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Vibrato - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Vibrato or not vibrato, that is the question

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (May 14, 2003):
Here's a quotation from an interview of Rinaldo Alessandrini (Le Monde de la Musique #215, November 1997), that might fit into the current topic :

"Que pensez-vous de l'utilisation du vibrato dans la musique vocale ancienne ? Est-elle suffisamment justifiée ?

On a considéré le vibrato comme un élément perturbateur dans la musique ancienne. En fait, le problème ne vient pas du vibrato lui-même, mais de son utilisation sans discernement. Dans la polyphonie, il est nuisible : il masque l'intonation et détériore la résonance de l'accord. Mais dans la musique vocale soliste, il est porteur de l'émotion ; de la même manière; dans le madrigal, le chanteur atteindra au sublime s'il parvient à discerner dans la ligne le moment où il pourra accentuer à l'aide du vibrato le sentiment de compétition entre les voix, typique de cette forme."

(I apologize for not having time to translate it, but I think it's not too difficult to understand, even for non French-speaking persons.)

Is this also right for Bach ? I'm not sure, but yet, I find this statement quite intreresting.

By the way, Rinaldo Alessandrini's version of Die Kunst der Fugue (label Opus 111), is the most beautiful, sensitive and subtle version for chamber instruments I ever heard.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 14, 2003):
[To Paul Dirmeikis] At LAST!

Why did we have to wait so long for sombody to say this obvious truth!? Thank God this SOMEBODY is no less than Rinaldo Alessandrini, not just a member of this - or other - list, otherwise nobody would listen! Thanks for posting this excerpt!

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 14, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] Ah...this observation is not new from Alessandrini. When I was singing in Edward Parmentier's chorus (early music ensemble, University of Michigan) more than ten years ago he was saying similar things to us. It was an audition requirement for that ensemble: to be able to sing in tune without vibrato.

And see also what Leopold Auer wrote in 1921 after a lifetime of teaching the violin: http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/auer/auer.htm

And if I'm remembering correctly, Muffat and several others 300 years ago wrote that orchestral players should not be using vibrato (as a default sound, anyway), as it clouds the intonation and the progression of the lines.

And check out the New Queen's Hall Orchestra recording of Vaughan Williams (conducted by Wordsworth) and the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra recording of Barber and Elgar (conducted by Slowik)...same principles at work there. Some vibrato, but it's minimal: http://shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921521122

Heck, listen to pre-WW2 recordings by just about anybody.... Vibrato was primarily an ornament for soloists, not a default sound for people playing or singing in ensembles.

Barbershop quartets, anyone? Close vocal harmony, and vibrato is rare.

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (May 14, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Wasn't it Leopold Mozart who wrote that "there are some players who tremble at every note, as if they had a chronic fever. One should use the tremolo (vibrato) only in those places where Nature herself would produce it."

Of course, the quote mixes vibrato and tremolo, but the reference to chronic fever is particularly colorful.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Do I understand you right? I certainly understand what Alessandrini said in this fragment but you seem to only see the arguments AGAINST vibrato and those are no news for anybody in this group. I think that the main reason for posting that quotation was to alert the group that such a mega-HIP guru as Alessandrini is actually speaking in favour of vibrato in vocal music. If I misinterpreted the intention of your post, Paul, please, correct me. I don't know if Alessandrini is the first to say good things about vibrato - I doubt it (the quotation, however, is from 1997) - but it certainly is a step forward. The fact that vibrato is being used in so many HIP performances nowadays only proves that we may be approaching the moment when the HIP movement will be ruled by common sense.

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Izabela Zbikowska] No, you didn't misinterpret my intention. I read and understand Alessandrini in the same way you do.

I think about David Daniels and the way he uses vibrato in Vivaldi's Stabat Mater (Fabio Bondi and Europa Galante). The new wave seems to be coming from Italy.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 15, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
<The fact that vibrato is being used in so many HIP performances nowadays only proves that we may be approaching the moment when the HIP movement will be ruled by common sense. >
E
xactly! and I think we're almost there-we've almost arrived my HII (Historically Informed Instinct), where the HIP priciples have become a part of the subonscious, and we can take them from there and do things with more spontanaity, more subjectivity, which is the most historically accurate method to interpretation anyway! (I think it's the BCML where I've brought this idea up). If I understand Alessandrini correctly (mandatory French in Ontario till you're 14 years old), then I can say that I totally agree with him. It is true that vibrato can be overused, blindly used, and has messed up some sounds in the past. But I think that as far as solo singing goes, vibrato can bring a lot to Baroque musiic. The name that springs to mind is Drew Minter. His vibrato adds greatly to his instrument, making it a beautiful, honey-dipped tone that I think may be underrated. I might even venture out so far as to say that it adds a great dimension to Rifkin's set of "6 Favorite Cantatas", which I also feel is slightly underrated. As well, his Händel is superb, and his singing of "Dopo L'Orrore" from Ottone has helped for it to be included among my all-time favourite arias (Agnus Dei from BWV 232 is up there too, and also partially because of a splendid, dazzling performance by Scholl for Herreweghe!)

Uri Golomb wrote (May 15, 2003):
< I don't know if Alessandrini is the first to say good things about vibrato -- I doubt it (the quotation, however, is from 1997) >
I have another c. 1997 quote from Alessandrini, where he is quite emphatically in favour of using, as he puts it, "all the possibilities of the human voice in order to expresss the different things we find in the text" (in Bernard Sherman, _Inside Early Music_, p. 143; for details on the book, see http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/insideearlymusic.htm). These include,
explicitly, vibrato and portamento. It is part of a debate on nationality in Italian music -- which sort of relates to Bradley Brookshire's comments on English HIP's alleged blandness (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, then perhaps this appeared on Bach Cantatas rather than Bach REcordings...). Alessandrini is quite emphatic in his belief that "the English" don't use vibrato or portato. But, as Bernard Sherman points out in the course of the chapter, he is simply mistaken in this statement. The chapter consists of interviews with Alan Curtis (a British director -- who works exclusively with Italian singers), Alessandrinin and Anthony Rooley. Overall, it makes for quite an interesting read. As someone who admires all these artists in Monteverdi, I was somewhat taken aback by Alessandrini's dismissal of "the English"; I think Rooley's more considered comparison is more apt. But the whole thing is, of course, OT for a Bach recordings mail...

Pete Blue wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] For judicioususe and non-use of vibrato for expressive purposes, I would go back to the 1950's and 1960's and recommend as a prototypical model exponent the great Alfred Deller. IMO everybody who does not detest the countertenor voice should listen or re-listen to him. Even Veken. (Remember Veken from this List a long while ago? I'll never forget his hilarious posts about getting physically sick at the prospect of hearing ANY vibrato!)

P.S.: Sergiu Luca, the first to record the Solo Violin S&P on a period instrument, is another such exponent whom I would urge all to hear.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Pete Blue] Absolutely: Sergiu Luca's recording was the first ever recording of Bach's works for solo violin with a baroque violin I ever heard, and it made a huge impression. Is it available on CD and if so, on which label? (He also made good recordings of Mozart's sonatas for keyboard and violin with Malcolm Bilson on fortepiano.)

Johan van Veen wrote (May 15, 2003):
Uri Golomb wrote:
>>>The chapter consists of interviews with Alan Curtis (a British director -- who works exclusively with Italian singers)<<<
Isn't Alan Curtis American?

Uri Golomb wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] Yes, he is (graduated from University of Illinois, studied with Leonhardt in Amsterdam, taught -- or teaches? -- at the University of California at Berkeley, and spends much of his working life in Italy). This means that there was never a significant British chapter to his biography... So sorry about that mistake. The bit about the exlcusive focus on Italian singers might not be entirely accurate either: he insists on using Italian singers for Italian madrigals, but I'm not sure this applies to all his repertoire (or even all his Italian-language repertoire).

Johan van Veen wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] I think vibrato is rather overused a lot in performances of baroque music these days. I much prefer some vocal recordings from the early HIP era. I'm not referring to 'bland' British performances; there are others with sparing use of vibrato and still lots of expression. Expression in baroque music comes first and foremost from dealing with the text. As far as Drew Minter is concerned, that vibrato of his is exactly the reason I can't bear to listen to him.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] Well, in his earlier days he certainly didn't work only with Italian singers - see , for instance, Händel's Admeto or Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. But, of course, when he made those recordings there were hardly Italian singers around who were able to sing baroque music stylistically correct. Perhaps the fact that he lives in Italy most of the time will have influenced his perception as to how to perform Italian vocal music.

There was an interesting interview some months ago in a German magazine. I'll see if I can find it and look if there is something to quote here.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 16, 2003):
Matthew Neugebauer wrote:
< ... I think we're almost there-we've almost arrived my HII (Historically Informed Instinct), where the HIP priciples have become a part of the subonscious, and we can take them from there and do things with more spontanaity, more subjectivity, which is the most historically accurate >
Beautifully said, Matthew!

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 16, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
< Bradley, do I understand you right? I certainly understand what Alessandrini said in this fragment but you seem to only see the arguments AGAINST vibrato and those are no news for anybody in this group. I think that the main reason for posting that quotation was to alert the group that such a mega-HIP guru as Alessandrini is actually speaking in favour of vibrato in vocal music. (...) >
Izabela, as I noted as part of my posting: "Listen to pre-WW2 recordings by just about anybody.... Vibrato was primarily an ornament for soloists, not a default sound for people playing or singing in ensembles."

This is not about "Historically Informed Performance" (HIP), it's about music-making. (It's interesting to see Alessandrini referred to as "a mega-HIP guru" but really he's just a good sensitive musician <grin>.)

I don't think that notions of "HIP" should have anything to do with any of this.

-- Ensemble work with voices and/or instruments (any kind of instruments, any kind of music) is clearest if there is only minimal vibrato. Intonation, articulation, rhythm, tonal blend, listening to one another: all these are easier to get together and project clearly if there is not much wobbling and warbling in the parts.

-- Solo work has more scope for vibrato, as an ornament to enliven/enhance the expression of the melodic line. Vibrato, among other techniques, helps that solo line to stand out, to get more attention.

That is, it's not about being "historical", it's about being musical. Use of vibrato in a part is like throwing a spotlight onto that part. If all the parts are trying to draw that spotlight at the same time, the lighting means nothing.

Or, when everybody uses vibrato all the time, it's like reading a book or a web page where the whole text is written in italics, or all in boldface, or all in a strong color. Nothing is emphasized that way, and it is merely tiresome.

Steven Guy wrote (May 17, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I agree that vibrato seems to have been an ornament on the occasional sustained note in the performances of Pre-Classical music. I dare say that recent recordings have become slack and lazy - or maybe conductors are simply tired of trying to tell singers to 'cool it' with the vibrato.

Can must be expressive with vibrato? You betcha! Pianos, fortepianos and harpsichords do not have vibrato as an option in their range of sounds and if you have ever been moved by a piece of music played on one of these instruments, then you can say that vibrato free music can be expressive.

Singers tell me that vibrato is natural. If this is so then why do they spend years trying to 'perfect' this technique. Vibrato seems like a rather robotic way of introducing pathos into music, in my opinion.

Vibrato in Baroque music should never be used more than sparingly but another 'ornament' is messa di voce. This ornament was made by swelling the sound and then going into a decrescendo. This effect/affect seems to have been used extensively by both instrumentalists and singers. Do we hear it much these days? Not really! The cornettist, Bruce Dickey, does it well in some of his recordings but I have rarely heard a singer do it! Alfred Deller did it very well, by the way!
__________________________________________________________________

There were some recent comments on this list suggesting that really there is no such thing as independent standards for the performance of music - everything is subjective and nothing is objective. I disagree with this. No one would suggest for a moment that performances of Bach on the modern piano can not be expressive to some people. But we have to come back to the fact that this instrument wasn't available to Bach and he may or may not have liked a modern Steinway. The harpsichord or clavichord will always be the right instruments for Bach's keyboard music no matter what arguments pianists come up with. I do not believe that Bach's music is an 'anything goes' region any more than I would suggest this about Mozart's or Händel's or Brahms' or any other composer's music. Bach's music has elements that open themselves to interpretation but it also has limits. I believe that musicians should respect the music and work within the rules.

We all know that a choir of one hundred voices is inappropriate for a work like the B minor Mass - even though we may debate about OVPP versus a few voices on each vocal line. We might debate about the use of modern versus Baroque oboes in the Passions - but no one would seriously suggest that clarinets would work better in these works! (Or would they?)

I believe that there are standards we should try to observe in this music. These are objective rather than subjective. The real problem of HIP versus patently modern performances of Bach is that this issue does't really crop up with other Baroque composers. We don't have people vehemently telling us that Frescobaldi's or Froberger's keyboard music should be played on a Steinway!
___________________________________________________________________

I admit that I like Bach's music but I am not a fanatic. I rarely listen to Bach these days, I'm afraid to say - there are simply so many other Baroque and Renaissance composers crying out to me!

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 17, 2003):
Steven Guy wrote:
< (...) The real problem of HIP versus patently modern performances of Bach is that this issue doesn't really crop up with other Baroque composers. We don't have people vehemently telling us that Frescobaldi's or Froberger's keyboard music should be played on a Steinway! >
For what it's worth: Frescobaldi and Froberger sound fantastic on a Steinway...if the player has any clue about playing with 17th century gestures, and knows how to fit pianistic dynamics into that mould, and knows how to improvise in 17th century styles, and recognizes their music as this. A good way to start is to do most of the rehearsal on clavichord and harpsichord, and then imagine that the piano is merely a grossly overgrown clavichord...which, historically, it is.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 17, 2003):
Steven Guy wrote:
< There were some recent comments on this list suggesting that really there is no such thing as independent standards for the performance of music - everything is subjective and nothing is objective. I disagree with this. No one would suggest for a moment that performances of Bach on the modern piano can not be expressive to some people. But we have to come back to the fact that this instrument wasn't available to Bach and he may or may not have liked a modern Steinway. The harpsichord or clavichord will always be the right instruments for Bach's keyboard music no matter what arguments pianists come up with. I do not believe that Bach's music is an 'anything goes' region any more than I would suggest this about Mozart's or Händel's or Brahms' or any other composer's music. Bach's music has elements that open themselves to interpretation but it also has limits. I believe that musicians should respect the music and work within the rules. >
Oh drat! And I was going to get Rosalyn Tureck's WTC.

Bart O’Brien wrote (May 17, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson] I can't match Gene's subtlety of expression, so I'll just ask Stephen what he means by the word SHOULD. Does he mean that it is immoral to play music in a way the composer didn't intend? ie, immoral as in stealing from a supermarket? If not that, then what?

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 18, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman & Steven Guy] First of all, why should the WW2 be some sort of divider? Did it mark an important change in singing techniques? Not to my knowledge.

*****
"Intonation, articulation, rhythm, tonal blend, listening to one another: all these are easier to get together and project clearly if there is not much wobbling and warbling in the parts". (Bradley)
Let's stop confusing wobble with vibrato! this is the most common mistake and it really obscures the problem. Maybe, for the sake of clarity, we should find some recordings that most of us have and give examples of what we think IS an example of vibrato (CD, track number, timing if necessary) and what is wobble. There is often a very audible and quite annoying WOBBLE in big choirs recorded in earlier days (e.g. Jochum's B-minor Mass (BWV 232) on Philips), but today most HIP choirs have a rather uniform sound.

Also, for the sake of clarity we should narrow this discussion down to vocal music because vibrato in instrumental music is a different thing. It seems that it is the vocal vibrato that annoys so many HIPers , probably because it is much easier to notice it than vibrato of instruments in orchestra and also because music critics like pointing it out (this seems to be one of the very few elements in vocal performances modern critics are willing to talk about today. Most of other important things don't seem to exist anymore. They just state matter-of-factly: she uses vibrato, she doesn't avoid vibrato, she uses no vibrato - it is sort of boring).

Another important thing: NATIONAL schools of singing, now almost extinct. The goaty sound of French or Italian tenors, for example. Could it be that Italian HIP groups admitted the importance of vibrato so easily because they know how natural it is? I can't forget a concert of a group of native Corsican singers gathered under Marcel Peres to sing some 18th century Corsican chant (it was also recorded by HM) - you can't argue with such 'relics' of vocal performance practice. The sound they produced was indeed as if a flock of goats was singing unisono. Whether you like it or not, it is an attested singing technique.

How do national schools of singing apply to Bach? Should Bach be performed in a German "way" (whatever it is) or is he an 'international' property and should be preformed by McCreeshes of this world who want to deprive him of so many element of his 'German-ness'? I leave this question to those who are interested in national factors involved in performance of music (there is a discussion on this topic going on).

******
"Singers tell me that vibrato is natural. If this is so then why do they spend years trying to 'perfect' this technique" (Steven)
Vibrato certainly is a natural quality of certain voices, some voices have to acquire it and practice it. Speech is natural, too, why do so many of us spend years perfecting it (and many other natural things)?

******
"It's interesting to see Alessandrini referred to as "a mega-HIP guru" but really he's just a good sensitive musician <grin>." (Bradley)
There was no offence intended when I called Alessandrini a mega-HIP guru. I know that HE IS a sensitive musician - his comments on vibrato that seem to be a revelation to so many people constantly fed by the 'no vibrato'-talk is a good proof of his sensitivity. His recordings prove that too.

******
'I dare say that recent recordings have become slack and lazy - or maybe conductors are simply tired of trying to tell singers to 'cool it' with the vibrato." (Steven)
I can't imagine such control freaks like, say, Gardiner to allow vibrato if they didn't think it was admissible.

Much as I agree with you that there are independent standards for the performance of music, those are still OUR - ANNO DOMINI 2003 - standards and may have very little to do with the standards applied by baroque performers. Look how the HIP performance practice changed through all those years! We didn't know much more about baroque performance practice when the movement was in its infancy than we know now and yet through those 3 decades the style changed so much! As it was in the baroque, there will be always millions of factors that will influence the performance and we will never be able to control them. I said once that a few bars of Furthwangler's recording of SMP is to me more authentic than the whole 2+ hours of McCreesh's because it has sincerity and musicality in it. And that's what music-making is about - applying the highest standards that exist at the time of the performance. If you reject Bach played on the piano, it is your loss. Händel himself said - and it is one of the most often quoted of his words - that he would be sorry if he only entertained the audience (during a performance of "Messiah") - he wished to make them better. I am afraid that we are not getting 'better' (in any sense of the word) if we impose on ourselves a set of strict and unmusical criteria. I see that many HIP conductors understood this simple truth and it is about time that the audience understands it too.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 19, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
>>>>How do national schools of singing apply to Bach? Should Bach be performed in a German "way" (whatever it is) or is he an 'international' property and should be by McCreeshes of this world who want to deprive him of so many element of his 'German-ness'? I leave this question to those who are interested in national factors involved in performance of music (there is a discussion on this topic going on).<<<<<
If there is any composer of the 18th century, who is very German, then it is Bach. So I would say: yes, Bach should be performed the 'German way'. If there is such a thing as a German style of singing, I am not sure. The difference between British and German performances of Bach have a lot to do with pronunciation, articulation, stressing of words and syllables etc. And in Bach the text is certainly more important than in Händel's operas. How does one define a 'national style of singing' and to what extent is that influenced by the language?

>>>I said once that a few bars of Furthwangler's recording of SMP is to me more authentic than the whole 2+ hours of McCreesh's because it has sincerity and musicality in it. And that's what music-making is about - applying the highest standards that exist at the time of the performance. If you reject Bach played on the piano, it is your loss. <<<
But that is all very subjective. Unlike you I don't care about the 'old-fashioned' performances of Bach's vocal music. I'm not saying they are not expressive, but - for example - the SMP as recorded by Mengelberg is expressive in a romantic way, in that it is the music that moves, whereas in good, expressive HIP-performances it is the strong relationship between text and music that moves. For me the criterion is: what did Bach want to deliver? In my view: not music, but text - more precise: the meaning of the text. If only the music moves, the performance doesn't deliver what Bach wanted to tell. 'Expression' isn't the same for everyone or for every period in music history. 'Romantic' expression is fundamentally different from 'baroque' expression.

>>>Händel himself said - and it is one of the most often quoted of his words - that he would be sorry if he only entertained the audience (during a performance of "Messiah") - he wished to make them better. I am afraid that we are not getting 'better' (in any sense of the word) if we impose on ourselves a set of strict and unmusical criteria. I see that many HIP conductors understood this simple truth and it is about time that the audience understands it too.<<<
But what are 'unmusical criteria' in your view? Is the rejection of the piano in Bach an 'unmusical criterion'? If so, why? You write that if someone rejects 'Bach on the piano' it is his loss. But if I don't like the piano as such - and especially Bach on the piano - why is it 'my loss' if I don't want to listen to it?

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] (lol, yes, Harnoncourt is still my hero!) Anyway, from what I've heard from Rilling's cantatas, the singers are naturally very expressive in German: gutteral and forceful, somewhat loud.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] I guess what I was trying to say is that in Rilling's cantatas, the
singers are very expressive and sing in a way that is close to Bach's text.

 

Is vibrato a cover-up?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (August 6, 2003):
I have always wondered what the purpose of constant vibrato is – especially in orchestras.

Here's a brief excerpt from an article in the Times about Roger Norrington's Beethoven:

On the other hand the loss of the constant adjustment that vibrato makes possible took a toll on the group's intonation. By the end of "The Creatures of Prometheus," notes were going sour at an alarming rate, and there was some of that in the "Eroica" as well.

Did orchestras begin using vibrato constantly merely to cover up the poor quality of their string players? And do singers do the same today?

Robert Sherman wrote (August 6, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] The purpose of vibrato is to produce a warmer sound. Spreading the pitch, and therefore making it easier to play in tune, is a collateral effect.

When I was playing brass ensemble, we would sometimes rehearse without vibrato to be sure we were finding the pitches spot-on. But we didn't perform that way because, even if we were to hit every note in perfect pure pitch, the result would have been cold, dead, and unpleasant.

That being said, note also that the convention for horn and clarinet is to play without vibrato, and these sections are able to play as well in tune as the rest of the orchestra.

In the 1950s Helmut Wobitsch, the first trumpet of the Vienna Philharmonic, strongly believed that trumpets should play without vibrato, and that was what his section did. He did a pioneer recording of the J. Haydn trumpet concerto that way, and the result was in tune but not gratifying. The British trumpeter George Eskdale recorded it at about the same time with vibrato and IMO was far more pleasurable to listen to.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 6, 2003):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Did orchestras begin using vibrato constantly merely to cover up the poor quality of their string players? And do singers do the same today? >
I've heard another professional musician refer to bad intonation as the "approximatura" ornament. Wish I'd thought of it myself.

 

Objectionable Vibrato

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 16, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"......As a second example I want to focus on the matter of vibrato in Bach performances. One performer I would mention specifically as an example is Ludwig Güttler, a recognized instrumentalist and specialist in playing trumpets and horns. Despite his technical proficiency, I am always left slightly unsatisfied when his use of rather consistent vibrato intrudes upon the clarity and brilliance that I have come to expect from many of Bach's trumpet parts. ....... "
MY COMMENTS:

Whether or not a vibrato sounds objectionable may be a matter of taste that varies with the listener. I was trained from a very young age to not use vibrato at all in classical music, but to use it occasionally to add flavor when playing jazz or modern songs. Consequently, a trumpet playing vibrato on Bach would hurt my ears as badly as if it were playing off pitch.

I can appreciate subtle and selective vibrato from a singer. But, I have heard nauseating examples of sopranos with excessive modulation in their vibrato, and they sound as if it is out of control and they can't shut it off. Excessive and extreme use of a style usually is counter-productive in generating musical appeal. Most good musicians wouldn't consider playing/singing everything at a constant fff, nor every note with a marcato attack. So why should one expect a constant and strong vibrato to be appealing?

I have to admit that when violins play with a subtle vibrato, I don't notice it. Perhaps my ear has been trained to expect vibrato among a group of violins.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 17, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote:
< Most good musicians wouldn't consider playing/singing everything at a constant fff, nor every note with a marcato attack. So why should one expect a constant and strong vibrato to be appealing? >
Because they have been taught that way. Just a couple of days ago someone connected to the Netherlands Opera made some derogatory remarks about 'blanke barokstemmetjes' (white little baroque voices).

And the Dutch opera singer Erna Spoorenberg - who passed away a month ago - for some years was a member of the panel of a CD review programme on Dutch radio, and consistently criticised the lack of vibrato in HIP performances (which she didn't like anyway).

The vocal world - certainly on conservatories - is very conservative, and still firmly rooted in the vocal practices of the late 19th century.

And unfortunately there is an extensive use of vibrato among singers who frequently appear in HIP performances as well, and a lot of people - including HIP advocates - seem not to bother. I refer to the likes of Cecilia Bartoli, Bernarda Fink and Magdalena Kozena.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 17, 2004):
< The vocal world - certainly on conservatories - is very conservative, and still firmly rooted in the vocal practices of the late 19th century. >
Actually, the employment of cons, unvarying vibrato might not be a late 19th-century tradition at all. In string instruments, the rise of constant vibrato is documented in recordings (see Peter Philip's Early Recordings and Musical Style; http://books.cambridge.org/0521235286.htm), clearly proving that it is actually a mid-20th-century phenomenon, and the same seems to be true of singing: late 19th-century and early 20th-century singers were actually more sparing in their use of vibrato than most operatic singers over the past 50-70 years (see also Timothy Day's A Century of Recorded Music).

John Pike wrote (April 18, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote:
< I have to admit that when violins play with a subtle vibrato, I don't notice it. Perhaps my ear has been trained to expect vibrato among a group of violins. >
I agree. I like, and use myself, some vibrato on the violin for Bach. Some say you shouldn't use it at all but I disagree. In moderation, I think it can be very helpful.

Cara wrote (April 20, 2004):
I find that vibrato is sometimes helpful for Bach's solo string works and all the concerti-namely the 'Double Concerto in D Minor'; the one that was made into a ballet by some guy (dreadful I don't rembember the name). I have about four different recordings of the middle movement of that concerto, and all four use vibrato, simply because most string players today are taught that for long notes, vibrato helps keep the listener happy.

However, due to the different shape of the Baroque instruments and bows in general, vibrato would have almost certainly been more difficult...the fingerboard was shaped much differently, and the violinist or whatever had to pay more attention to what he (yes, or she) was doing with the bow.

As for Bach's cantatas, I don't think the string parts (particularly the violins) should have much vibrato. If one wanted to hear what Bach would have heard, I believe that the orchestra should have no vibrato at all. We have to keep in mind that the instrumentalists that Bach used were students, usually not much more than a novus at the instrument. If they were any higher and old enough, they could go to nearly any different employer around the region (but not in Leipzig) and obtain a job there as a professional musicion. To add on to that, I don't think that violin vibrato had really become a widely used (if used at all) technique.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 20, 2004):
Cara wrote:
>>As for Bach's cantatas, I don't think the string parts (particularly the violins) should have much vibrato. If one wanted to hear what Bach would have heard, I believe that the orchestra should have no vibrato at all. We have to keep in mind that the instrumentalists that Bach used were students, usually not much more than a novus at the instrument. If they were any higher and old enough, they could go to nearly any different employer around the region (but not in Leipzig) and obtain a job there as a professional musicion. To add on to that, I don't think that violin vibrato had really become a widely used (if used at all) technique.<<
This is confirmed in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2004) where Greta Moens-Haenen, in her article on 'Vibrato' wrote:
>>According to 17th- and 18th-century sources, vibrato was associated with fear, cold, death, sleep and mourning, and was generally perceived as a ‘feminine’ ornament (hence denoting also sweetness or loveliness, as reflected in many of the names given to it); its use in this way was eventually superseded by the more modern idea of using vibrato to embellish the tone.

During the Baroque vibrato was used sparingly, for emphasis on long, accentuated notes in pieces with an affect or character to which it was suited. Being regarded as an ornament, in principle it was used on single notes like any other. It was usually denoted by wavy lines; in tablatures a cross (ª) has the same meaning. Most of the signs used appear either in tutors or in French amateur music where unspecified ornaments are often indicated by a cross (+). Less common ornaments such as vibrato or glissando were in theory used only by soloists. In the second half of the 18th century there was a tendency towards more vibrato; in some circles it may even have been used continuously.

By the mid-18th century [after Bach's death] vibrato was gradually identified with some of its more positive connections, especially the sweetness of sound quality (‘lieblich’). With many performers it seems to have been in nearly constant use - at least on all longer notes.<<

John Pike wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Cara] The slow movement of the D minor double violin concerto is one of my favourite pieces of all time. I have heard a live performance in which no vibrato was used. Whether it was for that reason or others I am not sure, but the performance lacked all soul. I don't think one should set hard and fast rules about when to not use vibrato in Bach. However, judicious use in moderation is, I feel the key.

I prefer voices to use vibrato only very sparingly, if at all. I particularly enjoy Emma Kirkby for that reason, among others.

John Pike wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Most interesting. Thanks.

Cara wrote (April 20, 2004):
Hmm...interesting. Has anyone ever heard the Brandenburg Concerti without vibrato?

 

Vibrato

Anil Sahal wrote (September 15, 2004):
This may not be the appropriate place to discuss this bit here goes.............................

I was led to believe that baroque composers such as Bach didn't use vibrato as a means of expression-hence the use of trilling-something I find very pleasing. Is this true? If so, why do the singers in Bachs choral pieces add vibrato to their singing?

Robert Sherman wrote (September 17, 2004):
[To Anil Sahal] Vibrato in baroque music is probably not authentic, although there's a bit of debate about that.

I suggest that a more interesting question is whether it sounds better. To my taste, a light vibrato adds significant warmth and makes baroque voices sound better. Trumpets also. Violins, maybe not; I like Rachel Podger without vibrato on the Bach violin works far better than Heifetz, Milstein et al with vibrato -- not because she's more authentic, which she probably is, but because the composer shines through her better.

