #2:

'light voices' can, under certain conditions be transformed into 'fuller' voices (usually with training and experience.) Some great singers have started out on their careers with a 'light voice' but later became famous when the voice took on greater stature.

Problem #3:

'light voices' that have been properly and successfully trained, particularly those in the soprano and tenor categories, can achieve operatic (or operetta) careers (they can definitely be heard over a large orchestra, but they still may have a limited low range (there are usually very few exceptions to this rule.)

Problem #4:

'full voices' can masquerade as 'light voices' at will by singing 'sotto voce' so as to spare the voice (opera rehearsals, etc.,) but 'full voices usually have a much larger range than 'light voices.'

The phrase/term 'light voice' or 'voix légère' has an established meaning all of its own. It is important for communication in language to maintain established meanings and not confuse older terms with new terms which carry a specific meaning that can/should not easily be confused with already existing terminology.

'Half voices' ('demi voix', 'Halbstimmen') may sometimes sing with a reasonably strong voice in the 'good part'(usually higher part) of the vocal range, but generally they tend to 'even things out' by singing in a 'sotto voce' style throughout a Bach aria or recitative. The lower part of their vocal range tends to be quite weak indeed and
is often covered up by the instruments that accompany the voice. As a result Bach's music suffers and does not get a fair hearing. Whatever such a 'half voice' gains in flexibility by singing lighter and with less volume, it begins to lose in the area of full expression of the music and text since the voice is operating at a deficit of power to
begin with unlike the 'full voice' that intentionally sings 'sotto voce' for special effect only under certain conditions. The 'half voice' may lose 'steam' or power precisely at that point in an aria or recitative where Bach is trying to underline in music an emotion that arises from the text.

I would welcome any suggestion which would/could meaningfully replace the term that I was forced to come up with to describe what I continually keep hearing in the cantata recordings, especially in HIP recordings. There are 'half voices' among the singers in both the non-HIP and HIP categories of recordings, but generally the number of 'half voices' seems to be greater among the HIP singers.

Some 'tidbits' from the New Grove [Oxford University Press, 2004]:
>>Brémond, François, (b Nîmes, 1 Nov 1844; d Houilles, nr Paris, 15 July 1925). French horn player, tenor and teacher. He also possessed a light tenor voice. [Jeffry L. Snedeker]<<

>>"Light soprano" (Fr. soprano léger; It. soprano leggiero). Typical roles for the light soprano are Despina, Susanna, Norina and Nannetta, as well as Sophie (both Der Rosenkavalier and Werther). The lightness in volume of such a voice is usually matched by a brightly produced, freely carrying tone, which in the Italian and French schools tends to be of a more sharply edged, forward quality than with the Germans or British. The term Soubrette is sometimes used in connection with such roles and voices; its original meaning of `coy' or `shrewd' and its later use, as a noun, to denote a lady's maid suggest the character of the roles assigned to the soubrette in opera. Light sopranos admired in the 20th century have included Elisabeth Schumann and the Americans Kathleen Battle and Barbara Hendricks. Many sopranos, such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Mirella Freni, have begun their career in this category and have developed into singers of the lyric or lyric-dramatic type. [J. B. Steane]<<

>>Lemière [Larrivée, L'Arrivée], Marie-Jeanne (b Sedan, 29 Nov 1733; d Paris, Oct 1786). French soprano. Hers was an agile, light voice of precision and beauty suited more to florid ariettes than to declamatory or passionate roles.[Philip Weller]<<

>>Most frequently coloratura singers are those with high, light voices since these are the most readily flexible type. ...coloratura sopranos with light voices such as Toti dal Monte and Lily Pons.[J.B. Steane, Owen Jander]<<

>>The lyric, coloratura tenor specializing in `bel canto' singing.John Aler, who has a clear and light voice, used to good effect in earlier music. Among other singers suited to the needs of the early music movement, with use of head voice at the top of the range, is Anthony Rolfe Johnson.[Elizabeth Forbes, Owen Jander, J.B. Steane/Ellen T. Harris (with Gerald Waldman)]<<

>>Printemps [Wigniolle], Yvonne (b Ermont, Seine-et-Oise, 25 July 1894; d Neuilly, nr Paris, 18 Jan 1977). French soprano. Her recordings of song and operetta reveal a light voice. [J.B. Steane]<<

>>Anneliese Rothenberger b Mannheim, 19 June 1924). German soprano had unusual acting ability and a well-schooled, if light, voice. [Harold Rosenthal]<<

>>Blossom Dearie has a small, light voice, sometimes employing a thin, tight vibrato [Ed Bemis]<<

>>'Sotto voce': It is particularly used in the word `sottovoce' (`an undertone') or in the less orthodox and particularly musical orthography 'sotto voce,' a direction indicating that a passage is to be performed in an undertone. Rousseau ('Dictionnaire de musique,' 1768), in one of his more obscure definitions, equated 'sotto voce' with 'mezzo-forte' and 'mezza voce.' 'Sotto voce' was used originally in connection with vocal music, but was equally applied, by analogy, to instrumental performance. As such it is often found in Haydn and Mozart; and Beethoven used it in his quartets in the slow movements of opp.130, 132 and 135, and also at the opening of op.74. In many similar contexts he used 'mezza voce.' Used in string music, 'sotto voce' is often a specific direction to play nearer the fingerboard where the sound is gentler.[Eric Blom/David Fallows]<<

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"I would welcome any suggestion which would/could meaningfully replace the term that I was forced to come up with to describe what I continually keep hearing in the cantata recordings, especially in HIP recordings. There are 'half voices' among the singers in both the non-HIP and HIP categories of recordings, but generally the number of 'half voices' seems to be greater among the HIP singers."
What about just "voice"! (Or "voice that Thomas Braatz doesn't like"...for that is what we're talking about.) I don't understand the need to put a label on everything? All this talk of half-voice implies that something is lacking. You may not like the voices you describe thus, but that is down to your personal taste.

ChFrancis wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] For me the cup is half full, rather than half empty, and with good microphone placement, imbalance can be compensated.

Ken Edmonds wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Can you give us real-life examples of the problems you describe below? Your e-mail if full of generalities, but no actual examples of vocalists who suffer from these problems. I would like to know a) who has a light voice because they do not practice enough, or b)who became famous after they developed a full voice, or c) who has a limited lower register due to their light voice, or d)who does not convincingly sing a Bach aria due to their light voice.

Thank you,

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 22, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
<< What about just "voice"! (Or "voice that Thomas Braatz doesn't like"...for that is what we're talking about.) I don't understand the need to put a label on everything? All this talk of half-voice implies that something is lacking. You may not like the voices you describe thus, but that is down to your personal taste. >>
Charles Francis responded: < For me the cup is half full, rather than half empty, and with good microphone placement, imbalance can be compensated. >
Personally, as an optimist, I prefer to assume that professional musicians are fully qualified to do their appointed tasks, and not clandestinely "compensating" for "imbalances". The professional singers I've accompanied (and some good amateurs, too) haven't had any trouble projecting their voices into the rooms where we perform, with no microphones anywhere; so, why assume that anything too artificial is happening in recordings either?

I believe we should respect the dedication, talent, investment, and hard work that go into making recordings at all, and stop labelling musicians as inadequate citizens. And, I'm thankful for the recording technology and publishing companies that allow me to hear fine singers such as Yoshikazu Mera at all, living halfway around the world from him.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 22, 2004):
Ken Edmonds wrote:
>>Can you give us real-life examples of the problems you describe below?<<
If all the cantata recordings were available on the internet and if you were able to follow along with the score, I could easily provide the links without having to mention the name of the artists, the latter action which is still being criticized by certain list members who desire:

1) no labels, unless they are completely 'bland' or 'general,' may be used, hence no distinction between good and bad performances (in the minds of some, there are only good performances of Bach always and everywhere; the 'bad' ones are simply not mentioned or perhaps only in passing very generally)

2) any voice can sing just about any range anywhere at any time, it is impossible to assign a label (specific voice category) to any current singer since they tend, for the most part, to be 'vocal chameleons'

3) terminology must be PC so that the distinctions are blurred - the good performances by good musical artists comingle with the bad. There are rarely, if ever, any 'bad' performances, they may simply sound 'different' but that in itself does not warrant a label being assigned such as 'good,' 'bad,' 'black,' 'small,' 'large,' etc. etc. (Who, in his or her right mind, would want to be classified as a 'black'['schwarzer'] bass while not being 'Afro-American' or a 'soubrette' which would restrict the type of singing roles he/she might wish to obtain?

4) recent performances and recordings have a better chance at being praised than old recordings which generally represent a time when musicians were still 'operating under a cloud' caused by out-moded, out-dated conceptions of what Bach's music should sound like. Current recordings/performances can only be judged (if they are judged at all) by those who demonstrate the necessary competence and qualifications to do so.

>>Your e-mail if full of generalities, but no actual examples of vocalists who suffer from these problems.<<
This comes as a result of the above-stated reason, but since this thread began with Mera's Bach recordings, some of which I find to be better (despite the diction problems) than the performances of the singer who replaced Mera, I suggest that you attempt to purchase just one of his recordings like the one under discussion to hear 'what all the fuss is about.'

You can always check out Aryeh's Bach Cantatas Site and do a search there. I also cited some examples at the end of my last message.

'Light voice' is a misnomer for what I have been trying to describe all along and I will not use this term for the numerous reasons that I have already given. A 'light voice' is not necessarily a 'small voice.' There are 'light voices' that can be quite penetrating in their limited range, there are also 'operetta'-type singers who have sung/recorded some of Bach's arias and recitatives, but, in my estimation, not very successfully.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< It would not be 'more apt' since in musical terminology there are already terms like 'light voice' which have a special meaning (translating 'light' into French would only cause more confusion and misunderstanding.)
The phrase/term 'light voice' or 'voix l
égère' has an established meaning all of its own. It is important for communication in language to maintain established meanings and not confuse older terms with new terms which carry a specific meaning that can/should not easily be confused with already existing terminology. >
I tend to agree with this: if the term is already used for a specific type of voice, it would be confusing to use this term to describe another kind of voice.

But instead of looking for another term, I would prefer to avoid this kind of terms altogether. The terms used to describe a certain type of voice date - as far as I know - from the 19th and 20th centuries and are associated with certain types of music. But this kind of distinctions didn't exist in the pre-romantic era, and is therefore hardly suitable to be applied to singers who concentrate on repertoire from this period.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 22, 2004):
Ken Edmonds wrote:
>>Can you give us real-life examples of the problems you describe below?<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If all the cantata recordings were available on the internet and if you were able to follow along with the score, I could easily provide the links without having to mention the name of the artists, the latter action which is still being criticized by certain list members who desire:
1) no labels, unless they are completely 'bland' or 'general,' may be used, hence no distinction between good and bad performances (in the minds of some, there are only good performances of Bach always and everywhere; the 'bad' ones are simply not mentioned or perhaps only in passing very generally) >
The people on this list you are obviously referring to don't think there are only good performances. And performances they consider 'bad' are mentioned on this list, although sometimes in a more differentiated and specific way than just 'bad'.

< 2) any voice can sing just about any range anywhere at any time, it is impossible to assign a label (specific voice category) to any current singer since they tend, for the most part, to be 'vocal chameleons' >
Labels like those you listed before (in the thread 'the basses list') are hardly suitable to describe voices in pre-romantic music. All those distinctions date from later period. And I think that many - if not most - of today's 'baroque singers' are indeed 'vocal chameleons' who are able to sing a wide range of repertoire.

< 3) terminology must be PC so that the distinctions are blurred – the good performances by good musical artists comingle with the bad. There are rarely, if ever, any 'bad' performances, they may simply sound 'different' but that in itself does not warrant a label being assigned such as 'good,' 'bad,' 'black,' 'small,' 'large,' etc. etc. >
Where do you get those ideas from? Like I said before, those members you apparently refer to don't say there are no 'bad' performances – although they teto be more specific than simply labelling a performance as 'bad'. The problem they have with your description is that you use them to characterise a performer instead of a performance.

If you would say that a singer is performing an aria in a cantata with 'half-voice', we could have a debate about whether this true or not, and whether that is a positive or a negative thing. But you insist in characterising a voice as 'half-voice', thereby excluding the possibility that the performance is the result of an artistic choice rather than a technical deficiency. If you write off a performer beforehand, an exchange of views about his actual performance is pointless.

< 4) recent performances and recordings have a better chance at being praised than old recordings which generally represent a time when musicians were still 'operating under a cloud' caused by out-moded, out-dated conceptions of what Bach's music should sound like. Current recordings/performances can only be judged (if they are judged at all) by those who demonstrate the necessary competence and qualifications to do so. >
What kind of ________ is this? In recent months I have read several positive assessments of performances which date from the 'pre-HIP era' by members of this list who can be considered firm 'HIP supporters'. In fact, I believe most 'HIP supporters' are much more open-minded towards non-HIP performances than you - and some others - are showing towards HIP performances. At least they don't write off a whole category of 'non-HIP performers' like you do with a whole category of singers by labelling them as 'half-voices'.

I can't remember anyone saying that performances can only be judged by those who "demonstrate the necessary competence and qualifications to do so." The point is - as you should know - that some people are indeed more qualified than others to give a fair judgement of a performance. That doesn't mean they are always right, and everyone - including you - has every right to disagree with their judgements, but it is wrong to do so by suggesting their expertise means nothing at all.

Everyone is entitled to give his own assessment of an interpretation, but he should be able and willing to realise his limitations.

< 'Light voice' is a misnomer for what I have been trying to describe all along and I will not use this term for the numerous reasons that I have already given. A 'light voice' is not necessarily a 'small voice.' There are 'light voices' that can be quite penetrating in their limited range,

You suggest that 'small voices' can't be penetrating, which seems utter ________ to me. I don't think the 'penetration' of a voice has anything to do with its volume.

John Pike wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I feel that the use of labels, which are often value-laden and subjective are not helpful. The term demi-voix is just open to misinterpretation and so are other terms likely to be that one might use. I feel it would be better to say in more comprehensive and unambiguous terms what it is that one likes or doesn't like about a singer. This is often very difficult to do...finding the right words for such things is no easy matter.

Moreover, what maybe a good thing for one person and for certain music may not be a ggod thing for another person or in certain types of music. Personally, I don't like to hear much (if any) vibrato in the singing of Bach and I feel that a more "intimate" voice is preferable to a "fuller" voice in much of Bach's vocal music. This is not to say I like under-developed voices. At a performance of the SMP a few years ago, I was rather put off by a rather harsh and metallic quality in the tenor's voice. I can imagine that with time it would mellow.

Just writing this e mail has reinforced my view that it is very difficult to describe voices in a way that does no dis-service to performers and that acurately describes my feelings.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 22, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote [To Gabriel Jackson]:
< I believe we should respect the dedication, talent, investment, and hard work that go into making recordings at all, and stop labelling musicians as inadequate citizens. >
You mentioned that you found the volumes you've heard of Rilling's and Richter's series unlistenable after one or two listens. As you give reasons, it'd be improper from anyone to request from you to "respect" Rilling's and Richter's recordings - to change your evalution from "unlistenable" to something else.

I think when a person has listened to many recordings and his aesthetical judgement becomes grounded, it's fair for him to categorize performances and respect only certain ones and not all, just because of the dedication that went into recording them.

John Pike wrote (June 22, 2004):
[the message was removed]

John Pike wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I cannot speak for everyone but I am not saying that we cannot criticise performances. I am saying that it would be better to use phrases that are clearer and more objective. Terms like "good", "bad", "weak", "light" are meaningless. There are so many facets to a voice.

Clearly there are things we don't like and we shouldn't be afraid to say so, but to dismiss a voice in just a couple of words is neither fair nor considered.

To take an example, there are certain male treble performances in the Harnoncourt Cantata series that I don't enjoy, but to dismiss them as "bad" would be foolish. Instead, I would want to point at problems with intonation and clarity of diction. I sometimes find a certain harshness in the voice quality. At the same time i would acknowledge that this is extremely difficult music, that the voice quality may improve with time and that this is a worthy attempt to give the listener an idea of the type of sound that Bach may have experienced in his performances.

Having said this, I would be the first to acknowledge that I find it very difficult to describe voices in a clear and helpful way. An experienced critic probably would do a much better job of describing it in a way that the reader can understand and perhaps agree with.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 22, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Having said this, I would be the first to acknowledge that I find it very difficult to describe voices in a clear and helpful way. An experienced critic probably would do a much better job of describing it in a way that the reader can understand and perhaps agree with. >
Or better yet, a singer?

Charles Francis wrote (June 22, 2004):
[the message was removed]

Dale Gedcke wrote (June 22, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
".... Having said this, I would be the first to acknowledge that I find it very difficult to describe voices in a clear and helpful way. An experienced critic probably would do a much better job of describing it in a way that the reader can understand and perhaps agree with. ...."

MY COMMENTS:

Apparently, much more is written about the quality of singer's voices than about the tone of instruments. I presume this occurs because singers are more often soloists, and the quality of each singer's voice is more discernibly unique. Since this discussion group is a "music appreciation" site, there is no reason why we should not discuss the quality of voices and instrumental sounds, and whether or not they are attractive to our own personal tastes. Performers have learned early in their career that they cannot satisfy the tastes of every listener, and no performance is perfect. So, they should not be surprised if they don't satisfy everyone.

Thomas, it would help me to understand the quality that you found in Mera's voice if you could be more descriptive. Per John's comment above, I realize it may be difficult to find additional adjectives that mean the same thing to you as well as every other reader. It's akin to trying to describe colors to a person who has been blind from birth. How do you find words that are meaningful? In spite of those limitations, it would be helpful to know what you meant by demi-voix. Is it a softness, a pianissimo? Is it the texture of the voice, or the dynamics (loudiness)?

John Pike wrote (June 22, 2004):
[the message was removed]

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 22, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
>>The terms used to describe a certain type of voice date - as far as I know - from the 19th and 20th centuries and are associated with certain types of music. But this kind of distinctions didn't exist in the pre-romantic era, and is therefore hardly suitable to be applied to singers who concentrate on repertoire from this period.<<
Here are some terms/definitions from Johann Gottfried Walther's 'Musicalisches Lexicon...' [Leipzig, 1732] with which Bach was thoroughly acquainted and probably used them as well:

'Vitium permutationis' [Latin] when a singer does not sing certain notes as strongly/loudly as the others, but rather hits the high notes much too loudly while singing the low notes much too softly

['Vitium permutationis' (lat.) ist, wenn ein Sänger eine Note nicht so starck als die andere singet, sondern in der Höhe starck schreyet, und in der Tieffe leise 'fistuliret.'] [literally: when a singer does not sing a note as strongly as another, but rather screams {it} loudly in the upper range, and uses a soft falsetto {with less power and strength} in the low range.] BTW, the goal here in singing properly seems to be 'equipollent' and not 'gestural.' Isn't that interesting?

That's a good definition of 'demi voix' which I did not have to imagine when listening to recordings made during the past few decades. It seems that only certain 'well-educated' musicians/listeners today fail to recognize the true historical record that explains voice types and voice problems that were known to Bach in the performances of his music; otherwise, why would they insist on doing away with labels/terminology that specifically deal with voices and voice types?

Have you read Agricola's extensive commentary on Tosi? Agricola states essentially the same thing that I have been referring to without using the specific terminology found in Walther's Lexikon.

This type of terminology from Bach's time is eminently 'suitable to be applied to singers who concentrate on repertoire from this period.' It is a sad commentary on our time, particularly among the HIP practitioners or those who lean in that direction, that this [the application of knowledge derived directly from Bach's time] has not yet been sufficiently accomplished by those who presume to tell the listening public that they know how Bach's music was and is still should be performed.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 22, 2004):
The myth of the ‘half-voice’

I wrote:
< The terms used to describe a certain type of voice date - as far as I know - from the 19th and 20th centuries and are associated with certain types of music. But this kind of distinctions didn't exist in the pre-romantic era, and is therefore hardly suitable to be applied to singers who concentrate on repertoire from this period. >

(Just to remind you: this was written as a reply to the idea to use another term for Mr Braatz' buzz word 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice'. It was proposed to use 'voix légère' instead, to which Mr Braatz replied that this term was already used to describe another type of voice.)

Then Mr Braatz replied:
>Here are some terms/definitions from Johann Gottfried Walther's 'Musicalisches Lexicon...' [Leipzig, 1732] with which Bach was thoroughly acquainted and probably used them as well:
'Vitium permutationis' [Latin] when a singer does not sing certain notes as strongly/loudly as the others, but rather hits the high notes much too loudly while singing the low notes much too softly. [*]
['Vitium permutationis' (lat.) ist, wenn ein Sänger eine Note nicht so starck als die andere singet, sondern in der H
öhe starck schreyet, und in der Tieffe leise 'fistuliret.'] [literally: when a singer does not sing a note as strongly as another, but rather screams {it} loudly in the upper range, and uses a soft falsetto {with less power and strength [**]} in the low range.] [***]<

My reply:
< This 'translation' [*] is inaccurate and suggestive. In the German original Walther doesn't say "much too loudly", but just "starck" (strong). He doesn't say "much too softly" either, but simply "leise" (softly). Mr Braatz' 'translation' turns the description into a negative qualification. I can't read any negative connotation in Walther's description. >
Mr Braatz adds a litteral translation [***] which is correct (minus the addition "with less power and strength" [**]), in doing so admitting that his first 'translation' is his own personal and subjective interpretation.

Mr Braatz:
>BTW, the goal here in singing properly seems to be 'equipollent' and not 'gestural.' Isn't that interesting?<

My reply:
It would be, if this interpretation would be correct. But it isn't.
- As I already said, Walther doesn't refer to this type of singing as 'improper'. That is Mr Braatz' interpretation.
- 'Gestural' means a differentiation between notes within a phrase, not between the registers of the voice. Singing upper notes more strongly than lower notes has nothing to do with a 'gestural' performance as such. When a singer sings forte on high notes and piano on lower notes, his performance can still be 'equipollent'.

Mr Braatz:
>That's a good definition of 'demi voix' which I did not have to imagine when listening to recordings made during the past few decades.<

He refers here to the description in Walther's 'Musicalisches Lexicon'. But from what I understand this identification is wrong. The point is that 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' isn't a description of a type of voice, but a technique of singing. I have looked on the internet and in books on music theory, but couldn't find any reference to 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' as a kind of voice. It is a technique used by singers for expressive reasons.

One singer describes the lessons in the technique of 'half-voice' as follows (under the head 'Register Change'):
"This is certainly one of the most difficult and complex parts in the teaching of singing technique.

Coming back once again to my experience with Father Catena, he helped me to practice register change using octave leaps: beginning from the lower note you have to perform the higher one linking the two sounds, but producing a small but distinct glottal stop as well.

If the exercise is correctly performed, the higher note can be performed as much and as long as one likes, using the diaphragmatic tension (that acts as a bellows) to increase or decrease the sound.

This very important exercise develops the well known "half voice". According to my master this is erroneously believed to be a "falsettone" in Gigli's performances; infact falsetto is generally used in the finals, decreasing the sound until it dies away, and although studied and developed, it is a kind of singing without important variations in sound colour, while the half voice allows the singer to express every kind of sound, from pianissimo to mezzo forte up to the full voice.

It is certainly a very difficult technique to teach and it needs long practice to be positively used. Unfortunately many singers prefer not to wait for its development through study and choose the apparently easier way of singing from the chest."
(Massimo Valentini: http://www.correrenelverde.it/musica/tecnicadicanto.htm)

There are other descriptions of this technique as well:
"Half-voice refers to a very soft, non-intrusive sound; for some singers it may involve different methods of vocal production, but I believe that for most it simply involves singing softly with minimal vibrato. Dame Janet Baker was also renowned for her mezza voce (Italian for half-voice)."

Elsewhere someone's singing is described like this:
"The mournful pleas and masterful use of half-voice showcase the versatility and depth of feeling possessed in his all-encompassing voice. "

What all these quatations have in common is that 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' is referred to as a technique, not a type of voice.

Another factor which I should mention here is that no reference is made to a differentiation in strength between the high and low register. Nowhere I have found a description of 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' as a technique sing high notes forte and low notes piano. Therefore the identification of Walther's definition of 'vitium permutationis' with 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' doesn't hold water.

I should add that nowhere the technique of 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' is considered a technical deficiency - on the contrary.

My conclusions:

The way of singing in HIP performances Mr Braatz doesn't like has nothing in common with the technique of 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice'.

The very idea that some voices can be characterised as 'demi-voix' or 'half-voices' is a fabrication.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
>>As I already said, Walther doesn't refer to this type of singing as 'improper'. That is Mr Braatz' interpretation.<<
Latin 'vitium' = a quality which impedes success, perfection, etc. defect, fault, shortcoming, flaw, disorder of the body, faculties; a technical fault, etc.

>>I have looked on the internet and in books on music theory, but couldn't find any reference to 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' as a kind of voice.<<
I thought it was clear from all the discussion here that this term was unhappily 'invented' by me because it described exactly what I was hearing a certain type of singer doing over and over in performing Bach in the cantata recordings. I will henceforth use 'vitium-permutationis voice' to describe this phenomenon that others have overlooked in the past half-century of recordings.

>>'Gestural' means a differentiation between notes within a phrase, not between the registers of the voice<<
So 'gestural' is more like what we can hear in numerous HIP performances on the natural trumpet (tromba) with one note within the phrase standing out as being louder and slightly out of tune and the next note in the same phrase a half step lower being much softer and out of tune in the opposite direction?

>>mezza voce<<
It would help if you had read my citation I shared recently from the New Grove which explains when and where the confusion regarding this term arose.

>>Nowhere I have found a description of 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice' as a technique to sing high notes forte and low notes piano.<<
That is the case because these 'vitium-permutationis'-type singers are probably not aware of their deficiency in this regard. It is not a practiced technique on their part, but more clearly a description of the voice as a whole. A full voice with equally strong volume throughout the entire range of the voice is fully aware of 'cutting back' in volume on purpose to what might be called a sotto voce treatment of the music, usually only a limited passage for special effect. A 'vitium-permutationis' voice may not be aware of the defect in the voice, and if the singer is aware, then it may be almost impossible for a change to be undertaken or it may be undertaken only with great effort on the part of the singer. The question arises here: why were such defective voices selected in the first place to participate in producing over time a lengthy series of arias/recitatives that would be recorded and listened to for many years to come? Were there really no better voices available?

