Friday, August 09, 2013

Bel Canto– Simplicity and Clarity in a Complicated World

During the 1800's the newly commercialized music industry was producing more and more complicated and "enlightened" gimmicks to dazzle audiences– bigger and louder orchestras, loftier and more complex verses, singers performing tricks with their voices by making various sounds with increasingly forced amplitude and unnaturally stretched vocal range, and so forth. Productions increasingly became much more a function of visual hype and verbal acrobatics– much less a presentation of true artistry and real substance.

But there was a minority group of Italian composers who resisted the trend towards needless and unartful complications in music and in singing. Composers such as Bellini and Donizetti took a stand for the purity of their art. They knew the timeless beauty of a lovely story performed by singers who had studied and developed VOCAL FREEDOM, and they insisted that the traditional ways were the true path to artistry and expression.

These composers were called "Bel Canto" composers. "Bel Canto" is an Italian phrase that means "beautiful singing." The Bel Canto composers made it a special point to contrast their works against the overcomplicated compositions of their contemporaries. They promoted simple, straightforward melody and clarity which could only effectively be performed by singers who had achieved VOCAL FREEDOM. By making such a determined point to demonstrate expressiveness and clarity, the Bel Canto composers and the singers who performed their works presented incredibly beautiful singing that was envied by all.

The "maestro-method" way of athletically training singers gained more and more prominence over time. This did not necessarily mean that the maestro teachers were more effective than the traditional professori.

Teaching positions were not always awarded on merit. For example, the Milan Conservatory promised its chief teaching position to Amicarle Ponchielli. He was the artist who had proven to be the most able and accomplished in artistry in a competition for the post, but the Conservatory then revoked the appointment in favor of a less qualified individual with more political savvy and connivance.

The traditional way that singers had always studied singing with a professori gradually declined in the face of changing Western society. Instead of being called "singing studies," the traditional way became known as "Bel Canto" singing, after the composers and singers who made it their mission to preserve the traditional ways.

Even with a bastion of singers and teachers who knew the value of the natural and holistic study of singing as an art (not an acrobatic endeavor), true exponents of "Bel Canto" singing were becoming fewer and fewer. Great singers like Jean de Reske began to grow concerned that their true art may soon become lost to the world.

Bel Canto needed a Redeemer– someone who would carry the standard of VOCAL FREEDOM forward for new generations to hear and enjoy. That is why Jean de Reske was so delighted and gratified to hear the clear, expressive singing of Irish tenor John McCormack– he could finally rest easy that the true art of Bel Canto was indeed going to live on for another generation.

No comments: