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Male Sopranos in Bach’s Vocal Works

Male soprano! [was: Genesis of a countertenor]

Continue of discussion from: Counter-tenors in Bach’s Voval Works – Part 2 [General Topics]

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 21, 2004):
Here are some links to info on a gentleman named Dariusz Paradowski, who is apparently the only non-castrato adult male soprano on the planet today. Haven't had the chance to hear him sing yet - when I do, I'll let you know :)

Thomas Manhart wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] There are presently more than 1 non-castrato sopranos on the planet. Please check out:
Infact, I feel slowly like a minority as male alto, because more and more call themselves mezzos. But seriously, there are some great male sopranos outside. I have, however, not come across any Bach recording with a male sop.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Thomas Manhart] There is nice website dedicated to male sopranos (not counter-tenors):

Like you, I am not aware of any Bach's vocal work recorded by a male soprano, but I am curious to hear one...

Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Not Bach, but pretty close: The late Klaus Nomi [German male soprano] recorded a splendid version of "The Cold Song" from the opera "King Arthur" by Henry Purcell.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Ehud Shiloni] For some excellent and especially high singing by adult males, don't miss the album of Heinrich Schuetz' vocal concertos entitled "Liebe und Klage" (also repackaged as "Lamenti & Concerti")...recorded by MD+G in 1986 and reissued at least once (1996) in their Gold line. The Schuetz pieces included are SWV 435, 443, 272-3, 263-4, 20, 339, 174, and 21: pieces about love and lament (as the album title suggests).

The performing group is called "Musicalische Compagney". The soprano parts are sung by David Cordier and Derik Lee Regan, and the other parts by Mark Padmore, Harry Geraerts, and Harry van der Kamp. The band includes 3 cornetti, 2 trombones, 3 dulcians, chitarrone, and organ in various configurations.

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] And what about Clint van der Linde? I love his aria of BWV 51 and he deserves more fame. Does anyone here know his recent activity?

Johan van Veen wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Wang Xiao-yun] As far as I know that recording was made when he was a treble - that is, before his voice changed. Trebles are usually not considered 'male sopranos'. This term is used only for adult male singers who sing in the soprano register.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 22, 2004):
[To Wang Xiao-yun & Johan van Veen] Has this this recording ever issued in LP/CD form?

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I downloaded the clip from the file section of BCML and read information from your website, so I know no more than you:)

I suppose Linde should now be considered as a young male soprano and hope he would record the work again.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] All information about this CD and about Clint van der Linde can be found here:

Boyd Pehrson wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] There is an mp3 track, loaded into the BachCantatas Y-group webpage, of Clint Van Der Linde singing an aria from 'Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen!' BWV 51, for anyone who wants to hear a boy soprano sing this...

I guess Master Clint qualifies as a "male soprano," ...just a very young one. Max Cencic also recorded BWV 51 as a young male soprano, about 14 years old, and he still sings soprano today at about 28 years of age, using his own unique technique.

Aria of Solo Cantata BWV 51 'Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen!':

Thomas Manhart wrote (June 24, 2004):
To Boyd Pehrson] That is amazing, thanks for uploadig the file. now i really would trust my ears in analyzing voices. but this voice has a quality unlike any other boy soprano i have heard. if i didnt know it, i had never guessed it's a boy. Is there any information, what this singer does today?

The recording seems very "clear and clean". are there any other recordings of him, at that age, maybe live? i just still wonder, if anything was enhanced technically on the sound.


Boyd Pehrson wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Thomas Manhart] Regarding Clint Van Der Linde's career, Johan Van Veen provided this link earlier:

That mp3 is from a studio recording, and I am certain Clint was in the studio's recording booth with headphones when he recorded it, most likely to a soundtrack. What you hear is what you get with Clint. His other recordings with his choir provide evidence of his unique vocal style. That is, it is always the same. I can say he is performing in an operatic style, similar to Max Cencic's style, which is not something boys usually do. Boys, like men, can sing either operatic or in straightforward tones,
but the repertoire for boys usually avoids coloratura arias, thus the reason for Clint and Max to record this particular Bach solo Cantata, is probably due mostly to their complementary singing sytle. That is just a guess on my part.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Boyd Pehrson] I understand that Cencic now performs as alto (or countertenor) and seems to have given up his ambitions to perform as a soprano. On his latest recordings he is presented as countertenor.

Thomas Manhart wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Thanks again for the answer, and sorry that i read over the link in the previous mail.

Amazing site, amazing voices! this clint has indeed an extraordinary voice quality. i wonder how his countertenor singing will develop today. Dor the bach fans maybe also interesting on page 3, there is a sound file of the young Peter Schreier.