>>The very idea that some voices can be characterised as 'demi-voix' or 'half-voices' is a fabrication.<<
I realize that it was an intentional fabrication of a term/label which was to help to identify and categorize precisely what I was hearing. With your additional help, which, it appears, took a very long time in coming, we now know that 'half-voice', 'demi-voix', 'light voice' 'small voice',etc. etc., already have specific, musicological definitions which I do not intentionally mean to replace. I only regret that I was not able initially to find the proper term for what I was experiencing and attempting to describe.

The phenomenon of 'vitium-permutationis' is a real one that can be traced back to Bach's time and circle of activities. When a voice repeatedly, sometimes even over the span of many years in the course of recording the complete set of Bach cantatas, exhibits the same deficiency again and again, then the singer definitely has a 'vitium-permutationis' voice as a category of voice into which other singers may fall as well. It is the repeated occurrence of the same voice phenomenon in the same individual that makes this terminology useful.

Ludwig wrote (June 23, 2004):
The myth of the ‘half-voice’—demi voix

[To Thomas Braatz] Phsically there can not exist a half voice unless one half of the vocal chords have been surgically removed and that usually results in a mute situation.

I would suspect that we are being somewhat too literal here and what is really meant is to not sing at full throttle as in an Opera performance in which there is no amplification so that one as Pavorotti claims must screem and all at plein voix or full voice. Whereas demi-voce would be singing more like what is commonly called crooning.(aka Frank Sinatra) The term possibly could refer to falsetto voice which being falsetto can never be as full sounding as the natural voice.

I would be the first to agree that demi-voix is a very poor descriptive term. It is vague to the point of almost being meaningless.

Hans-Joachim Reh wrote (June 23, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< This 'translation' [*] is inaccurate and suggestive. In the German original Walther doesn't say "much too loudly", but just "starck" (strong). He doesn't say "much too softly" either, but simply "leise" (softly). Mr Braatz' 'translation' turns the description into a negative qualification. I can't read any negative connotation in Walther's description. Mr Braatz adds a litteral translation [***] which is correct (minus the addition "with less power and strength" [**]), in doing so admitting that his first 'translation' is his own personal and subjective interpretation. >
Personally I am not really interested in this discussion, but - at least in todays german use of the word >>schreien<< when related to singing - , Mr. van Veen is wrong. When a conductor tells a singer (solo or choir) that he/she >>schreit<<, it means that the person is not singing anymore. The english translation for >>schreien<< shout, scream, yell or shriek makes clear that in fact it is negative. Actually, from my own experience, its just about the worst thing that can happen to a singer being told >>du schreist<<. Keeping that in mind >>starck schreien<< is definitely negative. It stands for nothing less but the opposite of >>>kultiviertes Singen<<<.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Hans-Joachim Reh]
Right now two comments:

- Walther's dictionary was published in the 18th century. In order to understand the contemporary connotation of the word 'schreien' one has to look at the use of the word in Walther's own time. The modern understanding of the word has no importance in regard to Walther's intentions by using it

- the difference of opinion regarding the translation was not about the word 'schreien', but about Mr Braatz' 'translation' - in fact an 'interpretation' - of the terms 'starck' (=strong, not "much too loudly") and 'leise' (=softly, not "much too softly").

A discussion about the meaning of a quotation in another language begins with a correct translation.

Hans-Joachim Reh wrote (June 23, 2004):
Walther and SCHREYEN

[To Johan van Veen]
Granted!
But my comment referred to your conclusion:
< I can't read any negative connotation in Walther's description. >
If >>schreyen<< meant something different in the 18th century then please let me know what it meant and how you found out.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Musikhaus SCHOENAU
Hans-Joachim Reh

John Reese wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Ludwig] In singing, "half-voice" usually refers to an intermediate state between full voice and falsetto. It applies only to male voices. In female voices, the terms "chest voice" and "head voice" are used.

Not to be confused with the Italian term "sotto voce"; a "hushed" tone.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2004):
H-J Reh wrote: < If >>schreyen<< meant something different in the 18th century then please let me know what it meant and how you found out. >

An example of its dramatic meaning to Bach is in the SMP (BWV 244). The chorus "Lass ihn kreuzigen" goes in A minor, and ends on B major (dominant of E minor). The chorale "Wie wunderbarlich" follows, in E minor, ending again on the dominant B major. The recitative briefly resolves this and sticks us back into B major yet again. The soprano's recitative "Er hat uns Allen wohlgethan calms things down, modulating from E minor to C major (!) followed by the A minor aria (relative minor to C major) "Aus Liebe", one of the rare places in the SMP where the continuo is silent altogether. This ends in A minor, an especially calm key for the oboes da caccia and flute that have been accompanying the aria.

Suddenly, the continuo group strikes a chord a tritone away from that, the diminished chord built on D# in first inversion: a very startling and rude gesture (leaping by tritone, at all), and a strong shock in the passage of the drama as well (as the aria has calmed things down so much). The Evangelist sings with an octave leap to the top (and maybe some more) of the tenor tessitura, "Sie SCHRIEEN aber noch mehr, und sprachen:" soon landing us back in E minor, and the chorus reprises "Lass ihn kreuzigen" but now in B minor instead of A minor: it's higher and more shrill than before. This ends on the violent chord of C# major, which is one of the most unstable harmonies anywhere (the way Bach's organ was tuned)...Bach deploying it here as a dramatic stroke, because it sounds bristly. This is the dominant of F# minor, which is indeed the way it continues into the "Da aber Pilatus" recitative. He gets us back to B minor, where the chorus calls that the blood-guilt should fall on themselves and their descendants. All a very violent scene here, ending in E minor (where the whole SMP started, incidentally). Then the "Erbarm'es Gott" suddenly lurches us yet again by starting on a C major harmony with Bb 7th in it!...and that whole recitative is extremely chromatic, once again hitting some of the nastiest 7th chords available anywhere, as it progresses...and we're left in the completely different world of G minor.

Also, those B major chords ending those sections are almost the most dissonant (most out of tune) major chords anywhere in Bach's temperament, the way the organ was tuned: keeping up the unsettled atmosphere of the passage, pulling those parts of the drama together into a unity.

John Pike wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Masterpiece analysis!