Uri Golomb wrote (September 17, 2004):
On Sep 17 2004, Robert Sherman wrote:
< Vibrato in baroque music is probably not authentic, although there's a bit of debate about that. >
As I understand it, the consensus is that some vibrato was used in BAroque music; the debate is on how much, by whom, and in what contexts.

Continuous vibrato -- that is, singing/playing with a steady vibrato as the default option, and almost never letting go -- is almost certainly a 20th-century invention. Studies of early recordings (alongside treatises up to and including the early 20th century) show that, before the 1920s, most performers used vibrato selectively, not constantly (see especially Robert Philip's Early Recordings and Musical Style; http://titles.cambridge.org/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521607442). Again, that one word, "selectively", can obviously mean so many different things (virtually never; rarely; frequently but not all the time; etc.). And then there's the whole question of what type of vibrato you use. So there's no simple, straightforward answer to this question -- or, indeed, to the question "which sounds better" (which, again, needs to be answered with reference to specific types of vibrato, and not just with reference to vibrato's presence or absence).

Juozas Rimas wrote (September 17, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< Vibrato in baroque music is probably not authentic, although there's a bit of debate about that. >
The most natural approach I hear used by some Baroque singers is very little vibrato except for the end of a phrase when some vibrato is added. If a phrase is short, it's all mildly vibrated. Thitype of singing is employed by my favorite soprano Larsson that I've just listened to singing the soprano aria from BWV 105 ("Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht").

Anil Sahal wrote (September 17, 2004):
I've been doing a bit of Internet research about baroque performance and never realised it was so controversial an area! The modern habit of constant and continuous vibrato in vocal music does seem at odds with the true baroque playing. I must say it is something I really hate hearing too and has put me off Bach's vocal music for many years.

Are there any Bach recordings where the modern vibrato is omitted for something more authentic?

Robert Sherman wrote (September 17, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I guess we disagree about that. I find it unpleasant for a singer to hold a long note with no vibrato through most of it, then superimpose a vibrato at the end. Vibrato should sound as if it lives within the note, rather than being added onto it. Can't state exactly what that means, but it's something you know when you hear it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 17, 2004):
< I find it unpleasant for a singer to hold a long note with no vibrato through most of it, then superimpose a vibrato at the end. >
Sometimes it can work nicely. For example, I'm fond of the way Linda Ronstadt handles that technique, in her several albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. She'll run the note way out there, for a long time, and then warm it up a little at the very end. In those performances, I'm moved by the way she does it: both parts of the long sustained note have [different] interest.

The tasteful trick is to get that all to sound natural and not like an artificial affectation. Emma Kirkby's very good at it, too, in altogether different repertoire. For example, the way she starts the Wedding Cantata (BWV 202) in the Parrott recording always makes me shiver, with her tasteful blends of the vibrato and non-vibrato notes all over the place. There's always something new to listen to, from phrase to phrase.

Dorian Gray wrote (September 17, 2004):
Susan Gritton, e.g., is very excellent at a different kind of vibrato. The way she applies it, I mean. A long note should be intoned purely (not 'scooped'), then vibrato should be added slowly at first, speeding up to enhance the sensation of a swell, and then terminating before the end of the note, finishing with the same pure intonation as when it began. I remember Caccini having written something to this effect, but I can't remember if Quantz did, too. Can anyone help me? A singer who follows this documented period practice just brings tears to my eyes. I still appreciate singers who intone purely, and use just a little vibrato tastefully at the end, but the above method really tingles my spine...

Dorian Gray wrote (September 17, 2004):
Anil Sahal wrote:
>>I've been doing a bit of Internet research about baroque performance and never realised it was so controversial an area! The modern habit of constant and continuous vibrato in vocal music does seem at odds with the true baroque playing. I must say it is something I really hate hearing too and has put me off Bach's vocal music for many years.
Are there any Bach recordings where the modern vibrato is omitted for something more authentic? >>
I despise this abuse of vibrato, as well. It can destroy some of the most beautiful music. The baroque is a period where most composers, at least, felt strongly about the purity of the harmony, and to use too much deliberate pitch variation is destructive to the intended effect of the music. There are others much more endowed with the knowledge of the recordings of which you speak, although I have quite a few with little or no vibrato at all, which I quite relish!

Robert Sherman wrote (September 19, 2004):
[To Dorian Gray] Von Otter, whom I otherwise enjoy, also does this, on both her modern and period Messiah recordings. To me, the effect is to highlight the vibrato in isolation from the music. I can see using it for occasional special effect, but in general it seems far less musical than an integrated vibrato such as Fischer-Dieskau or Heather Harper's.

As far as historical scholarly commentary is concerned, I leave that to those who are interested in it and want to be guided by it.

Robert Sherman wrote (September 20, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I agree that sometimes it can work nicely, and Kirkby does it well. I don't think von Otter does her version well. Basic point is it needs to be intelligently planned rather than done as a routing practice.

 

Another question on trills

Continue of discussion from:: Trill [General Topics]

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 8, 2008):
I previously wrote (Re: By request):
>Trills? Nothing but <molto vibrato> to my ears, to be eschewed at all times by HIPsters.<
No sooner did I hit send, and then open a book (the incorrect sequence, not the first time for me, by a longshot), but I realized this is not so bizarre, and might not be recognized as an attempt at humor, (in the spirit of the request?). Whatever.

In particular, I note the very old, historic origin of the trill, and its not exactly precise distinction from tremolo and vibrato. Leaving the modern HIPsters without an H to stand on?

I also note the favored English terminology: <shake>. Could the effect have its ultimate origin in the natural tendency (?) of the human voice to tremble, with fear?

To the vocalists: can you get close to a trill with <molto vibrato>, or can I retain that as a joke.

Some wag (Shakespeare? I will get the book out, as soon as I hit send) wrote, to the effect: <Humor is nothing but the truth writ large.>

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (June 8, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< [...]
To the vocalists: can you get close to a trill with <molto vibrato>, or can I retain that as a joke. >
You should have a very "well tempered" vibrato then, which makes just one tone / one half tone according to the key and to the starting / finishing notes... but who knows...

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 8, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< In particular, I note the very old, historic origin of the trill, and its not exactly precise distinction from tremolo and vibrato. Leaving the modern HIPsters without an H to stand on? >
Umm, I think the distinction is very precise and is reflected in Baroque treatises containing 'written out' forms of each ornament.

< I also note the favored English terminology: <shake>. Could the effect have its ultimate origin in the natural tendency (?) of the human voice to tremble, with fear? >
To me, the word shake has the connotation of shortness when applied to a trill. In other words, that the note being trilled is of short time value.

< To the vocalists: can you get close to a trill with <molto vibrato>, or can I retain that as a joke. >
A joke only, please. A proper trill contains two and only two different, rapidly alternating notes, one of which is notated in the score, the other of which is the note above it. The two notes in question can be either a half step or a whole step apart, depending on the context. And yes, to properly execute a trill, you should be able to hear the difference (half-step vs. whole-step).

Neil Mason wrote (June 9, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
<< To the vocalists: can you get close to a trill with <molto vibrato>, or can I retain that as a joke. >>
In all seriousness, when I try to teach vibrato to one of my singing students, I sometimes use a trill as a basis to start with.

In both vibrato and trills, the singer needs to feel a certain "abandonment" of control, in other words freedom.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 9, 2008):
Cara T. wrote, in response to my post:

EM:
<< To the vocalists: can you get close to a trill with <molto vibrato>, or can I retain that as a joke. >>
CT::
>A joke only, please. A proper trill contains two and only two different, rapidly alternating notes, one of which is notated in the score, tother of which is the note above it. The two notes in question can be either a half step or a whole step apart, depending on the context. And yes, to properly execute a trill, you should be able to hear the difference (half-step vs. whole-step).<
EM:
Note my special effort for clarity of the thread (EM and CT clearly indicated). Supplemental help available, on request.

I believe Cara answered the question I posed (with intended levity on my part). Vibrato can never be as wide as a half step (twelve tone step?), anything less is vibrato.

There are singers I will go back to for a second listen, but I expect Cara is exactly right. I do not think anyone has ever performed <vibrato> approaching a twelve tone step. Additional thoughts invited. I have Yma Sumac in the back of my mind.

As a HIPster might say, either sing the note, or sing a trill. Should the trill begin on the half, or whole, tone above the written note?

Q.E.D. No, wait, that means something else.

<Up and down, I will lead them up and down>. Or down and up. That is Shakespeare (via Puck), no book required.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 9, 2008):
Neil Mason wrote:
< In all seriousness, when I try to teach vibrato to one of my singing students, I sometimes use a trill as a basis to start with.
In both vibrato and trills, the singer needs to feel a certain "abandonment" of control, in other words freedom. >

I am astounded when you speak of teaching vibrato to singers. I've never met a singer yet who didn't do it more or less naturally. The problem is that they often do too much. And especially in the case of Baroque music... Often folks who make the transition to early music have to unlearn the habit of automatic vibrato (just as in the case of string players and no doubt others as well who make the same transition).

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 9, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< I am astounded when you speak of teaching vibrato to singers. I've never met a singer yet who didn't do it more or less naturally. The problem is that they often do too much. >
In my experience, the greatest singers treat vibrato as an ornament which they can control and apply. There are few more exciting moments than in a Rossini aria when a soprano finishes a coloratura run focussed as head tone and then begins a sustained note and applies vibrato allowing the size and pulse of the ornament to grow then pull back. Alas, too many singers do not have the breath control and accuracy of pitch to execute vibrato. The natural vinrato at 20 will become a wobble at 40.

The dominance of head tone, especially among sopranos, in much modern Baroque practice has meant the loss of an authentic vibrato. In an aria such as "Ebarme Dich", that is a major interpretative loss.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (June 10, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The dominance of head tone, especially among sopranos, in much modern Baroque practice has meant the loss of an authentic vibrato. In an aria such as "Ebarme Dich", that is a major interpretative loss. >
Which is why I find myself still turning to Christa Ludwig...

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 10, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< In my experience, the greatest singers treat vibrato as an ornament which they can control and apply. >
This is precisely what I am speaking of. In Baroque performance practice, at least from what my friends who read the treatises and such tell me, vibrato exists but is an ornament - not to be automatically applied. It is rare to
find a singer (and probably even rarer to find a string player) who does only 'modern' (i.e. later than Baroque) music AND treats vibrato as an ornament.

< Alas, too many singers do not have the breath control and accuracy of pitch to execute vibrato. The natural vinrato at 20 will become a wobble at 40. >
I've heard some singers with pretty wide vibrato in my time - for some reason they seem to be female altos for the most part. But they at least kept on pitch, even if they oscillated pretty widely around it... But that's a rarity. I mean, is someone really 'a singer' if they don't have breath control and pitch accuracy?

< The dominance of head tone, especially among sopranos, in much modern Baroque practice has meant the loss of an authentic vibrato. >
I have more often heard of what you are talking about here as something to the effect of 'forward placement'. But yeah, it does amount to cutting off the 'chesty' or 'dark' element of one's voice. On the other hand, I think it is possible to leave the 'chesty' or 'dark' element in the mix and still have little or no vibrato. And on the other hand, those Rossinian sopranos whom I deleted have head voice galore, but I never heard anyone accuse them of having too little vibrato...

My two cents for the night.

Neil Mason wrote (June 10, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< I am astounded when you speak of teaching vibrato to singers. I've never met a singer yet who didn't do it more or less naturally. The problem is that they often do too much. And especially in the case of Baroque music... Often folks who make the transition to early music have to unlearn the habit of automatic vibrato (just as in the case of string players and no doubt others as well who make the same transition). >
In an ideal world vibrato would come to singers naturally, and for most lucky people it does.

However this is not true for everybody. Yes, it is true that some people have too much (or perhaps too wide) vibrato.

You mention string players. Some weeks ago I was at a master class given by Neil Semer of New York. He was asked "do you teach singers vibrato or does it just happen?", pretty much what I was talking about. His answer was that string players don't just let it happen!

There is little consensus about the amount of vibrato that is "right" for early music, except to say (as I think you do) that many opera singers have too much for early music. But IMHO it is wrong to have none. Even Ruth Holton uses it sparingly, and nobody could complain about her clarity.

This is an interesting topic. The speed of (natural) vibrato seems to be changing over time, and it is now much slower than about fifty years ago. I have no idea of the reason.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 10, 2008):
Neil Mason wrote:
< This is an interesting topic. The speed of (natural) vibrato seems to be changing over time, and it is now much slower than about fifty years ago. I have no idea of the reason. >
I actuallly had this very debate with a voice specialist during the intermission at a recent performance of the "Barber of Seville" in Toronto. My wife and I didn't like the tenor because he had what we thought was a "small" voice and very unlike current stars like Roberto Alagna who has a huge instrument. Our friend argued that this tenor had a scale of voice which was much more authentic for the period. We had to agree that his coloratura was crystal clear and that he had a real embellishing vibrato unlike the wide bluster that passes for 'expressive' interpretation in other 'can belto" singers. I suspect that if we reach even further back in time to Bach, it becomes even more difficult to reconstruct vocal technique in his cantatas.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 10, 2008):
Cara T. wrote
>I've heard some singers with pretty wide vibrato in my time - for some reason they seem to be female altos for the most part. But they at least kept on pitch, even if they oscillated pretty widely around it...<
Isnt this the issue in much of the BCML discussion on the topic? Does <on pitch> mean that the vibrato is centered on the correct pitch, or simply that the correct pitch is somewhere within the vibrato range.

I presume your statement means <centered on pitch>, but can you confirm that?

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 10, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] Yes, that is what I meant. If it's only 'somewhere in the range', then that is indeed a wobble...

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 10, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
<< Often folks who make the transition to early music have to unlearn the habit of automatic vibrato (just as in the case of players and no doubt others as well who make the same transition). >>
Neil Mason wrote:
< You mention string players. Some weeks ago I was at a master class given by Neil Semer of New York. He was asked "do you teach singers vibrato or does it just happen?", pretty much what I was talking about. His answer was that string players don't just let it happen! >
Absolutely not. It is a real rarity for someone to have a natural vibrato on a stringed instrument. Although I recall reading the statement of someone from the old school, I think the guy was from Romania, whose teacher really did subscribe to the idea that it has to be natural and refused to 'teach vibrato'. But nowadays, in general, at a certain point, God knows how this point is determined, the teacher decides it's time for you to 'learn vibrato', and gives you some exercises to do...

This is the thing, however: I tend to think that for stringed instruments, ideally, the vibrato ought to be in some way a response to what you are feeling on the fingerboard. Which means that there is just no basis for the vibrato until your intonation is absolutely crystal clear (otherwise you'll be feeling dissonance on the fingerboard - at least for those lucky few whose fingers are sensitive enough to tell the difference, which I understand is a real rarity).

But if that is how you approach vibrato, it is going to naturally lead to using it as an ornament. Except maybe if the relationship between your fingers and the fingerboard is just so spot on right from the beginning that you have that basis for a vibrato right from the beginning - which I understand is kind of a must even for Baroque music if you are playing on metal strings (i.e. a modern instrument), to neutralize that... metallic quality, but is a non-issue if you are playing on 'on guts' ('na jelitach', as we say in the Polish early music community).

The matter is more complicated when you are dealing with a singer, in that there is no apparent 'fingerboard', much less fingers, in the vocal mechanism. Although I could swear that when I've got my placement just right, I can feel fingers dropping on a fingerboard as I move up the scale, and picking up as I come down... But never mind. I think a lot of the problem with modern singers (or indeed, other modern musicians, now that I think of it) is that instead of vibrato being a response to that perfect placement, it's used for quite the opposite purpose: to hide the fact of one's not-quite-perfect placement.

< This is an interesting topic. The speed of (natural) vibrato seems to be changing over time, and it is now much slower than about fifty years ago. I have no idea of the reason. >
I personally would bet that it has to do with the increased sound volume required over time. The tendency is for bigger and bigger voices, which I suppose is in turn caused by bigger and bigger halls, and I recall a discussion some time back on this list to the effect that as the volume increases, the vibrato has to increase too. It's true on the violin as well, actually, that you increase the vibrato as the volume goes up. I guess the point is that with greater amplitude of sound waves proper, there has to be an increased vibrato to get the intended effect.

Another thing I notice about modern singers nowadays - although you only really notice it if you're hearing the performance live, it's not so noticeable if you are hearing a recording - is that they seem to be fighting with the hall, to project their voice (Doug Cowling's amusing expression 'can belto' comes to mind here, at any rate I get a stiff neck and even a headache listening to it). I suspect that if they were treating the hall as part of their instrument and working with it instead of against it, the effect would be very different.

Indeed, I wonder if there has been some sort of change in philosophy over time, whether perhaps way back when, there was more of a sense of working with the space instead of against it. I've never heard of anything like that being written about in the treatises, it may be there is just no documentation to lead us to a conclusion in this matter, but it is interesting to speculate anyway...

My two cents for now, my client is waiting for the last bit of that translation job...

Neil Mason wrote (June 10, 2008):
Bottom posting.

Neil Mason wrote:
<< This is an interesting topic. The speed of (natural) vibrato seems to be changing over time, and it is now much slower than about fifty years ago. I have no idea of the reason. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I actuallly had this very debate with a voice specialist during the intermission at a recent performance of the "Barber of Seville" in Toronto. My wife and I didn't like the tenor because he had what we thought was a "small" voice and very unlike current stars like Roberto Alagna who has a huge instrument. Our friend argued that this tenor had a scale of voice which was much more authentic for the period. We had to agree that his coloratura was crystal clear and that he had a real embellishing vibrato unlike the wide bluster that passes for 'expressive' interpretation in other 'can belto" singers. I suspect that if we reach even further back in time to Bach, it becomes even more difficult to reconstruct vocal technique in his cantatas. >
I'm not sure what the link is between that and the speed of vibrato, but never mind!

I believe your friend is most probably correct about Rossini tenors. I don't have the reference handy, but Rossini himself complained about the "new-fangled" or some similar description of the fashion of loud high notes by tenors singing his operas. He wondered why they no longer sang in "falsetto". His comments still lead to debate about what he meant by falsetto.

Of course all this in practice is influenced by the size of orchestra employed and the size of the venue. Falsetto would never work in the Met but would in Drottningholm. The connection with vibrato (which is where I came in) is that opera singers sing with vibrato because this promotes the singer's formant (about 2800Hz) which allows the singer to be audible through a large orchestra.

So, I would agree that this is of itself not relevant to Bach cantatas, except that some singers don't know how to "switch this off". That's why Pavarotti rarely (perhaps never) sang Bach, or Rossini.

But less vibrato does not mean IMO no vibrato.

John Pike wrote (June 10, 2008):
Developing good vibrato on the violin is certainly not something that comes naturally at all. It is also very important to keep it in check all the time, not just for baroque music, but across the repertoire. Too much vibrato, or too big a movement, not only leads to intonation problems; it also sounds too "hectic" and just unpleasant. I do this now almost without thinking, but sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to keep it right down. I often start a note without any vibrato at all and then start just a very slight movement later in the note.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 10, 2008):
[To John Pike] Oh, those modern types would be horrified to hear about that approach to vibrato :) And it's true, it doesn't work as well with the Romantic repertoire - it sounds so... Baroque!

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 10, 2008):
Comments interspersed below, unnecessary items snipped out.

Neil Mason wrote:
< I believe your friend is most probably correct about Rossini tenors. I don't have the reference handy, but Rossini himself complained about the "new-fangled" or some similar description of the fashion of loud high notes by tenors singing his operas. He wondered why they no longer sang in "falsetto". His comments still lead to debate about what he meant by falsetto. >
I could make an educated guess that what is meant is a type of vocal production more similar to that of a male alto, instead of doing everything way down in the chest, which becomes artificial somewhere not too far above middle C (as in, the one in the middle of the piano keyboard, not the transposed one in tenor parts), which is why my old voice teacher in the States (a tenor himself) told me it takes so long to train a tenor properly - twice as long as a so.

< Of course all this in practice is influenced by the size of orchestra employed and the size of the venue. Falsetto would never work in the Met but would in Drottningholm. The connection with vibrato (which is where I came in) is that opera singers sing with vibrato because this promotes the singer's formant (about 2800Hz) which allows the singer to be audible through a large orchestra. >
This concept of formant sounds very interesting. Could I ask for an explanation?

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 10, 2008):
Vibrato & Head Voice - Gundula Janowitz

Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< Oh, those modern types would be horrified to hear about that approach to vibrato :) And it's true, it doesn't work as well with the Romantic repertoire - it sounds so... Baroque! >
There were criticisms of Gundula Janowitz on the old Richter Bach recordings. Some critics said her very pure tone was cold and unemotional. Listening to her now, I still admire her laser-beam intonation (she could go a little sharp), although she never sounds detached and uninvolved in the music.

I rememeber the first time that I heard the old 1950's live recording of Wagner's "Parsifal" from Bayreuth. In Act II, the Chorus of Flower Maidens sings in several choirs, each with a solo leader. One of the soloists stood out because of the sheer focus and clear timbe of her voice. I got out my programme notes, and there indeed was a young Gundula Janowitz sounding like Bach's Angel lost in a Wagnerian garden.

Neil Mason wrote (June 11, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< This concept of formant sounds very interesting. Could I ask for an explanation? >
Sure. I'll do my best.

Basically a formant is a strong partial, whose pitch does not vary with the fundamental.

You may have noted that I mentioned that the "singer's formant" is about 2800 Hz. (It does vary from singer to singer, form about 2600Hz to about 3000Hz - interestingly, this is a frequency range that is the best our ears can hear). This singer's formant is the same (in frequency) throughout a singer's range, although it does vary in intensity, and is normally more prominent on higher notes. In tenors we identify it as "squillo".

This is an extremely useful technique for singing with a full-sized orchestra in the romantic repertoire.

It's not really needed for a Bach-sized orchestra.