Male soprani [was: Historically Informed Performance]

Continue of discussion from: HIP - Part 18 [General Topics]

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (November 11, 2010):
Forest Chav wrote:
< Though I don't really think it is possible to realise the sound Bach's chorus, if indeed it was any more than a single voice per part, would have made; simply because the voice types don't exist now. Bach's voice apparently broke at 15, early for his age; mine broke slightly before this, which is obviously late by modern standards. It is likely Bach's trebles were mid/late teens, now you're lucky to get cathedral choristers beyond about 13. Physically the sound might well be equivalent, but is their musical intuition? >
In our music class three years ago there was a boy of 16 who sang soprano parts. He was more at ease with high notes than many female soprani in the class. He had taken very few music lessons, it was clearly his natural voice when singing (his spoken voice was a perfectly "normal" teenager voice).

He is now 19 years old and his voice has remained very high but certainly not childish.

Here is a sample (the recording is quite "amateur", but it gives an idea):
Maybe Bach could have voices like that in his Thomaners?

Michael Cox wrote (November 11, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] As a choirboy in London in the 1960s I met at least one older teenager (18-year-old) who still sang treble/soprano even after his speaking had broken. And he was a big chap.

In our own choir I sang a few alto solos after my speaking voice had broken, but my singing voice was still not tenor.

Our leading male alto was a big middle-aged man who could sing either bass or falsetto alto. He usually sang alto. One of our choirmasters, Sebastian Forbes, could sing all four vocal parts with ease (not at the same time!) In principle, nowadays, he could have recorded his own voice singing SATB and produce his own one-man choir.

Our question is whether Bach could count on a single alto soloist in every place where he worked, even before Leipzig. What if the star soloist caught a cold? One answer is that cantatas could be adapted e.g. "Ich habe genug" can be sung either in the soprano version or bass version. And it is known that Handel rearranged arias for different voice ranges as circumstances dictated.

Forest Chav wrote (November 11, 2010):
[To Michael Cox] Most male altos are actually natural baritones/basses, though a handful are converted tenors - some of them even studied tenor before switching. I believe Jochen Kowalski is one of the latter, and if you listen to his speaking voice (he was on Radio 3 a few years back) Rene Jacobs is also.

If they know how to cultivate it I guess it is physically possible for any male with a broken voice to sing in that register though it is evidently not quite that simple nor is it going to guarantee making the same sound. Some professional male altos sound more like they are singing in falsetto (e.g. Kai Wessel), others sound more feminine (e.g. Michael Chance, especially in his more recent recordings) which I guess is more how much falsetto they are actually using as well as the quality of their voice. (Disregarding the likes of Michael Maniaci who have gone through puberty and even then their voices haven't actually broken, as well as other male singers whose falsetto sits more readily in the treble register than the alto one).

As for Bach's forces, I actually agree with the Rifkin and Parrott argument concerning what he needed, what he had, and how he used it. He would probably have had a concertist who it was written for but if he got sick then he would probably have had to get someone else to sing it. Using OVPP there would be a few singers slack in the rostrum to cover for this anyway. Of course, it's usually the case that soprano and tenor are in a similar key range, just shifted around a couple of octaves, likewise with alto and bass, and your example of BWV 82 is a good one since it has been recorded (for S and T as BWV 82a) by one of each vocal part. The alto and soprano versions are simply sung in a different octave to the tenor and bass ones.

Handel is somewhat more complex since he did revise works for different performances anyway, often down to the forces he did have, but also down to his own improvement of his works, whereas we don't know for sure how often Bach re-used his cantatas during his career and in these cases, how he did change them from performance to performance. We do know in works where there is clear evidence of multiple performances, e.g. SJP and Magnificat, that he did the same thing.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 12, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< In our music class three years ago there was a boy of 16 who sang soprano parts. He was more at >ease with high notes than many female soprani in the class. He had taken very few music >lessons, it was clearly his natural voice when singing (his spoken voice was a perfectly >"normal" teenager voice). >
Check my math: one voice, one part. Sign him up for an OVPP recording?

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 12, 2010):
Male soprani [and alti]

Forest Chav wrote:
< if you listen to his speaking voice (he was on Radio 3 a few years back) Rene Jacobs is also.
If they know how to cultivate it I guess it is physically possible for >any male with a broken voice to sing in that register though it is evidently not quite that simple nor is it going to guarantee making the same sound. >
A few years back there was a lot of discussion and a few decent references on BCW, re the production of vibrato and the physiology of the vocal box (or whatever, certainly not chords). Evan Cortens recently provided a reference which looks relevant (I have not yet had the opportunity to consult it).

There is plenty of discussion re Alfred Deller in the BCW archives, a voice well-documented on recordings, for comparison with more recent performers. See also BWV 87 recordings.

Evan Cortens wrote (November 12, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] Might you be thinking of the thesis by Jenevora Williams, linked to in a post by Chris Stanley? I don't think I've mentioned anything recently on this.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 12, 2010):
[To Evan Cortens] Thanks for keeping track, apologies for my error!


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Last update: ýNovember 29, 2010 ý20:19:00