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works - Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 3: Mvts. 21-29

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2004):
"schreyen" as Bach knew it

Johan van Veen wrote:
>>A discussion about the meaning of a quotation in another language begins with a correct translation.<<
And your discussion did not even get off the ground at the very beginning by failing to come to terms with the Latin word that begins Walther's dictionary entry. Beginning with your own erroneous notion regarding 'vitium' which you obviously wish to understand as meaning the opposite of that which the word actually means puts you in the awkward position of running counter to everything that anyone normally knew about the meaning of 'vitium.' To then commence to criticize on such a completely false basis the remainder of the translation (I shared both free and literal translations of the passage along with the original German quotation), indeed places everything that you have subsequently asserted under a very dark cloud of misinformation.

>>Walther's dictionary was published in the 18th century. In order to understand the contemporary connotation of the word 'schreien' one has to look at the use of the word in Walther's own time. The modern understanding of the word has no importance in regard to Walther's intentions by using it<<
I am glad that you, as one who quotes 20th century sources on matters of voice and vocal production rather than studying and quoting from Agricola's extensive commentaries on Tosi to find out what people were thinking and saying in the 18th century, at least consider the possibility of consulting a definitive dictionary such as the one compiled by the Grimm brothers, a dictionary that gives a fairly complete history of a word (particularly any word considered truly German and not foreign)comparable to the OED full edition in English.

The DWB gives some of the following meanings of 'schreien, schreyen' as related to music:

shrill, penetrating "die schreiende Stimmen einer Orgel" = the sound of organ pipes that sound this way.

"zum Spott nennt man die Choralisten im Dome zu Frauenburg Schreier" quote from Frischbier's 19th century dictionary [The Cathedral Choir members in Frauenburg are called 'screamers' which is a term of ridicule.]

"Gute Schreier sind böse Sänger" Petri in his collection of proverbs published 1605 ["People who 'scream'/'who in an extremely loud voice wish to cause arguments ('querulus') generally are/make bad singers"]

And the verb 'schreien/schreyen' as explained to Italians in a German-Italian dictionary by Kramer published 1702:

The meaning: the opposite of what is considered the normal, natural level of volume of the voice in speaking and singing.

Examples pertaining to singing: "das ist schreien, nicht singen" ["That's not singing, that's screaming"] "er schreit die hohen Töne, statt sie zu singen" ["He screams the high notes instead of singing them."]

Here, then is the evidence that Johan was looking for and the evidence that supports my interpretation of the word. I would be interested in seeing any valid contrary evidence you might have, but thus far there is nothing to change in my interpretation of the verb 'schreien,' even as used during Bach's time.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 23, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< "Gute Schreier sind böse Sänger" Petri in his collection of proverbs published 1605 ["People who 'scream'/'who in an extremely loud voice wish to cause arguments ('querulus') generally are/make bad singers"] >
Or how about just 'Good screamers are/make bad singers'?

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] I'm wondering: how much sleep did Bach and his wives ever get with multiple young children always in the house? Was the house EVER completely quiet, even at 3:00 a.m.? :)

Clavichord, pro: playable without waking up a baby or spouse on the other side of the same wall (I've determined this empirically). Clavichord, con: inaudible if children are in the house making any noise at all.

Anyway, Bach's 2nd wife was a professional singer; we don't know about the occasions in which she screamed.

There's a delightful keyboard piece by Poglietti (1620-83), "Canzon & Capriccio ueber dass Henner und Hannergeschrey". At the end of the fugal subject, the notes instruct the player to crush the two notes of a semitone interval together simultaneously. That's the rooster part. The hen part is the first part of the subject, the peck-peck-peck repeatedly on a single note. If I remember correctly, there's also a piece somewhat like this by Kerll.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 23, 2004):
All those little boys in Bach's time were singing like Dietrich Fischer Dieskau or Rilling's large choir of vibrato singers? I never have understood your point in this matter. You say that the full-voice recordings of of 50-70-ties have the true historical singing practice?

I instead think that light singing is much more close to Bach's performances.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2004):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
>>Or how about just 'Good screamers are/make bad singers'?<<
Short and simple! That's also good.

Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>I'm wondering: how much sleep did Bach and his wives ever get with multiple young children always in the house? Was the house EVER completely quiet, even at 3:00 a.m.? :)<<
It appears that it was and that Bach was either at the clavichord or harpsichord late at night trying out his newest, most- difficult-to-play compositions (perhaps some partita mvts.?)

Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber (1702-1775) reports [Bach-Dokumente # 948:
"denn oft, sagte er [J.S.Bach,]habe er sich genöthiget gesehen, die Nacht zu Hülfe zu nehmen,um dasjenige herausbringen zu können, was er den Tag über geschrieben hätte. Es ist dies um desto eher zu glauben, da er nie gewohnt war beym Komponiren sein Klavier um Rath zu fragen." ["for he often stated that he found it necessary to find time at night to 'work out' {try to find practical keyboard/fingering solutions so that he could actually play these pieces and make them playable by others as well} whatever he had composed during the day. This is all the more believable since he, while actually composing, never had the habit 'of asking his keyboard instrument for advice' {of using a keyboard while composing just to check or try out quickly whatever he had written 'to see and hear' what it would sound like.}

>>Anyway, Bach's 2nd wife was a professional singer; we don't know about the occasions in which she screamed.<<
Is this supposed to be a sad or happy determination as to when or if she would have screamed at all, at home and/or while singing professionally elsewhere? Would he have married her if she had been a 'screamer'?

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Is this supposed to be a sad or happy determination as to when or if she would have screamed at all, at home and/or while singing professionally elsewhere? Would he have married her if she had been a 'screamer'? >
You don't always know in advance ;-) But there are men (and women for that matter - here in Poland, everyone screams, men and women) who manage to stay passionately in love with their 'screamers', e.g. as I recall, Richard Strauss, as well as other less famous individuals. I understand that the secret is to learn to be grateful for what one has...

Johan van Veen wrote (June 26, 2004):
Walther, 'schreyen' and 'vitium-permutationis voice'

Hans-Joachim Reh wrote:
>>>But my comment referred to your conclusion
"I can't read any negative connotation in Walther's description."
If >>schreyen<< meant something different in the 18th century then please let me know what it meant and how you found out.<<<

Mr Braatz wrote:
>>>And your discussion did not even get off the ground at the very beginning by failing to come to terms with the Latin word that begins Walther's dictionary entry. Beginning with your own erroneous notion regarding 'vitium' which you obviously wish to understand as meaning the opposite of that which the word actually means puts you in the awkward position of running counter to everything that anyone normally knew about the meaning of 'vitium.' To then commence to criticize on such a completely false basis the remainder of the translation (I shared both free and literal translations of the passage along with the original German quotation), indeed places everything that you have subsequently asserted under a very dark cloud of misinformation.<<<
It is quite possible that my interpretation of the definition in Walther's dictionary is wrong. If I have the time I will look further into the matter. If I find anything interesting, I'll return to the subject.