I have also noted your comments on Rossini. I do not myself believe he meant what we call "falsetto", in which the full length of the vocal folds is not involved in oscillation, but only a proportion of the length. I think he meant a "thin-fold" configuration, in which only part of the thickness comes together in the closed phase of oscillation. But of course that's just my conjecture.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 11, 2008):
Neil Mason wrote:
< This is an extremely useful technique for singing with a full-sized orchestra in the romantic repertoire.
It's not really needed for a Bach-sized orchestra >
Which is why the whole vocal production question is changed completely if the orchestra consists of single players. Voices simply don't have to resort to the Romantic techniques necessary to cut through a symphony orchestra. I read a very interesting interview with a noted tenor who specializes in Bach (the name escapes me for the moment). The interviewer asked him how he found the stamina to sing in OVPP performances of large scale works like the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) or even the Magnificat (BWV 243). He said that he found it easier to sing the tenor choir part solo than to be a section lead in a large choir and then shift to a "solo" voice for the arias.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 11, 2008):
Comments below

Neil Mason wrote:
< Basically a formant is a strong partial, whose pitch does not vary with the fundamental.
You may have noted that I mentioned that the "singer's formant" is about 2800 Hz. (It does vary from singer to singer, form about 2600Hz to about 3000Hz - interestingly, this is a frequency range that is the best our ears can hear). This singer's formant is the same (in frequency) throughout a singer's range, although it does vary in intensity, and is normally more prominent on higher notes. In tenors we identify it as "squillo". >
What would be the physiology or physics behind such a tone, that does not vary with the fundamental? Could it vary with something else, e.g. the manner of vocal production? I lack the theoretical background to describe this in physiological terms, but what I have in mind here is that if someone is capable of producing tone qualities ranging from female soprano to male alto or perhaps even tenor on a good day, would the formant remain the same throughout all of that?

< This is an extremely useful technique for singing with a full-sized orchestra in the romantic repertoire.
It's not really needed for a Bach-sized orchestra. >
But is the formant still there anyway? So the question is simply whether we are subjecting it to enhancement?

< I have also noted your comments on Rossini. I do not myself believe he meant what we call "falsetto", in which the full length of the vocal folds is not involved in oscillation, but only a proportion of the length. I think he meant a "thin-fold" configuration, in which only part of the thickness comes together in the closed phase of oscillation. But of course that's just my conjecture. >
That sounds like a reasonable physiological explanation or at least conjecture for what I was talking about in terms of 'male alto' tone quality.

Neil Mason wrote (June 11, 2008):
< What would be the physiology or physics behind such a tone, that does not vary with the fundamental? Could it vary with something else, e.g. the manner of vocal production? I lack the theoretical background to describe this in physiological terms, but what I have in mind here is that if someone is capable of producing tone qualities ranging from female soprano to male alto or perhaps even tenor on a good day, would the formant remain the same throughout all of that? >
I'd love to explain this to you, but I don't know myself, to be honest. It certainly does and can vary with the manner of vocal production, and singers can switch it off and on (to a certain extent). Partly this is dependent on registration, but also partly on volume and (you guessed it) the amount of vibrato. We don't really know the physiological function of vibrato (by "we" I mean nobody does), or exactly how it's produced.

< But is the formant still there anyway? So the question is simply whether we are subjecting it to enhancement? >
In a voice we recognise as trained it is still there anyway, and vowels are slightly modified to make them more similar to one another. But it is probably not obvious to a casual listener.

< That sounds like a reasonable physiological explanation or at least conjecture for what I was talking about in terms of 'male alto' tone quality. >
So it looks like I might have guessed right!

All of this is a huge subject. In the Leusink cantata set on Brilliant, the bass soloist has an even vibrato throughout the range, the tenors tend to have too little (in my view) at the top and thus can sound strident, and the soprano has too little at the bottom (in my view) and her lack of chest register makes her sometimes not audible enough for my liking. These are my opinions only, but I express them for the purpose of aiding critical listening (and welcome others' opinions in response).

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 11, 2008):
Neil Mason wrote:
>All of this is a huge subject. In the Leusink cantata set on Brilliant, the bass soloist has an even vibrato throughout the range, the tenors tend to have too little (in my view) at the top and thus can sound strident, and the soprano has too little at the bottom (in my view) and her lack of chest register makes her sometimes not audible enough for my liking. These are my opinions only, but I express them for the purpose of aiding critical listening (and welcome others' opinions in response).<
Thanks. Nothing communibetter than specific examples to illustrate the theoretical points. Plenty of material for future discussion.

 

Historical use of Vibrato

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 20, 2010):
An interesting discussion string in the Telegraph on the historical use of vibrato: Telegraph

 

Vibrato

George Bromley wrote (May 5, 2011):
Can someone help me out here, a member of our choir tells me in Bachs day string players played without vibrato, is this true?

Peter Smaill wrote (May 5, 2011):
[To George Bromley] I think it is so, and recall a conference in Gothenburg last year where new evidence has come to light that Brahms' favourite violinist Joachim hardly used vibrato either.....despite the assumption that romantic concertos purr away like a contented pussycat. Doubtless there are string experts better placed to comment!

Peter Smaill wrote (May 5, 2011):
[To George Bromley] Herewith chapter and verse on Joachim, who loved Bach, and his avoidance of vibrato...I wonder if he knew this was HIP for Johann Sebastian's concertos: http://bratschenspieler.tripod.com/JOACHIM.HTM

Bruce Simonson wrote (May 6, 2011):
Vibrato as performance practice

[To George Bromley] It's been a while since I read Bruce Haynes witty and well-argued book on HIP, "The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century".

One thing that strikes me odd, though, based on Haynes' thesis that Baroque players "in-the-day" were expected to express themselves within the horizons of the performance practice of their time, adding ornaments and such. (Although, if I have perceived the consensus correctly, Bach tolerated (left to chance?) this practice barely, if at all).

Thinking to myself, out-loud, I wonder why (if?) vibrato was not allowed as a permissable ornament? Or, if it was, why is it assumed that vibrato was an ornament only exceptionally applied, as opposed to it being used regularly? Do we know that vibrato was taboo? How?

This being said, I really have no bones to pick, nor wish to pick a fight. Just wondering.

Oh, and I also freely acknowledge that I know very precious little 'bout which I speak.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (May 6, 2011):
Joachim and vibrato

Peter Smaill writes:
< I think it is so, and recall a conference in Gothenburg last year where new evidence has come to light that Brahms' favourite violinist Joachim hardly used vibrato either.....despite the assumption that romantic concertos purr away like a contented pussycat. Doubtless there are string experts better placed to comment! >
There is nothing new about the fact that Joseph Joachim loathed vibrato. This has been known for decades, and it is clear to anyone who has listened to the precious, compelling, and fascinating handful of recordings that he left for posterity.

Joachim once told his grand-niece, the concert violinist, Yelly [Jelly] d'Aranyi, for whom Ravel wrote 'Tzigane", "Not too much vibrato! That's circus music!" He did, on the other hand, advocate the use of portamento and glissando, which the contemporary exponents of allegedly historic performance practice abhor.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 6, 2011):
Teri Noel Towe wrote:
< He did, on the other hand, advocate the use of portamento and glissando, which the contemporary exponents of allegedly historic performance practice abhor. >
I have always wondered about the rising minor sixth which opens "Ebarme Dich" in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). Bach writes a two-note ornament before the second note. Was the ornament meant to indicate a portamento across the rising interval?

Katarina Bengston wrote (May 9, 2011):
[To George Bromley] But unless my memory is playing tricks on me, Leopold Mozart, the father of W. A., talks in his violin school (which unfortunately I've lent to someone and can't find a ref) about using the vibrato as an ornament - however, only when you perform as a soloist, not when in an orchestra. There are a very useful couple of pages on it in Judy Tarling’s book "Baroque string playing for ingenious learners", where she looks at various sources, and concludes that "vibrato was used as an ornament for particular emphsasis or expression and its appearance in tables of ornaments justifies this apporoach. Musicians of all types must have used vibrato at least since the invention of the violin, in imitation of the human voice..."

Vibrato back then was often reffered to however as "the close shake".

Personally, I think the vibrato works very well as a means of variation, even though I never use it per default, but only on certain notes which deserve extra attention, and it's often not rythmical, in the way "modern" string players use it, but varied in it's frequence, depending on the mode of the frase or movement.

Hope this is of some help!

 

Vibrato: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýMay 14, 2011 ý16:22:52