Forgotten Music Revived
There are approximately 60 song books or singing treatises held in Special Collections and five of these books were written by castrated singers. What became very clear is that quite a few of the books referred repeatedly to these five texts written by castrati and even advise that students buy those books in order to further their singing tuition. Yet, a part from one song book, which was a very early work written in 1723 and translated into English in 1743 written by Pier Francesco Tosi called Observations of the Florid Song, the rest have been largely forgotten. I have recorded some of the forgotten music from these works, which I believe exemplify the castrato singing technique as taught to students of singing for two hundred years.
Exercise No. 20 by Venanzio Rauzzini, Twenty Four Solfeggi or Exercises for the Voice to be Vocalized, 1816, Sp Coll Q.a.1
Listen: Exercise No 20
This is an example of an exercise that almost all students of singing during the 18th and early 19th century were expected to perfect before attempting to sing songs. There are several publications of these different exercises, which are known as solfeggi. They were often sung to the Sol-fa syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Si and the assisted a singer in developing a flexible voice and accurate pitching. Rauzzini’s solfeggi were marketed to the more advanced student who was most likely on route for a professional career in opera.
The Soldier Tir’d of Wars Alarms by Thomas Arne, The Musical Companion containing The Music and Words of the Most popular Airs, Duets, Glees, Etc of Arne, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Winter, Weber, Bishop and other celebrated composers Ancient and Modern, 1833,Sp Coll Ca9-c.16
Listen: Soldier Tir’d of Wars
Solfeggi were essential to song study, as many songs contained long, fast and complex instrumental-like phrases that a singer had to accurately perform. The Soldier Tir’d, which appeared in the opera Artaxerxes first performed in 1762 became an incredibly popular concert aria for both the amateur and professional singers right up until the 20th century. Solfeggi study would have been vital to a singer gaining the flexibility in order to perform this song effectively.
Lullaby by Stephen Storace from The Singer’s Preceptor by Domenico Corri, 1810 Sp Coll A.x.78
Many singers of the period used improvised ornamentation to make the song more exciting and exhibit their unique vocal skills. The singer was often encouraged to use the words as a starting point for choosing appropriate ornamentation. Corri, in his treatise has written all of the ornamentation in, which gives us a glimpse into this practice that was confined to live performance. Though this sung is described as a lullaby, Corri has written in ornamentation to reflect the gentle movement of the waves and the gusting winds of the storm!
Aria by Venanzio Rauzzini, A periodical collection of vocal music, (never before printed) consisting of Italian and English songs, duetts, terzetts, recitatives, canzonetts, ballads, etc. ca. 1800, Store HQ01137
Many of the vocal teachers during this period wrote compositions specifically for their students. This is the case with this song, which was written for Miss Parke by her singing teacher Rauzzini. Catered compositions would allow a student to display the best of their vocal abilities and there would be less danger of vocal damage as there was not the opportunity to mimic the sound or style of a more experienced vocalist. Of course, as I am not Miss Parke but am still performing this piece, I am breaking all the rules!
Canto Serio by Paolo Pergetti, A treatise on singing, forming a complete school of the art, 1845, Sp Coll Q.a.4
Listen: Canto Serio
Pergetti was the last castrato singer to appear in London and his singing treatise is laid out quite differently to his predecessors.By the mid-19th century what becomes obviously from many of the treatises is that teachers were putting different kinds of singing voices into more categories further than soprano, alto, tenor, bass and were describing many different styles of singing than there had been before. Pergetti’s treatise in particular makes this obvious. This piece is reflective of the ‘Serious Style’ where Pergetti tells us that ‘vibration predominates [this style] and its strength is regulated by the sense of the words.’ This points towards the style of opera singing we would recognise today that is powerful, strong and full of vibrato.