[this paragraph was removed]

Mr Braatz stated:
>>>I thought it was clear from all the discussion here that this term was unhappily 'invented' by me because it described exactly what I was hearing a certain type of singer doing over and over in performing Bach in the cantata recordings. I will henceforth use 'vitium-permutationis voice' to describe this phenomenon that others have overlooked in the past half-century of recordings.<<<
If my interpretation of the definition by Walther would be wrong, it wouldn't undermine my views on the 'half-voice' or 'demi-voix' or whatever one would like to call it in any way.

The objective of my original posting was twofold:
- to prove that 'half-voice' is a technique, not a kind of voice
- to prove that the technique of 'half-voice' has nothing to do with the so-called 'deficiencies' Mr Braatz believes to note in the performances of most HIP singers.

The statement above suggests that we are getting rid of the incorrect use of the term 'half-voice' or 'demi-voix'. The alternative Mr Braatz has now embraced doesn't make things any better. He still denounces a category of performers as people with 'technical deficiencies' which relieves him from the obligation to specify what exactly he does object to in a specific performance. This isn't very helpful to bring more clarity into the matter and is disrespectful both to the artists and to those members of this list who happen to like these performances.

But from what I understand to be Mr Braatz' problems with HIP singers I don't think the term 'vitium-permutationis' is the correct description of what he believes to hear. If I interpret the phenomenon Walther describes correctly he means a singer who sings very loud in the upper register and very soft in the lower register.

The description by Mr Braatz of what he until recently called 'demi-voix' or 'half-voices' doesn't specifically refer to a weak lower register but to a weakness of the voice in all registers. He describes Ruth Holton's singing like this:
"She can 'hit' all the notes with a trembling voice and maneuver her way through some difficulties just because most of her vocal production is sotto voce throughout. "

This is his general definition of 'half-voices':
"In the case of the sotto-voce specialists ('half-voices' is the term I use because I have not yet found a better one yet) which constitute the majority of voices currently singing Bach arias and recitatives (there are always a few exceptions), these are voices that suffer deficiencies when compared to full-ranged, naturally talented voices. These 'half-voices' (for lack of a better term) lack the full range of notes required by many Bach arias as they have little or nothing to offer in the low ranges of their voices and may have problems controlling their voices when attempting to sing with volume and conviction in the high range. As 'sotto-voce' implies, these vocalists 'lightly tap' the notes they are trying to sing. This is a form of 'vocal cheating' which shortchanges the listener from obtaining the full impact or true substance of the music. Any attempt to use more volume (which is sometimes admittedly difficult because of the extremely fast tempi that many HIP conductors are prone to use) usually results in a negative change of voice quality (the voice tending to break under the strain, or a hooty, screaming quality.)"

He mentions the weakness of the lower register, but adds that these voices "may have problems controlling their voices when attempting to sing with volume and conviction in the high range."

But whether or not Walther's definition of the 'vitium permutationis' has a negative connotation, the kind of voice he refers to has definitely no problem to sing with volume in the high range (the 'conviction' part is a subjective matter, of course).

In the next part of the description above there is no special mention of the lower register as being especially problematic. Mr Braatz real problem is that not all notes are sung with 'full voice' - whatever that may be.

The next quotation shows what Mr Braatz real problem is:
"For half-voices, singing recitatives more as a whisper does absolutely nothing to delineate the meaning of the text, except perhaps to indicate that the singer has trouble identifying with it. If a 'full voice' sings piano or pianissimo in a recitative, it would indeed be a very short passage within the recitative, but the difference would also be very apparent. Such a vocalist sings from a base of power which the sotto-voce specialists lack. Behind the lesser amount of volume in the former is nonetheless a feeling of a great reserve of vocal power which usually manifests itself shortly thereafter when a return to the full voice takes place."

The real problem is the differentiation between words and syllables as such, because it is based on the conviction that singing is a form of speech. It is the basic principle of 'Musik als Klangrede' which Mr Braatz is fundamentally opposed to. That is his right, of course. But in his desperate attempt to win the debate he denounces a whole category of singers because of their alleged 'technical deficiencies', for the simple reason that they follow the above-mentioned principle of 'Musik als Klangrede'.

I am not saying that the singing in HIP recordings is perfect. I regularly criticise singers, and I also notice from time to time that the lower notes in some performances don't come through as clearly as possible. But that doesn't give me or anyone the right to denounce all HIP singers for being technically unable to sing properly. And to put an equal sign between 'full-ranged' and 'naturally-talented' voices is not only factual nonsense, but also insulting.

And I have never noticed any HIP singer screaming ("schreyen") in the high register. I can't remember that Mr Braatz has ever given an example of a singer who was doing so.

It is sad to see that to some people all is fair in the war against the historical performance practice.

Hans-Joachim Reh wrote (June 26, 2004):
I wrote:
< If >>schreyen<< meant something different in the 18th century then please let me know what it meant and how you found out. >
Bradley Lehman replied:
< An example of its dramatic meaning to Bach is in the SMP (BWV 244). The chorus "Lass ihn kreuzigen" goes in A minor, and ends on B major (dominant of E minor). The chorale "Wie wunderbarlich" follows, in E minor, ending again on the dominant B major. The recitative briefly resolves this and sticks us back into B major yet again. The soprano's recitative "Er hat uns Allen wohlgethan calms things down, modulating from E minor to C major (!) followed by the A minor aria (relative minor to C major) "Aus Liebe", one of the rare places in the SMP where the continuo is silent altogether. This ends in A minor, an especially calm key for the oboes da caccia and flute that have been accompanying the aria.
Suddenly, the continuo group strikes a chord a tritone away from that, the diminished chord built on D# in first inversion: a very startling and rude gesture (leaping by tritone, at all), and a strong shock in the passage of the drama as well (as the aria has calmed things down so much). The Evangelist sings with an octave leap to the top (and maybe some more) of the tenor tessitura, "Sie SCHRIEEN aber noch mehr, und sprachen:" soon landing us back in E minor, and the chorus reprises "Lass ihn kreuzigen" but now in B minor instead of A minor: it's higher and more shrill than before. This ends on the violent chord of C# major, which is one of the most unstable harmonies anywhere (the way Bach's organ was tuned)...Bach deploying it here as a dramatic stroke, because it sounds bristly. This is the dominant of F# minor, which is indeed the way it continues into the "Da aber Pilatus" recitative. He gets us back to B minor, where the chorus calls that the blood-guilt should fall on themselves and their descendants. All a very violent scene here, ending in E minor (where the whole SMP started, incidentally). Then the "Erbarm'es Gott" suddenly lurches us yet again by starting on a C major harmony with Bb 7th in it!...and that whole recitative is extremely chromatic, once again hitting some of the nastiest 7th chords available anywhere, as it progresses...and we're left in the completely different world of G minor.
Also, those B major chords ending those sections are almost the most dissonant (most out of tune) major chords anywhere in Bach's temperament, the way the organ was tuned: keeping up the unsettled atmosphere of the passage, pulling those parts of the drama together into a unity >
[To Bradley Lehman] Please be so nice to explain to me what your answer has got to do with my question. I am serious, I really don´t understand how subject 1 (schreyen, as mentioned in the dictionary) correlates with subject 2 (the way Bach puts a >> schreiende Menge <<< into music). When I first read your reply I actually thought I had missed some mails. The only connection I can possibly find here reads: schreyen is not singen, since the crowd was definitely not singing.regards

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 26, 2004):
[this part of the message was removed]
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"When a singer such a Ruth Holton over the span of many recordings of various Bach arias repeatedly fails to produce sufficient volume in the low range with a few notes barely audible, this is a clear sign that this is not part of a deliberately employed technique, but rather a deficiency in her voice, a deficiency that she is unable to overcome. If Bach had not 'placed all those notes down there,' and the tessitura of the composition remained in the high range, she might be able to produce some listenable Bach arias. I personally find her attempt to emulate the voice of a reticent boy soprano insufficient for conveying the music and text of many Bach arias which demand more: more intensity, a fuller sound, greater inner expression (not outward 'gesturing' which is not a substitute.) "
[this part of the message was removed]
Not liking Ruth Holton's voice is one thing, but the pure speculation (almost certainly quite unfounded!) that she is trying to "emulate the voice of a reticent boy soprano" is quite another.
[this part of the message was removed]

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 26, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Well, I have never heard Ruth Holton sing, that I know of, but what can I say? If the woman sounds like a reticent boy soprano, or if her singing has elements of that sort of voice which otherwise seem out of place, does it really matter whether that is the intended effect?

I would have to say, furthermore, that if her low notes are, regardless of the musical context, consistently low on volume as well as pitch, that is a PROBLEM - one that probably most sopranos have, I'm afraid. I am not sure whether that is a physiological problem, or whether it is a matter of voice teachers who mean well, but in trying to make them sing the low notes without using their chest register, supposedly to preserve 'soprano' tone quality, they deny them the means to produce low notes with good resonance. Unless the soprano in question is able to figure out by herself how to do it...

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 26, 2004):
[this part of the message was removed]
[To Gabriel Jackson] And now to the point. Ruth Holton's voice has been called boyish many times, by members of the BCML (me included) and elsewhere. IMO, her timbre of voice suits wonderfully many cantatas, but does not unfold the full potential of many others. Cantata BWV 196 is a good example of the first group, while Cantata BWV 199 is an example of the second. In BWV 196 I see a young bride standing in the church and Holton indeed sounds young, pure, fresh and innocent as such a bride in her Wedding Day. BWV 199 is so emotionally loaded and the singer has to move along many phases, that only a few singers are capable of conveying its full potential in a way, which will touch the listener's heart. Only a mature singer, with a rich and multi-layered voice, and almost limitless emotional vocabulary, can do full justice with this cantata. Arleen Augér is one of these very few. Ruth Holton does not get there. In this cantata she sounds one-dimensional and pale. Is it her timbre of voice that fails her? Does she have problem with the range of her voice (weak low notes)? Is it her limited expressive abilities? Is it the lack of time she could dedicate to preparing for the recording of this cantata? I do not really know. The result does matter. Based on comparative listening to many cantatas I can take the risk and say that her timbre of voice, range of voice and expressive abilities are not capable of doing the outmost justice with every cantata.

What disturbs me with the way Thomas Braatz presents his opinion regarding the 'Half-Voice' issue, is the generalisation. I mean that I see no connection between the expressive abilities of a singer and the potential volume of his/her voice. Many singers along the last few deca(those who have done recordings) has voice with small volume, and at the same time limitless expressive abilities. The soprano Agnes Giebel is a good example of a singer from the old school whose interpretation of any Bach work I am always like to hear. Actually she abandoned operatic career, because her voice was not big enough for the opera house. On the other hand many HIP singers have the ability to transfer the full message of an aria or recitative without letting the listener feels that he/she misses something. Only couple of weeks ago I heard the soprano Veronika Winter giving a moving performance of the duet and some arias in Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) conducted by Hermann Max.
[this part of the message was removed]

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 26, 2004):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
"Well, I have never heard Ruth Holton sing, that I know of, but what can I say? If the woman sounds like a reticent boy soprano, or if her singing has elements of that sort of voice which otherwise seem out of place, does it really matter whether that is the intended effect?"
I think it does. Whether one likes her voice or not, it is quite unfair, and quite wrong, to allege that she is intending to sound like a 'reticent boy soprano'. And why would anyone try to sound reticent?!!

Johan van Veen wrote (June 26, 2004):
[this part of the message was removed]
>>>Johan: >>If I interpret the phenomenon Walther describes correctly he means a singer who sings very loud in the upper register and very soft in the lower register.<<
Yes, and now imagine a 'small' voice of which there are quite a few in HIP recordings. They have probably learned not to force the upper range too much (so they have learned how to correct the 1st part of Walther's problematic singer, but the 2nd part (low range) remains too weak which in itself is a 'vitium' that can and should not be tolerated. <<<<<
But that shows that the term 'vitium permutationis' still doesn't give the correct description of what you believe to hear. The term is just as unsuitable as 'demi-voix' or 'half-voice'.
[this part of the message was removed]

>>It is the basic principle of 'Musik als Klangrede' which Mr Braatz is fundamentally opposed to.That is his right, of course.<<
You've got it! Whispering in a recitative or aria by Bach is just one of the numerous exaggerations emanating from the minds of a few mistaken HIP protagonists/leaders that do not make sense. Whispering is not singing. Show me a quotation maintaining that this is acceptable for sacred music from a reliable source relating to Bach's tenure in Leipzig!<<<<
To characterise a differentiated performance of recitatives, based on the principle of 'Musik als Klangrede', as 'whispering' is completely off the mark. Why don't you just make an effort to give a fair and to-the-point description of the singing and give your assessment after that? How can you expect people to discuss these matters seriously when your characterisation of them is so simplistic and generalizing?
[this part of the message was removed]

John Pike wrote (June 28, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] I can only say that I was stunned by Ruth Holton's performance in John Eliot Gardiner's performance/recording of the SJP. She was good enough for me and good enough for Sir John....

John Pike wrote (June 28, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recent recording of BWV 199 was recently highly praised. Has anyone got it?

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 30, 2011 ý13:33:55